Members admit donating senior, 4Ps stipends to Socorro ‘cult’

Members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) admitted to giving donations to the group out of their stipends from the different programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

This was discovered during the validation on the reported surrender of cash aid and other social welfare benefits such as senior citizen's pension to the SBSI, the group in Surigao del Norte island town of Socorro that has been accused of abuse and cult-like activities.

'At least three senior citizens already confirmed giving donations to the SBSI during the series of validation activities that we made after this issue was raised in the Senate,' Jessie Catherine Aranas, chief of the Protective Services Division of the agency in the Caraga Region (DSWD-13), said in a press conference here Thursday afternoon.

Aranas said the donations, which the members describe as voluntary, range from PHP20 to PHP1,000.

Aranas said the donations are improper since these were appropriated by the government for specific purpose. The purpose for the stipends given to indigent senior citizens, for instance, is defined in Republic Act 11916 or the Act of Increasing the Social Pension of Indigent Senior Citizens.

"It is intended to augment the daily subsistence and other medical needs of indigent senior citizens," Aranas said.

Almira Rebucar, the Social Welfare Officer IV of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the region, said at least 14 4Ps beneficiaries who were former members of SBSI confirmed giving their government aid to SBSI leaders.

Validation activities are ongoing in the area, she said, to determine the extent of how the DSWD grants were used by beneficiaries.

Welfare of families, child

Meanwhile, Aranas said eight minors from the SBSI were put under the custody of the municipality of Socorro and the DSWD before the investigation by the Senate last month on the alleged child abuse and exploitation.

Of the eight, one was returned to his mother based on a court order issued in Surigao del Norte while another one left without permission.

'During the Senate hearing last month, the six remaining minors were put under the custody of the DSWD in the central office. A recent order from the Department of Justice indicated that the three female minors must be put under the custody of the DSWD-13,' Aranas said.

She said the other three male minors are still under the custody of Socorro municipality with the supervision of social workers coming from the DSWD-13.

On Thursday afternoon, Secretary Rex Gatchalian met with the top officials of Surigao del Norte and the town of Socorro, as well as the other government line agencies.

In a statement Friday, the DSWD-13 said the inter-agency meeting aims to find immediate solutions to safeguard the well-being of families and individuals, especially the children, at the SBSI site in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro town.

'The meeting explored possible options for further interventions and the provision of the DSWD programs and services to the members of the SBSI,' the agency said.

Gatchalian underscored the importance of psychological interventions and the need to meet with experts on child protection as among the immediate moves undertaken for the children and families at the SBSI.

Gatchalian also urged the LGUs concerned and the other agencies to help resolve "the issue collaboratively, with efforts made to bring back governance in the area.'

Source: Philippines News Agency