Press Release
September 28, 2023


SEPTEMBER 28, 2023

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

When the news broke out that the Senate will investigate alleged illegal activities of a cult operating under the name of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc., we expect that we will be accused of discriminating and meddling with the affairs of religion or affairs of private associations. They might say, "Respetuhin ninyo ang aming mga paniniwala." Kung sa bisaya pa, "ayaw mo'g panghilabot, kay wala mo gihilabtan."

However, let it be spread into the record that conducting this hearing today is not an issue of respect nor discrimination. Hindi po ito usapin ng panghihilabot or pangingialam sa paniniwala ng isang tao. There is no encroachment upon anyone's right to think and believe for themselves.

Our concern here, ladies and gentlemen, is that in the guise of beliefs and religion, peace and order in society, the safety and welfare of our people are now allegedly threatened. Every person has the right to practice his or her beliefs and religion, it is allowed by the state. But this right does not entitle one to inflict harm over another. This right does not entitle one to violate any law of the Republic. The state peacefully coexists with religion and respects the boundaries between them. Nonetheless, when the practice of religion or the practice of one's beliefs causes damage to another and chaos in our society, the state will not think twice to intervene and re-establish order.

Early September of this year, my office received a letter from the Municipality of Socorro, Province of Surigao Del Norte. It contained a resolution that requested an investigation into the alleged illegal activities happening in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro. This correspondence drew a stark contrast on a municipality as beautiful as Socorro.

Those who sought our help enumerated detailed accusations of forced labor, arranged child marriages, and rape. There were accounts of abuses: sexual, physical and even psychological. Accusations of human trafficking, private armies and the operation of a shabu laboratory were also reported to my office. When these are the allegations being raised, it is incumbent upon us to take them seriously. It is bad enough for us to commit crimes against one another, but if and when the alleged crimes are done to innocent children, to those who have yet to make and see their own future, then it is much, much worse and horrifying.

Sa mga pangyayaring katulad nito, kung papipiliin man tayo kung alin ang mas matimbang: pagrespeto sa paniniwala ng iba, o pagtataguyod ng dignidad at karapatang pantao ng lahat, lalo na ng kabataan, napakadali lamang pumili. I will unequivocally choose to uphold and protect human dignity, especially of our children. Fighting for a safe and healthy environment for our children, we make their lives worth living. Surely, everyone will agree.

Of course, in an ideal world, we should not be made to choose. In an ideal world, we respect everyone's beliefs while also protecting the rights and interests of our children. But this is not an ideal world, as we have witnessed time and again. And so, when tolerance for beliefs becomes a threat to the security and welfare of our children and our communities, we prioritize our children, and perhaps, in doing so, we can help build a better world for them.

Sa bawat imbestigasyong isinagawa ng Komiteng ito, lagi kong sinasabi: hindi korte ang Senado. At lalong hindi mga hukom kaming mga senador. Ngunit ang malinaw, tungkulin namin na maging tagapagbantay ng karapatan ng bawat isa, lalo't higit ay ang mga batang hindi kayang maipagtanggol ang kanilang mga sarili. Mula noon, ang Senado ay mananatiling takbuhan ng ating mga kababayan na naghahanap ng mapagsusumbungan at masisilungan tuwing may darating na delubyo sa kanilang buhay.

Magtulungan tayo sa layuning ito. Together, let us weave and restore not only a fabric of truth, but also one of order and peace. The citizens of Socorro deserve nothing less.

Salamat karajaw ug maayong buntag sa atong tanan.

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