July 25, 2024

The Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (SBSI) is supposed to be a civic organization that will provide livelihood and financial assistance to its members. It has its base of operations in Socorro, Surigao Del Norte. For those from Luzon, like us, the SBSI is an unheard of organization that deserves scant consideration.
That was until Sen. Risa Hontiveros delivered a scathing privilege speech accusing its leaders of proliferating crimes like child molestation, rape, manufacture of illegal drugs, and maintaining a private army with its own unlicensed armory.
The long-time Senator detailed in her speech how the organization evolved into becoming a religious cult that arranges illegal and incestuous marriages among its members and how minor girls are peddled to satisfy the sexual tryst of its leaders.
What makes the privilege speech of Hontiveros eye-catching is the explosive and sensational manner she delivered it. Sex and violence in cults are topics that are worthy of media frenzy. Hence, it is not surprising that people from all over the Philippines have suddenly become aware of the SBSI. If at all, her privilege speech catapulted the SBSI to national prominence. She left us tagging at our curiosity and had us posing the following questions: Is SBSI really a cult? Why does it have so many followers? Are the leaders really capable of exploiting their members? Are they perpetuating criminal activities? What is their hidden agenda?
The mere mention of cults conjures images of organizations that bring about a desperate end and an unnecessary suffering to its members.
For instance, the People’s Temple of Jim Jones ended in the ghastly murder of all its members when, in the name of religion, they committed mass suicide.
The Branch Division of David Koresh instigated the death of its members when he opted to burn his temple in Texas instead of surrendering to authorities after it was found out that he had a private army.
Asahara Shoko of the AUM Shinirikyo masterminded the sarin gas attack in Tokyo resulting in the death of several individuals.
The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints of Jeff Warren tolerated free sex and polygamous relationships.
These are some examples of how cults can rob the future of minors and ruin innocent lives. These premonitions are specifically what captivated the minds of ordinary citizens who heard the privilege speech of Hontiveros.
Yet, Hontiveros’ speech, while seeming noble on paper, is totally unfair in the context of fair reporting. Hiding under the veil of privilege speech, it would seem apparent that Hontiveros preempted what may be true. She arrived at her conclusions without giving the other party a chance to refute the allegations against it. Without revealing the sources of information, she made a sweeping accusation equivalent to guilt. It is, therefore, no surprise that the leadership and membership of the SBSI are crying foul. They have every reason to do so.
For one, if there are witnesses and evidence of child molestation and rape within the ranks of SBSI, this is a police matter that should have merited a full investigation and prosecution by the courts. Why would Sen. Hontiveros abdicate unto herself the function of being the accuser, prosecutor and judge all at the same time? Has she run out of “ganda points” that she must bring into the big picture a civic organization that is in the outskirts of the country? The last we know, there is such thing as due process where every accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. With Hontiveros’ exposure, the leadership of the SBSI is condemned into the bar of public opinion.
Second, what about freedom of religion? We get it from the Senator that SBSI is a religious organization masquerading as a civic organization. So what? If SBSI is advocating its religious beliefs and its followers are abiding by it because they believe that it is what will save their soul, that is their own lookout.
To find that the religious practices of SBSI are unbearable and unacceptable does not give us the license to criticize them in the same manner that for them to find our religious inclinations absurd does not give them the authority to despise us. That is what we call respect. That is what we call religious freedom. And, as long as their beliefs do not transcend the bounds of spiritual practices and religious inclinations, let them be.