MANILA – The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs slammed on Thursday the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (SBSI) over its alleged unpleasant treatment of the children of its members.
During its probe, the panel chaired by Senator Ronald dela Rosa discovered that apart from the alleged abuses and forced early marriages, the SBSI also restricts children from going to school or even going out of the "gated" premises of Sitio Kapihan where it is located.
Siargao Schools Division Superintendent Karen Galanida shared with the panel how they have been reaching out to SBSI since 2019 to encourage them to bring their children to school through the Department of Education's (DepEd) Alternative Learning System (ALS).
"In 2019, 800-plus learners have dropped out of schools due to their massive exodus in Sitio Kapihan, and as per records, we have 103 DepEd personnel who also resigned or retired," Galanida said.
"Despite our extensive interventions, they have actually decided to leave the school, as well as our teachers. In School Year 2020-2021, 150 ALS learners, whose families are 4Ps beneficiaries, have expressed their intention to enroll. Our ALS teachers went to the Kapihan to deliver our learning modules during the pandemic time. Sadly, out of the 150 ALS learners, only eight have participated and finished school."
She said it was only last July 25 when DepEd-Siargao received a letter from the SBSI management expressing the group's intention to avail of a formal school system wherein more than 800 learners were identified.
Dela Rosa raised to SBSI vice president Mamerto Galanida, who is also a former school superintendent and former mayor of Socorro, why DepEd needs to reach out to them.
"That should be your main concern kasi dati kang DepEd superintendent eh tapos di mo alam. Tanungin kita point blank, bakit kailangan pa ng DepEd magdala ng ALS program doon sa loob ng (because you are a former DepEd superintendent and you don't know anything. I’ll ask you point blank, why DepEd needs to bring ALS program there in) Kapihan?" he asked.
Mamerto explained that the nearest school from Kapihan is 3 km. away, which makes it difficult for the children to study.
Dela Rosa, however, found this illogical.
"Kapag walang pumipigil sa bata, pupunta ng eskwelahan yan. Siguradong pupunta yan. Hindi kailangang ang school ang pupunta sa bata. Sila ang pupunta sa eskwelahan (If no one prevents them, children will surely go to school. No need for the school to come to the children. They will go to school)," he pointed out.
"Itong sapilitang pagkasal sa mga bata at itong pagbabawal na mag-aral sila (This forced marriage among children and preventing them from getting an education) – that I cannot forgive. Whoever does that, for me, it's unforgivable."
Among the witnesses presented to the panel were children who escaped from Kapihan. They said they do not want to grow up without going to school.
Dela Rosa cited in contempt SBSI officials, including Mamerto Galanida, Karen Sanico, Janet Ajoc, and Jay Rence Quilario alias Senior Agila, in response to the motion raised by Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros.
The inquiry was conducted in response to the measures filed by dela Rosa and Hontiveros who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality.
The Philippine National Police already filed 12 cases against ranking officials of the SBSI while working with the National Bureau of Investigation for the case buildup.
The SBSI is a Surigao del Norte-based people's organization with 3,650 members, 1,587 of whom are believed to be minors. (PNA)