Sun Star (Philippines), Jan. 9, 2003
By Lorenzo P. Niñal
CEBU — Residents of Barangay Buhisan, Cebu City want out of their place a religious “cult” that allegedly engages in illegal treasure hunting activities and whose leader treats his female members as sex slaves.
Around 30 long-haired men, women and children of “Salva Me Pater Omnis Oculos Meus” have taken residence in Sitio Nazareth, Buhisan for five years now, creating a community that follows its own rules and severely punishing violators.
Roughly translated, the group’s name means “Father, save us from all our offenses.”
Living in caves and wooden houses five stories high, in a mountain that commands a view of the metropolis, the group waits “for the heavens will rain fire and brimstone.”
They keep a stable of horses, goats and chickens. They share a TV, a transistor radio and a VCD player. A member keeps a cellular phone to call “members living abroad.” They call their leader, Alfredo Verano, “Daddy Divine.”
“They call this treasure hunting? Wait till the heavens cry, they’ll know what are these caves for,” Verano said, pointing to one of the 15 or so chambers that pocked the mountain.
Some of the caves were originally dugouts made by the Japanese during World War II.
“The only treasure in the world is in the heart. You don’t need to hunt for it,” said the 57-year-old former military man.
“Sweet words, nothing but sweet words,” said Lolita Alcover, 41, and Cherie Wafer, 20, former Salva members.
The two, along with Alcover’s husband Rexille, have executed affidavit detailing the alleged abuses committed by Verano and his group.
Around 150 residents also signed a petition demanding that Alcover and his group be ejected from the barangay.
“Verano sexually abuse minors by making them believe it is the way to salvation,” their petition read.
Wafer alleged that when she was still with the group, Verano required them to sleep in a cave with only their panties on.
Last year, she decided she had enough after seeing Verano having sex with a married female member. She stayed with the group for only two months.
Alcover, too, left after Verano asked her to hold his penis and to “take care of it.”
“Galma ni og tulo ka adlaw, ug maimo na ni,” Alcover quoted Verano in her affidavit. (Take care of this for three days and this will be yours.)
The Alcover couple also accused Verano of swindling. They said Verano asked them to give him P20,000 “as a way to God’s salvation.”
They sold a parcel of their lot and gave the amount to Verano, who promised that the money will return to them 15 times as much.
This was shortly after the couple joined the group in 1994, with its base in Banawa at that time.
“I waited and waited, but no return of my money was made,” Alcover said in her affidavit.
“You believe them? They tell lies to cover their inability to live the life of the Father,” Alcover said in denying the accusation.
Children as young as nine years old were digging caves when Sun.Star visited the place Wednesday. Armed with iron bars and pickaxes, the minors carved out “beds”, “tables”, “chairs” and other pieces of “furniture” from the hard surface.
Brothers Danny and Chris, 20 and 16, said they quit school and joined the group in 1999, after Verano “healed” them of their illnesses.
They confirmed the allegation that a five-year-old boy died while digging a cave on Nov. 25, 1999. The boy was hitting a hard rock when the pickaxe he was using bounced back and pierced him in the chest, Wafer said.
But for Danny and Chris, the boy died because he didn’t pray before going to work.
Jerry, nine, enumerated to Sun.Star the food they eat to stay fit for work: “Baka, baboy, manok. Sinabaw gyud na pirmi, pailis sa singot,” he said, while scratching his head for lice. (Beef, pork, chicken. Usually soup, to replace what we have sweat out.)
Wafer, however, said the boys are treated cruelly, especially when they don’t please Verano.
“I know personally that cigarette butts are put out on the sex organs of the minors because they are trained to become warriors later on,” she said.
But the boys said it’s not true, and that they are willing to stay in the mountains to dig caves forever.
They may not have their wish, though.
The Buhisan Barangay Council has passed a resolution approving the residents’ petition to remove the group from the area.
The Alcover couple and Wafer also vowed to fight the group in court.
When told of this, Verano lit a cigarette, closed his eyes and mumbled a prayer in Latin.
Then he spread his arms and said: “Our Father in heaven said we need a lawyer.”