CHR starts today probe of cult for rights abuses

The Manila Bulletin (Philippines), Jan. 13, 2003
http://www.mb.com.ph/
By: Mars W. Mosqueda Jr.

CEBU CITY — The Region 7 office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is scheduled to start today its full-blown investigation on controversial cult Salva Me Pater Omnis Oculos Meus based in sitio Nazareth, barangay Buhisan here.

The CHR will conduct the probe to verify reports that the cult’s leader has violated children’s and women’s rights.

CHR 7 chief investigator Eddie Ramon Gurrea said that aside from himself, investigators from the departments of Labor and Employment, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, and Social Welfare and Development were set to visit the barangay to look into allegations hurled against the cult.

Gurrea said CHR was chosen as the lead agency in the investigation because it will primarily look into the cult’s possible violations of children’s and women’s rights.

He said he has requested CHR Regional Director Alejandro Alonzo Jr. to provide the probe team with a legal counsel who would get the sworn statements of the victims and witnesses.

Noting reports that children were made to work and women were sexually abused, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said the city government should assist residents of Buhisan and investigate the sect that a former military volunteer, Alfredo Verano, heads.

Vidal also asked the DENR to examine the excavations the cult allegedly created, lest it damages the environment there.

The city government has requested CHR to lead a government team of investigators to conduct an inquiry into the growing controversy surrounding the cult.

About 30 people, including at least 10 to 15 children, are sheltered in a makeshift shelter of cult leader Verano, purportedly in anticipation of the end of the world. Members are allegedly made to believe they will be spared of nature’s wrath because their abode is the “chosen place.”

They are also said to be prohibited from going out without Verano’s permission, and the violation of the order would mean a punishment of death by the “Father.”

Those who have defected from the group are called “maluibon” or traitor.

The controversy surrounding the cult arose after two former members filed charges against Verano in court for alleged sexual abuse of women members and exploitation of minors in his treasure-hunting activity in the cave near the cult’s dwelling.

Later, 150 barangay residents filed a petition against Verano and his cult to go away from the barangay.

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