Cebu Daily News (Philippines), Jan. 23, 2003
By Suzzane B. Salva
CEBU Regional Trial Court Judge Pampio Abarintos asked an eight-year-old girl, daughter of a Salva Me cult member, if she knew how to read and write.
The child shook her head.
“Is this the kind of education that you are telling this court that an eight-year-old child cannot read and cannot write?” Abarintos asked as he turned to the cult’s counsel Rex Fernandez who said that children of the cult have informal education.
The lawyer, however, responded that a “system of belief is also taught, what is God? What are the values necessary to live life.”
“We are not talking about beliefs, we are talking about education. When the law speaks of education, it also speaks of the obligation of the parents to educate. It does not deal only with religion. Education duly recognized by the government, not education about their culture, not about their religion,” the judge said.
With this, the judge turned to the parents and explained in the dialect that government has nothing to do with their religious belief.
“Ang gusto sa atong gobyerno, mo protehir sa atong mga bata. Dili manghilabot sa inyong relihiyon, motuo mo ni Satanas bahala mo, ni Tarpulano. Pero kung pananglitan ang inyong pagtuo ma-apektahan ang mga bata, moapil ang goberyo ug ang korte. Ang inyong mga anak dili ninyo personal property (What government wants is to protect the children. It will not interfere with your religion, whether you believe in Satan, in Tarpulano. But when your beliefs affect the children’s welfare, then government and the court will interfere. Your children are not your personal property),” Abarintos stressed.
Abarintos held a summary hearing for protective custody of the children yesterday morning.
However with certain conditions, the court yesterday returned the 14 ‘rescued’ children of the were ‘rescued’ last Jan. 20 from the cult’s mountain colony in barangay Buhisan, Cebu City in response to a complaint for child abuse.
The government agencies said the children were allegedly made to haul rocks, excavate and dig caves, which activities are detrimental to their safety and health.
One of the parents however told the judge that the report about the children being utilized in treasure hunting is not true. She accused some members of the print media (not) of asking their children to pose carrying digging implements, as they took pictures.
The petition stated that after examination, the children were found to be malnourished, had no personal hygiene and had poor health.
The petition further cited an admission from one of the minor’s parents that they do not send their children to school because they believe in the preaching of their cult leader, Alfredo Verano, whom they call Daddy Divine.
“Even Jesus Christ who did not go to school is learned and full of wisdom,” Verano reportedly preached.
Fernandez argued that the petition is a façade, “to drive away my clients from the abode they are living in.”
He accused Cebu City Councilor Gerardo Carillo, also DSWD counsel, of fabricating the charges “because he is also into treasure hunting.”
Fernandez added that the petition is a “totalitarian case of taking the paternal roles of the parents who have the power of their minor children,” unless grave abuse can be shown, which he said, is absent in this case.
Carillo, on the other hand, argued that the children’s stay in the area is life-threatening and cited the affidavit of one Pableo Jurado who claimed that his 15-year-old half brother died on Nov. 25, 1999 while digging for treasure.
Jurado, in his sworn statement, said his brother, Edgar died of a penetrating wound on the chest. It was only later that he learned that his brother was employed in Verano’s treasure hunting activities.
He said Edgar was doing excavation using a sharp pointed bar when a rock fell on him, causing the bar’s tip to pierce his chest that allegedly resulted to his instantaneous death.
“The protective custody should not be interpreted as grabbing the custody of the children,” Carillo told the parents.
Fernandez argued that the city government and welfare workers could not use the allegations of the children being malnourished or not going to school as basis because majority of the children are malnourished.
Meanwhile, petitioners Cebu City Government and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) will continue to monitor the condition of the children.
If the children are found to be healthy in a “thorough and credible examination” 30 days after, welfare workers “will rest their case.”
In a separate interview, Carillo said the city government is ready to file a case for the cessation of the compromise if the parents fail to comply with the agreement.
Carillo said there are still more agencies who are set to dip their fingers into the situation.
Other members of the inter-agency committee led by the Commission in Human Rights (CHR) have yet to receive their copies of the transcript during the group’s public hearing last week.
Agencies like the Department of Environment and natural Resources (DENR), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Health and CHR will look at specific aspects and possibly file separate cases.
City Hall departments like the City Planning and Development Office and the Office of the Building Official are also set to submit their findings regarding their inspections on the buildings and cave excavations. (With a report from Wilfredo Rodolfo III)