Sun Star (Philippines), Jan. 23, 2003
By Giovanni A. Nilles
CEBU — The Cebu Regional Trial Court (RTC) Wednesday ordered the return of 14 children from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to their parents, who are all members of the cult, especially those that concern the children, and to report to him if the parents renege on their promises.
However, the release of the children does not mean the dismissal of the petition for custody, which the DSWD filed last Monday.
The Family Code states, “parental authority and responsibility may not be renounced or transferred except in cases authorized by law.”
The 14 children were earlier “rescued” from the Salva Me Pater Omnis Pater Oculus Meus in Sitio Nazareth, Barangay Buhisan, Cebu City after allegations surfaced that some of them were sexually abused and subjected to hard labor.
There were reports that the children were made to dig caves for the cult’s dwelling. Salva Me is also said to be engaged in treasure hunting.
Cebu City Councilor Arsenio Pacaña wants attention paid to alleged treasure hunting not just by the cult, but also by three other groups in Buhisan.
Pacaña is calling on environment officials to check the reported blastings by treasure hunters in the mountains of Sitio Langub.
“They were digging recently in the mountains and I believe they don’t have the permits from the government agencies concerned,” Pacaña told reporters.
Buhisan Barangay Captain Rustica Asid has written the environment department about the separate diggings by the groups. Two of them were identified as Pardinian of Punta Princesa and Godin.
Barangay residents said the diggers, who believe some wealth buried during the Japanese occupation by has remained unearthed, began their activity last year.
They were also the ones who asked that the Salva Me be booted out of Sitio Nazareth because of the diggings and the sexual conduct of its cult leader, Alfredo “Daddy Divine” Verano.
Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Pablo Garcia, assured that City Hall, in taking custody of the cult’s children, cannot be held for kidnapping.
Garcia cited certain laws on children’s welfare such as Presidential Decree 603 that could justify the City’s action.
“I doubt very much (they will succeed),” Garcia said, on the cult’s threat to file kidnapping charges against the local officials.
In Wednesday’s hour-long court hearing, private prosecutor and Cebu City Councilor Gerardo Carillo said the complaints against the cult started in November.
The police and Buhisan officials confirmed the complaints.
Carillo pointed out that the rescued children were found underweight, had to be dewormed and lacked personal hygiene when they were examined by government doctors.
But defense lawyer Rex Fernandez argued that the act of taking the children away is akin to removing the paternal role of their parents who were exercising their right to religion.
“Who are we to impose our beliefs on them?” he said, describing the rescue as an act of harassment and an attack on the religious belief of a minority.
Fernandez also said the children were educated by their parents, contrary to news reports that they were not sent to school because it goes against their beliefs.
However, Judge Abarintos was able to prove this contention wrong as an eight-year-old failed to even read or write the word “no”.
Abarintos, who presides over one of two family courts, also said Carillo can go back to the court if it will be found that the children’s parents violated the promise they made.(GAN with Ginging Campana and Jeanette P. Malinao of Sun.Star Cebu)