November 23, 2023
MANILA – A “cult scare” has driven tourists away from Socorro town in Surigao del Norte, a local government official said.
Socorro municipal agriculturist Edelito Sangco, chair of the government’s Task Force Kapihan, said tourist arrivals in the town had nosedived since the cult-like activities of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) were exposed in the Senate in September.
“Tourists, whether foreign or domestic, are naturally cautious about their security upon knowing that there is a ‘cult’ operating in the destination they are going to,” Sangco told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Sangco said the “cult scare” might have been sparked by the description of the group, led by Jey Rence Quilario who is known as “Senior Aguila,” as armed and with the capacity to exact violence as revealed by various resource persons who recounted their ordeal before the hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs.
He is worried that if not addressed immediately, the scare may spread to Siargao, dubbed the country’s surfing capital which is also fast becoming a haven of digital nomads.
Socorro is the gateway to the tourist destinations of Bucas Grande, which is part of the Siargao group of islands. One of its main draws is the Sohoton Cove.
From mainland Surigao del Norte, Socorro is accessible by boat from Claver town, and from Siargao through Dapa town.
Based on data from the local tourism office, the town landed on the map of leisure destinations in 2010, hosting close to 4,000 tourists.With more diverse offerings, tourism boomed, peaking in 2017 with over 50,000 tourists.
After the twin beatings of the pandemic starting early 2020 and Supertyphoon “Odette” (international name: Rai) in 2021, the local tourism industry began to recover early this year with at least 3,000 monthly visitors in the first quarter. This peaked to over 8,000 by June and has stayed over the 5,000-mark until September.
By October this year, amid the national attention on SBSI’s activities with tales of child abuse, forced marriages and other forms of oppression, tourist arrivals radically went down to just over 1,000.
According to Sangco, this situation can be remedied the sooner the SBSI community in Barangay Sering’s Sitio Kapihan is dismantled by authorities, beginning with the revocation of the group’s protected area community-based resource management agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
On Wednesday, Sangco disclosed that different government agencies started mapping out their coordinated next steps toward dismantling the Kapihan community and returning its current residents to their original communities in Socorro.
Sangco added that they were told by Surigao del Norte officials that the town’s reintegration program was also adopted by the provincial government so that their actions are harmonized.
He noted that the local government had received feelers that many of Kapihan’s remaining residents of over 3,500 were only awaiting signal from authorities so they could return to their old homes, although many of them had sold their houses prior to relocating there.