By Mike Cohen
Manila - Philippine authorities are desperately searching the countryside in the Southern Philippine province of Sultan Kulerat for a large number of children believed to have been stolen by a cult that is allegedly abusing the children en-masse. In what is being called a massive child search and rescue operation the military and police are looking for a cave where scores of children have been brought to be members of the group; a 'shadowy cult police claim in a remote area. The Philippine Government Philippine News Agency reported "Police in Sultan Kudarat have started looking for a cave where hundreds of children were allegedly being held captive by a cult."
Authorities were alerted to the mass kidnappings after a "account by a 14-year-old boy who claimed to have escaped from the cult prompted authorities to search for the cave, possibly located in the mountains near Lutayan town" the remote hinterland province is home also to rebel groups it i unclear if the children are being kidnapped for service in the various armed bands that roam the Philippine countryside. The government run news agency reports;."The cult is believed responsible for the disappearance of children in various places, including South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City". The areas are large communities where a sudden surge of disappearances has accrued.
"The boy, whose identity and address was withheld for security reasons, was brought to the Lutayan police station by residents approached by the child after fleeing from the cult." The State run news agency report said further “Police say that there have been other similar reports of this kind of crime”. adding further the boys escape may shed light on the disappearance of hundreds of other young boys and teenaged men, “He told policemen that he was kidnapped several weeks ago by a group of men. They covered his nose with a substance-laced cloth and he lost consciousness. When he woke up, the boy found himself in a dark cave filled with children, who were also kidnapped."
In Manila at the National Police Headquarters operations center say they fear the cult may be a cover for a mass recruitment by kidnapping of insurgent groups who have done this before on Basilan Island in the Southern Philippines. Four insurgent groups operate in the Southern Philippines ranging from Communist rebels. Two factions of the Islamic separatist movement the MNLF and the MILF but most of these groups do not engage in kidnapping of children as fighters.
The fourth a Al Qaeda linked group of insurgents called the Abu Sayyaf who are allies of the Jemaah Islamiah and Al Qaeda. Are known to kidnap en-mass to “recruit and brainwash’ young men and boys often keeping them for weeks until they join raids or crime spree’s or using them as ‘cannon fodder” between them and government forces.
Authorities say the last time group had been known to kidnap young men and boys was often prior to engaging in large battles. UNESCO & UNCHR have several times in the past condemned the use of child fighters in conflicts in the Philippine insurgency by armed groups in the last few years as the Philippine economy has improved it has become harder for some armed groups to find recruits claim authorities and they have been known to abduct children in a effort in increase their numbers in the field.