Finally, cult chief Ecleo will have his day in court

Manila Bulletin (Philippines), Feb. 13, 2003
By: M. Mosqueda And A. Monterola

CEBU CITY — Finally, after more than seven months of waiting, detained cult leader and parricide suspect Ruben Ecleo Jr. will finally have his day in court as his arraignment has been set on Feb. 19.

The arraignment at the sala of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Generosa Labra will allow the supreme leader of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), a cult, to enter a plea on the charge that he killed his wife Alona Bacolod.

A large crowd is expected to gather at the RTC Branch 23. This prompted court staff to prepare security measures during the arraignment and trial proper.

The parricide case did not move since it was filed early last year as Ecleo’s lawyer asked the Supreme Court to transfer the venue of the trial from Cebu to Manila.

The lawyer had said his client will not get a fair trial here, citing adverse public opinion against Ecleo.

The motion was resolved only last November.

However, the case got stalled again after RTC Judge Galicano Arriesgado inhibited himself from hearing the case, citing the prosecution’s discontentment over the delay.

He was the second judge to have inhibited himself from the case. The first was Judge Olegario Sarmiento Jr. of RTC Branch 24 who also chose not to conduct the trial of the case over his disagreement with the Crusade Against Violence, which is supporting the prosecution of the case.

On the directive of Supreme Court Deputy Administrator Zenaida Elipanio who talked with Arriesgado over a long-distance call, all documents and evidence have been forwarded to Judge Labra who is the pairing judge of the court where the case was originally assigned.

Under a SC internal rule, a pairing judge can hear a case at a paired court when the presiding judge of that court is absent or has inhibited himself from the case.

Ecleo had denied having killed his wife, stuffing her body in a garbage bag and dumping it at a roadside in Dalaguete, Cebu on Jan. 5, 2002. He had said that he loved his wife and could not have killed her.

It took several lives, though, and more than 100 government troopers to force Ecleo to surrender last June 18.

Some of Ecleo’s supporters in the PBMA engaged the arresting policemen in a shootout in San Jose, Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte.

A PBMA member also allegedly killed three members of the Bacolod family, including witness Ben Bacolod, in their residence in Mandaue City on the day Ecleo surrendered.

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