The Sandiganbayan — a special court in the Philippines — has ordered the arrest of cult leader — and Congress member — Ruben Ecleo and two others after the Supreme Court dismissed their motion to overturn their conviction on graft charges, the Philippine Daily Inquirer writes.
Ecleo is the “supreme master” of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) which his father, Ruben Sr. founded. The group is based in Dinagat Island.
The graft conviction of Ecleo and the others stemmed from charges that they made fraudulent fund disbursements for construction projects in San Jose, Surigao del Norte, between 1991 and 1994. Ecleo was then mayor of the town.
The Sandiganbayan found Ecleo guilty on three counts of graft in October 2006 and sentenced him to 18 to 31 and a half years’ imprisonment.
Ecleo’s conviction means an absolute disqualification from public office, ABS-CBN states.
In August, 2010 Ecleo became a member of congress, representing his native Dinagat Island.
Ecleo Jr. takes over the seat of his mother, Glenda Ecleo.
Ecleo’s family controls the province, populated mainly by members of their group, which others have described as a cult.
At the time ABS-CBN explained:
Ecleo Jr. was accused and remains on trial for parricide over the gruesome death of his wife, Alona, in 2002.
The case has been pending in the Cebu Regional Trial Court since 2002.
Arresting him was controversial since 23 people died in a night of violence as police went to serve the warrant for his arrest.
Ecleo Jr., 47, finally surrendered after a night of bloody fighting between law enforcers and armed PBMA followers on the island of Dinagat, CARAGA police director Chief Superintendent Alberto Olario said.
The shootout erupted as a joint team of Philippine National Police (PNP) and soldiers of the Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion – with air support from two MG-520 helicopters – tried to serve Ecleo a warrant of arrest in connection with the murder of his wife, fourth-year medical student Alona Bacolod Ecleo, in Cebu City.
Congressmen cannot be detained while Congress is in session.
Now that his conviction on graft charges is upheld Ecleo will be expelled from congress, losing his parliamentary immunity from arrest.
House Majority Leader Neptali ‘Boyet’ Gonzales told ABS-CBN News that the House will strike out of its rolls Ecleo as soon as the House of Representatives receives a certificate of finality upholding his conviction.
“If the penalty imposed includes the accessory penalty of perpetual and absolute disqualification to hold any public office, as soon as the House of Representatives receives certificate of finality of judgment, his name will be deleted from the roll,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales opined there will be no need for ethics proceedings to expel Ecleo since he has been convicted by final judgment.
Ecleo also loses parliamentary immunity from arrest.
Ecleo’s trial on charges of parricide has dragged on for 9 years. In 2004, Ecleo was allowed to post a P1 million bail due to a heart ailment—a contention which the prosecution continues to contest before the court.
On Friday Ecleo filed a petition at the Supreme Court seeking to stop the warrant for his arrest issued by the Sandiganbayan.
In an “extremely urgent motion”, Ecleo argued that he still has two pending petitions with the high tribunal, including a motion for reconsideration of one of three cases in which he was convicted of graft.