Ecleo trial begins; judge bans foreign travel

CEBU CITY, Cebu, Philippines — A Cebu Regional Trial Court judge yesterday issued a hold departure order against controversial cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr.

Judge Geraldine Econg yesterday directed Ecleo to refrain from traveling abroad and restrict himself to Cebu or the court would revoke his bail bond and issue a warrant of arrest for him.

Econg issued the order despite the manifestation of Orlando Salantandre, Ecleo’s defense counsel, that his client had already surrendered his passport to the court that granted his request to post a P1 million bail for provisional liberty.

Salantandre said his client would need to stay longer in Manila for his periodic heart tests.

Econg has ordered Ecleo to stay at the address indicated in his release order. She also ordered the defense to notify the court whenever Ecleo has to go to Manila for a medical check-up.

After two months of delay, the parricide case against the controversial cult leader was heard yesterday after it was raffled to Econg, the sixth judge who handled the case.

Ecleo, supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, stands accused of killing his wife, Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, 27, on Jan. 5, 2002.

Her decomposing body was found inside a garbage bag in a ravine along the roadside of Barangay Coro, Dalaguete, about 85 km south of this city. An autopsy report showed that Alona died of strangulation.

Ecleo yesterday told reporters that he welcomed the court’s decision. He said he was also grateful to Econg for granting his request to spend the holiday season with his children who are all on Dinagat Island, the base of the PBMA, in Surigao del Norte.

Ecleo was accompanied at the start of the hearing by his mother, Surigao Del Norte Rep. Glenda Ecleo.

Econg denied Salantandre’s motion to defer court proceedings pending the resolution of their request to transfer the venue of the trial to Manila.

The court did not rule on the matter since the Office of the Court Administrator has yet to elevate the request to the Supreme Court.

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