Ecleo judge says bribe attempts can’t force her to inhibit self

CEBU — The regional trial court (RTC) judge handling the parricide case against cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. said the attempts by Ecleo’s followers to bribe her will not force her to inhibit herself from the case.

This, after it emerged that the attempts to bribe RTC Judge Geraldine Faith Econg could have been mere ploys to force her to make a public outburst that would lay her open to accusations of bias against Ecleo.

But Econg said there is still no pending motion by Ecleo asking her to inhibit herself from the case. Besides, she insisted, “I am just doing my job.”

Ecleo’s lawyers Orlando Salatandre and Giovanni Mata denied Ecleo had anything to do with the bribe attempts, but admitted they may use the incident as a ground to ask Econg to inhibit herself.

With what happened, they said they could no longer expect a “fair mind from the court.”

But Econg is unfazed, saying the bribe attempts do no affect her and that she remains focused on the case.

Econg is the sixth judge to handle the Ecleo case. The others inhibited themselves from the case for one reason or another.

Cebu City councilor Gerardo Carillo, spokesman of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said both their city and provincial chapters continue to support and have confidence in Econg.

“We believe she can dispense justice fairly,” he said.

Carillo said the bribe attempts were purposely done to set the ground for Ecleo’s lawyers to file a motion for Econg’s inhibition, hoping the Supreme Court would eventually decide to move the trial to Manila.

Last Wednesday, Econg said that on at least three occasions in December, female members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), which holds Ecleo as supreme master, saw her in her chambers and offered to bribe her in exchange for her dropping out of the case.

Ecleo has a pending motion to have his case transferred to Manila, claiming that Cebuanos have been very hostile to him.

Econg, however, denied getting any death threats from her handling of the Ecleo case. But she said she does feel threatened by Ecleo’s followers.

Ecleo, who rules from the PBMA stronghold in San Jose, Dinagat, Surigao del Norte, is accused of killing his wife, Alona Bacolod, in 2002 in Cebu City where she was finishing her medical course at a local university.

PBMA members are known to go to extreme measures to protect their supreme master. During Ecleo’s arrest in his stronghold by a joint police-military team, more than 20 of his followers were killed trying to defend him.

On that same day, a lone PBMA gunman nearly wiped out all the members of the Bacolod family in Mandaue City. The gunman was later killed by pursuing policemen.

Recently, eight PBMA members armed with a virtual arsenal of high-powered guns and grenades were arrested at a police checkpoint in Lapu-Lapu City.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena believed he was the target of the armed group for having publicly accused Ecleo of being the mastermind in the murder of lawyer Arbet Sta. Ana Yongco, a private prosecutor in Ecleo’s parricide case.

A witness to the Yongco murder pointed to one of the eight arrested PBMA members, a certain Nestor Carrol, as the one who drove Michel Favila, also a PBMA member and suspect in the Yongco murder, away from the crime scene.

Despite the bribe attempts, Econg said her chambers will still remain open to visitors although they will be made to register in a logbook.

National Bureau of Investigation director Reynaldo Wycoco, who was in Cebu the other day, said he will provide Econg with a security detail.

RTC Executive Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. said he is also looking into the possibility of stepping up security in the courts due to the incident.

With Joeberth Ocao and Cristina Birondo/ Freeman News Service

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