Court okays bid to dig up Ecleo’s wife

CEBU CITY — Three years after she was buried, the body of Alona Bacolod-Ecleo will be dug up to settle questions on her identity, as the trial on her husband’s parricide case continues.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) granted the prosecution’s bid to exhume what is generally believed to be Alona’s body and subject it to DNA testing.

RTC Branch 9 Judge Geraldine Faith Econg Monday issued the order in open court after presiding over a hearing that discussed the opposition to the exhumation that Ruben Ecleo Jr.’s lawyers filed.

Econg said the court cannot deny the motion because the prosecution merely wanted to assert its right to do whatever it can to prove its case.

“Neither the court nor the accused can dictate to the prosecution what kind of evidence it should present. The prosecution must be given a free hand to introduce whatever evidence it wants to adduce,” she explained.

The exhumation will be carried out on March 7 and 8.

Parties will assemble at Econg’s sala and proceed to Talisay City, where the body is buried.

Three samples will be taken and submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation laboratory, the forensics department of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in Manila, and the PNP Crime Laboratory.

Her teeth will also be examined.

The DNA samples will be compared with DNA material from Alona’s brothers Ricky, Josebil and Angelito Bacolod.

The results of the teeth examination, meanwhile, will be compared with her dental records.

The motion seeking the court’s concurrence to the prosecution’s bid to have Alona dug up was filed last Feb. 14.

Four days later, the defense, comprising lawyers Orlando Salatandre and Giovanni Mata, submitted their opposition and cited, among other things, that the defense has never questioned the identity of the cadaver.

They said it is “highly improper and baseless” for the prosecution to preempt their move when they have not raised the issue.

The defense lawyers also said DNA testing is unreliable and, apart from muddling facts, it will delay the proceedings.

They also downgraded the importance of the test as “an apparent indication that the prosecution has failed to establish the identity of the victim.”

The prosecution panel, made up mostly of Integrated Bar of the Philippines volunteers, justified the exhumation as necessary “to answer questions on the identity of the cadaver.”

This, they said, was to anticipate the possibility that this issue will be raised if the parricide case is resolved in favor of the prosecution and, subsequently, appealed.

“We are convinced that the body found in Dalaguete is that of Alona. But we have decided to have the body exhumed so that, once and for all, the issue on the identity of the woman will be resolved,” lawyer Fritz Quinanola said.

He said the prosecution panel does not want what happened in the Chiong case to happen in Ecleo’s parricide case.

Alona, a 27-year-old medical student, was initially reported as missing on Jan. 5, 2002. Her body was later found stuffed inside a garbage bag and dumped down a roadside in Barangay Coro in the southern Cebu town of Dalaguete.

Her husband Ecleo, a former town mayor of San Jose, Dinagat Island in Surigao del Norte and a cult leader, stands accused of her murder.

In ruling for the prosecution, Judge Econg cited the Supreme Court’s Feb. 23, 2000 ruling in the People vs. Penaso case.

The High Tribunal considers the results of DNA testing “a more accurate and authoritative means of identification” when compared with eyewitness identification, Econg said.

Similarly, she said, the Supreme Court, in its March 8, 2001 resolution in the Tijing vs. CA case, ruled that courts should “not hesitate to rule on the admissibility of DNA evidence.”

“Courts should apply the results of science when competently obtained in aid of situations presented since to reject said result is to deny progress,” the High Court decreed.

“The DNA testing will establish the identity of the body. It is, in fact, the more accurate and authoritative means of identification. So far, only Josebil Bacolod’s testimony that the body is that of his sister is the lone evidence that identifies it. If the prosecution wants to bolster that, then it is the prosecution’s prerogative,” Judge Econg said in an interview.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Sun Star, Philippines
Feb. 22, 2005
Karlon N. Rama

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday February 22, 2005.
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