Cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. found guilty of murdering wife

Religion News Blog — Ten years after his wife’s body was found inside a black garbage bag dumped in a ravine, Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. of Dinagat Island, Philippines, was found guilty of parricide and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or at least 30 years’ imprisonment.

The former congressman, who earlier this year also was sentenced to 31 years in jail for graft, is missing.

The Inquirer says

Ecleo, who was not present during the reading of the verdict, was found guilty of killing his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo inside their home in Cebu City in 2002.  Aside from a life sentence, the “supreme master” of the cult group Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) was also ordered to pay the heirs of his wife P25 million in compensatory damages, to represent what Alona would have earned had she been able to finish and practice medicine. […]

Ecleo was represented by his lawyer Orlando Salatandre who said he didn’t know where his client was as they only communicated by phone.  Ecleo was detained at the Cebu City jail but released on a P1-million bail in March 2004, after the court allowed him to seek medical treatment for his heart ailment. His cardiologist had described him as a “walking time bomb” who could drop dead anytime due to probable cardiac complications.

Ecleo also faces a 31-year jail term after the Sandiganbayan found him guilty of three counts of graft during his stint as mayor of San Jose, Dinagat Island, for overpaying for the construction of two municipal buildings and for spending public funds for a women’s center owned by his group, the PBMA.

Salatandre said they would appeal the verdict before a higher court because there were issues raised by the defense that were not appreciated by the court. One of them was the question of identification. The defense contended that the woman found dead in Dalaguete was not Alona. […]

The promulgation capped a 10-year trial that was marked by the inhibition of six judges handling the case. Judge Peras was the seventh judge to handle the Ecleo parricide case.

Security was tight at the Palace of Justice and only a limited number of people were allowed inside the courtroom.  Even the camps of Ecleo and Bacolod were allowed only 20 representatives each.
More than 50 policemen roved around the Palace of Justice building at the Capitol compound in Cebu City since 6 a.m. on Friday, while PBMA members clad in white shirts were seen gathering outside the courtroom, apparently to lend moral support to their “supreme master.” They could be recognized by the PBMA ring on their finger.

The Cebu Daily News reports

Two brothers of the slain medical student wept with relief as the 200-page decision of Regional Trial Court Judge Soliver Peras ended with clear penalties: reclusion perpetua (life imprisionment), which draws 20 to 40 years, and P25,650,000 in damages. […]

“It is now the job of the police to arrest Ecleo,” said prosecutor Alfredo Sipalay.

He said they will ask President Benigno Aquino III to order a nationwide manhunt for Ecleo, who is the “supremo” of his own religious cult. […]

[Prosecution lawyer Fritz] Quinanola agreed that the next priority is to capture Ecleo.

“The ball is now with the PNP. There are around 140,000 policemen across the country. There is no reason Ecleo can’t be arrested. The police as well as the Secretary of Justice should resign if they fail to arrest Ecleo,” said Quiñnanola, a former police general. He repeated their request to House Speaker Ricardo Belmonte to remove Ecleo from the list of congressmen.

In his decision, the judge gave weight to the eyewitness testimonies of Alona’s brother Josebil Bacolod and witness Gloria Navaja.

Josebil said he saw Ecleo’s men carrying a black plastic garbage bag in the couple’s residence in Guadalupe, Cebu City.Josebil, who was two rooms away from the couple’s bedroom, said he earlier heard thuds and shouts from Alona inside the couple’s bedroom.

The second witness, Navaja, said she saw Ecleo and two other men throw a garbage bag off a ravine in Dalaguete town, south Cebu. […]

Ecleo’s alibi that he was in the PBMA chapter in Talisay City when the incident happened didn’t convince the judge, who said it was impossible for Ecleo to be in Talisay City and in Dalaguete town at the same time.

The judge also didn’t believe Ecleo’s claims that the cadaver found in Dalaguete wasn’t that of his wife Alona. Peras cited attempts of Ecloe’s camp to get the body from the funeral house.

The judge said Ecleo should have gone looking for Alona when she was declared missing, but he didn’t even bother to verify the dead body and testifed later that he went to PBMA chapters in Lapu-Lapu City and Bogo City where he had sing-along sessions. […]

Peras was the seventh judge to handle the high-profile case. Other judges inhibited themselves for various reasons, a sign of the kind of pressure brought in a criminal trial where Alona’s parents, a brother,a sister, neighbor and private prosecutor were killed by gunmen traced to the PBMA.

Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association
Ecleo is considered the spiriual leader of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), a religious group founded by his father.

The PBMA, considered to be theologically a cult of Christianity, has an estimated one million members in the central and southern Philippines.

Followers consider Ruben Ecleo Jr., who took control over the group after his father’s death in 1987, to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 14, 2012.
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