Philippines: Cult Leader A Shabu User


Ruben Ecleo Jr., the leader of the cultist group Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association ( PBMA ) who is accused of murdering his wife, tested positive for shabu at the Philippine National Police ( PNP ) Crime Laboratory at Camp Crame yesterday.

Ecleo, 47, was under the influence of shabu when he led about 200 of his followers in attacking policemen and soldiers who went to the Ecleo mansion in San Jose town on Dinagat island off Surigao del Norte, police said.  Sixteen of Ecleo's followers and a policeman died in the carnage that began Tuesday evening and ended with Ecleo's surrender early Wednesday.

The gun battle began as a joint team of the PNP and troops from the Army's 20th Infantry Battalion, backed up by air support from two MG-520 helicopters, attempted to serve a warrant of arrest on Ecleo in connection with the death of his 27-year-old wife, Alona Bacolod Ecleo.  Alona's remains were found inside a black garbage bag at the bottom of a cliff in Cebu last January.  Police suspect she had been strangled.

Ecleo, son of Rep.  Glenda Ecleo ( Lakas-NUCD ), denied involvement in the killing of Alona.

Officially known as the "Divine Master" of the PBMA, Ecleo pointed to Alona's brother Ben as the culprit.  Ben, the only witness to the murder, was shot dead in his Mandaue City home in Cebu as the Dinagat island carnage went on Tuesday.

Ben's father Elpidio, mother Rosalia and sister Evelyn were also killed by a gunman wielding an Ingram pistol and an Uzi sub-machine gun.  The killer was later identified as Rico Gumonong, 28, an active Ecleo supporter and a security guard of Postal Bank in Cebu City.  Gumonong died as he opened fire on policemen.

Recalling events on the evening of Jan.  6 when the fourth-year medical student Alona was killed, Ecleo said he resented her leaving their house with her brother Ben without seeking his permission.

Pressed to provide more details, Ecleo skipped narrating what transpired when Alona returned home.  He said Ben asked about Alona's whereabouts when they began searching for her.

It is alleged that Ecleo killed Alona because of her constant nagging that he undergo drug rehabilitation.

"I told Buboy ( Ben ), why should he ask about Alona's whereabouts when he was the last person she was with that night?" Ecleo told reporters.  He was prevented by officials of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group ( CIDG ) from revealing more details.  CIDG officials said Ecleo's case is pending in court.

Ecleo and an undetermined number of his followers would be charged with direct assault with complex crimes of homicide, frustrated homicide, and illegal possession of firearms for the death of 16 PBMA supporters and one policemen and the wounding of several others during Tuesday's clash, CIDG officials said.

About 200 PBMA members were turned over to their respective barangay captains for questioning by police.

Investigators are also trying to establish "solid" evidence that would link Ecleo to the killings of the Bacolod family members and one of their neighbors.  Engineer Paterno Lactawan, a neighbor of the Bacolods, was also killed in the attack by Gumonong.

Ecleo would be transferred to Cebu City today, where he will be presented to a regional trial court judge after the warrant issued for his arrest is returned.

"I am sorry this had to happen," Ecleo told reporters.  "I want them ( PBMA followers ) to keep their cool and not to resort to any violence anymore because so many lives were already lost," he said.

Ecleo spent Wednesday evening in Camp Crame.

He was subjected to a paraffin test yesterday morning to determine presence of gunpowder burns on his hands.

Ecleo expressed remorse over the death of 16 PBMA followers and one local policeman, saying he failed to control his followers whom he claimed failed to heed his advice not to fight with local policemen.

"I cannot blame anybody.  I wanted to immediately surrender to Sen.  ( Robert ) Barbers, but I had to follow my supporters.  It is sad that this had to happen.  I could not control them," Ecleo said.

Parishioners Warned Not To Join Ecleo Cult

Meanwhile, Fr.  Leonardo Mercado, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines ( CBCP ) Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue, said Bishop Miguel Cinches, a retired member of the CBCP assigned at Surigao del Norte, has warned parishioners not to join the cult of Ecleo because its teachings were against the Catholic church.  Cinches was bishop of Surigao del Norte from March 1973 to July 2001.

Mercado said he learned from Ciches that one of the conditions for PBMA membership is that Ecleo would take advantage of young women members or their female children by having sex with them and forcing them to bear his child.

Cult members would allow Ecleo to have sex with their daughters because they consider Ecleo's child as a "blessing to the family," it was claimed.

The cult also believed that Dinagat island is a "Noah's Ark," where all chosen members residing in the island would survive the "end of the world in the year 2015," Mercado said.

The PBMA was established and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Oct.  19, 1965.

Mercado suggested that one of the possible reasons why Ecleo was able to attract so many members was due to the "closeness" between the cult leader and the PBMA members.

"There is closeness in the cult's relationships.  They could see their leader and there is personal communication between the leader and the members," Mercado said.

Barbers said the Ecleo family was "well-loved" and had commanded the respect of the people.

Barbers said Ruben Ecleo Sr., a known faith healer, had "cured" a lot of believers and gained strong support from the local population because of this healing power.

He could not recall any incidents of terrorism or violence that involved the Ecleos.

Barbers said police authorities were contemplating on filing charges against Representative Ecleo for obstruction of justice as she did not surrender her son immediately.

He however said that although Mrs.  Ecleo had long wanted to turn over her son to authorities, she could not prevail over him. 

Newshawk: Free The Weed
Pubdate: Fri, 21 Jun 2002
Source: Philippine Star (Philippines)
Copyright: PhilSTAR Daily Inc. 2002
Author: Christina Mendez
Note: With reports from Sandy Araneta, Aurea Calica
Section: Headlines
Source: <>

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