Ecleo Recruiting Fellow Jailbirds at Cebu City Jail

He's at it Again

Philippine Star/June 25, 2002
By Ben Serrano

Cebu City -- Despite being imprisoned for parricide, murder, multiple murder, drug abuse, sedition, direct assault, resisting arrest, illegal possession of firearms and possession of illegal drugs, Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. has begun recruiting new PBMA members.

Now imprisoned in the Cebu City jail, Ecleo said he intends to continue his ministry and recruit his cellmates: "I intend to build a fellowship center for the PBMA here. I want to make a difference here, continue my mission to help others."

Guards of the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center found three small packets of shabu among Ecleo's personal effects last Friday as the PBMA leader was being brought to jail.

A drug test conducted on Ecleo at Camp Crame last week showed he had indeed used shabu and was under the influence of the illegal drug during the June 18 clash between lawmen and his followers at the family mansion in San Jose town on Dinagat island off Surigao del Norte.

Jail officials said Ecleo's recruitment of new PBMA members within the Cebu City jail is "not illegal" so long as he and his recruits do not cause trouble within the prison facility.

Some 400 PBMA members flocked to the prison to visit their "supreme president." Ecleo was also visited by his younger brother, Benglen and his four-year-old daughter Benna, though no other next of kin went to see him.

Ecleo shares his detention cell with seven other inmates and has some home comforts to boot - an electric fan, television set and compact disc player.

Chief Cebu City Prosecutor Jose Pedrosa said the drug charges to be filed against Ecleo will buttress the parricide case against him for the murder of his wife, Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, last Jan. 6. Alona's decomposing body had been stuffed in a black garbage bag and dropped to the bottom of a ravine in Cebu City. She had been strangled.

Alona had reportedly been nagging Ecleo to undergo drug rehabilitation before she her death. "It (the drug charges) will fortify the motive (Ecleo may have had) for killing his wife," Pedrosa said.

However, Pedrosa also expressed fear that Ecleo's defense counsel may use his client's drug addiction to request rehabilitation for Ecleo, thus preventing the arraignment of Ecleo because the PBMA leader may not understand the charges he faces while still under the influence of shabu.

Dinagat massacre revisited

On the other hand, witnesses and survivors of the Dec. 13, 2000 Dinagat massacre by the PBMA elite force of 11 of their own members, farmers and fisherfolk known as the White Guerreros have again raised their voices for justice: "They (the White Guerreros) were butchered like chickens."

The White Guerreros had gone to see Ecleo at his mansion at 8 a.m. on Dec. 13 to discuss treatment options for the PBMA leader's worsening shabu addiction, which had begun to take its toll on his health. They left their wives and children at the Ecleo Shrine, some 100 meters from the Ecleo mansion in San Jose town on Dinagat island.

All the White Guerreros got in return for their trouble was a deadly hail of bullets from Ecleo's elite bodyguards, the White Eagles, who shot the victims on his orders.

Not content with just shooting the White Guerreros from a distance, the White Eagles closed in on the downed farmers and fisherfolk and shot them in the head to make sure they were dead.

Killed were Edico, Emilio, Alex and Bonifacio Quiñanola, Efren Totao, Pedro Palacio, Jesus Paelden, Teofilo Colot, Teodoro Mondeja, Rogelio Pagtapat and Benny Apatan. Each of the fatalities bore fatal gunshot wounds to the head, case investigators said not stab wounds as earlier reported by the San Jose police.

Witnesses Jay, Rudy, Bienvenido and Bernardino Quiñanola, Wenceslao Sucalip, Villamor Manculob, Domingo Tabanera, all recounted the massacre in sworn statements made before Surigao City Prosecutors Danilo Menor and Pepito Lago and Surigao del Norte Prosecutor Jose Villaces on January and February of 2001, copies of which were obtained by The STAR. The witnesses said they survived the shooting by jumping and scampering away, though some of them were shot.

"They (the White Guerreros) were butchered like chickens. After firing their Armalites, the suspects all closed in - the bodyguards of (Ecleo). They lined the cadavers (of the White Guerreros) up outside the Ecleos' mansion and, at close range, shot them each in the head," witnesses to the massacre said.

The witnesses could not do more than give their sworn testimony for lack of money, despite the strong evidence that could pin Ecleo and his White Eagles down for the multiple murders.

The Dinagat massacre was also described by the late Ben Bacolod, Ecleo's brother-in-law, in a sworn affidavit before the Cebu police shortly before he was shot dead on June 18 in his Mandaue City home along with a neighbor, his parents and his sister by one Rico Gumonong, reportedly a hard-core PBMA member.

The Bacolod family was gunned down on the same night that police tried to serve a warrant for Ecleo's arrest for the murder of his wife, Alona. PBMA members holding vigil outside the Ecleo mansion held lawmen off until some of the White Eagles opened fire on the law enforcers and engaged them in a sporadic gun battle.

According to his sworn statement, Bacolod had been near Ecleo when the PBMA leader gave the order for his men to open fire on the approaching White Guerreros.

Ecleo's bodyguards, however, said in their sworn counter-affidavits regarding the Dinagat massacre that the evidence on record is not sufficient for the filing of multiple murder charges against them.

Now detained for multiple murder charges are Francisco Paler, 61 of Poblacion San Jose, Dinagat Island, and Mario Libo-on, 48 of Mahayahay, San Jose. Both of the suspects are farmers and members of the White Eagles. However, the two detainees claimed innocence of the crime.

Libo-on sustained gunshot wounds in the legs from the incident, while Paler, a market collector, said he was arrested without warrant.

Ecleo himself questioned the "late" filing of the multiple murder complaint on Jan. 12, 2001 - one month and one day after the incident happened.

The witnesses said they feared for their lives and could not afford to file the affidavits immediately. Many of them have left their homes on Dinagat Island.

Meanwhile, Surigao del Norte and Caraga police are still searching for three missing machine guns reportedly confiscated from the PBMA's White Eagles - two .30 caliber machine guns and one .60 caliber machine gun.

Provincial police chief Ricky Naz Nerbes ordered a company of his men to return to Dinagat Island to recover the missing weapons.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon earlier asked the police to confiscate all high-powered firearms in the possession of the PBMA and has asked that the police conduct an investigation into how the PBMA were able to obtain these firearms.

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