Roperos: The Ecleo case

Cebu Sun Star/October 4, 2002
By Godofredo M. Roperos

Since when have prisoners been granted the right to demand what prison cell they should occupy in our jails? And since when have friends and kin of suspects been given the unique privilege of pressuring authorities for special treatment of suspected murderers simply because they head religious cults, and kin to powerful politicians in the home province? The "feigned" sickness of one Ruben Ecleo Jr. does not only abuse our sense of credibility, it also belittles the integrity of our justice system and the judiciary.

It is good, though, that the proper authorities have seen fit to return him immediately to where he belongs-in a prison cell without privileges. And it is also good that an inquiry is being made into how Ecleo was able to get such special treatment from the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center (BBRC) that includes permission to have a woman with him who is definitely not his wife.

If he is the leader of a religious cult, which is what I understand his group is, he should have made it a point to conduct his life with utmost care, being the role model of its religious morality.

But if we are to believe all the reports we read in the local dailies, he is not only setting a bad example for his followers. He is also trying to delude his followers into believing in his infallibility as their earthly "god". Yet, his misbehavior does not only make him a sort of "fallen idol" to his followers. He is also similarly projecting the particular image to the rest of the people in Cebu where he lives part of the time, and in Dinagat Island where his group is based, where he is not only a cult leader, but also political leader as town mayor.

The incarceration of Ruben Ecleo Jr. for the alleged murder of his wife, does present a very intriguing dilemma to our country's contemporary social and political condition. His social stature necessitates from us not just extending to him the commensurate courtesy due the "father" of a religious group, but also the respect people similarly grant a community leader as Ecleo is, being mayor of a town in his island "kingdom". But the way he has been behaving he does not deserve the idolatry for a revered religious icon.

But his loyal cult followers had reportedly deman-ded not to have Ecleo moved to another cell and threatened that if their request would not be granted, suicide squads might come from their Dinagat lair and wreak havoc in Cebu City. On top of it, Ecleo's supposed political sympathizers among Surigao del Norte's provincial politicians had also tried to pressure local authorities to extend the "requested" special treatment in our city jail to their favorite son. What exactly do they think of our legal system, a malleable plaything?

I think it is time that our truly responsible leaders make a stand against efforts to corrupt our laws, and make mincemeat of our legal system, as if it is something that can be redone to a particular form or design that suits the need for the moment.

This attitude among many of our leaders who perceive themselves as possessing power and wielding strong influence in the community is exactly what has weakened the moral, social and political foundation of the national society, from the highest to the lowest social stratum.

The Ecleo case typifies the efforts to circumvent our country's legal processes. With the aid of corrupt law enforcers, the judicial system has been undermined. When thwarted in their plans, the followers sent off threats of bloody retaliation. While these were merely expressed verbally, and the possibility of the threats actually being done is quite slim, still the reality of their having been articulated, sort of belittles the majesty of our laws, and poses a stark challenge to the effectiveness of our judicial system.

The scenario described above may have become academic with the return of Ecleo to the BBRC jail, though not until he has generated quite a stir in the city's Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. It should be a wonder to the public how Ecleo managed to have a woman in his curtained jail cell, who, caught by surprise, tried to hide her face behind his "lord and master" from the prying camera of a photojournalist. And to top it all, there were still, in fact, two other "girls-in-waiting" in the adjoining makeshift room.

The incident, definitely, could not have come about without the consent of the top jail management. Which can only simply mean that something "material" changed hands.

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