Cult chief Ecleo arraigned, but refuses to enter plea

The Manila Bulletin Online/February 19, 2003
By Mars W. Mosqueda, Jr.

Cebu City -- Cult leader and parricide suspect Ruben Ecleo Jr. did not enter a plea during his arraignment yesterday for the parricide charges filed against him for the killing of his wife Alona.

As a result, presiding Judge Generosa Labra of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) here entered a plea of not guilty for Ecleo, supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA).

Ecleo's lawyer, Orlando Salatandre, said the cult leader's refusal to enter a plea was a manifestation of their protest against the hearing, saying the Cebu court has no jurisdiction over the case.

"Even the City Prosecutor's Office opined that it has no jurisdiction over the case because (Alona's) body was found in Dalaguete, Cebu," Salatandre said.

Dalaguete is a town south of Cebu City. However, Salatandre stressed that it was Ecleo's prerogative not to enter a plea.

He said they will call the attention of the court to further assess and determine if it has jurisdiction over the case.

"If the court has no jurisdiction, the proceedings will be a futility," Salatandre said, adding that he will file a motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

But lawyer Arbet Yongco, private prosecutor handling the case for the Bacolod family, said the defense lawyer should have filed a motion to quash before the arraignment was held, pointing out that the question of jurisdiction is a very important matter.

"They just want to delay the arraigment. But under the law, it (question of jurisdiction) can't be a reason to postpone the arraignment,"

Unless they will push through with the filing of a pleading that would question the jurisdiction of the court, the trial will proceed as scheduled, Yongco said.

Ecleo's pre-trial has been set on March 5. Detained at the BBRC, Ecleo has been awaiting trial for the parricide case filed against him as principal suspect in the killing of his wife.

Alona was found dead inside a garbage bag dumped in a ravine in Dalaguete on Jan. 9, 2002, apparently a victim of severe beating and strangulation.

Ecleo, who had denied involvement in the death of his wife, immediately left for Surigao after the incident and never came back to Cebu. He was later arrested by members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in his family's mansion in Dinagat Island and was brought back to Cebu for detention.

Ecleo's case was originally raffled to the court of RTC Judge Olegario Sarmiento but the judge inhibited himself from handling the case after Alona's father, Elpidio, asked him to inhibit.

The case was then transferred to the sala of Judge Galicano Arriesgado.

But the executive judge also inhibited himself when on October 22, the Crusade Against Violence filed a motion for inhibition, saying that Arriesgado has delayed the administration of justice by not immediately arraigning Ecleo. This further delayed the arraignment of Ecleo.

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