Witness testifies she saw Ecleo in Dalaguete with black bag

The Freeman/September 18, 2003
By Joeberth M. Ocao

Cebu, Philippines -- The so-called surprise witness of the prosecution in the parricide case against cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr., wearing a pair of dark glasses, testified yesterday she saw Ecleo and his bodyguard in Dalaguete with a black plastic bag.

Unlike the past hearings, people were barred from entering the courtroom except for the lawyers handling the case, five representatives of the litigants and members of the media. Even the taking of pictures and video footages were not allowed for security purposes.

Witness Gloria Navaja was supposed to testify the other day yet but she failed to appear in court.

Yesterday, Navaja testified she reportedly saw Ecleo and bodyguard Juryven Padero in barangay Coro in Dalaguete town evening of January 5, 2002 with the black plastic bag reportedly containing the dead body of Ecleo's wife Alona. Last year, Alona's body was found inside a black garbage bag wrapped with masking tape and dumped into a deep ravine in Dalaguete.

Navaja said she went to Dalaguete afternoon of January 5, 2002 purportedly to buy goat that she could slaughter to celebrate the Sto. Niño fiesta. Near midnight the same day, she went out to buy bread and went back to her mother's house through a "habal-habal". On the way home, she passed by the area where she allegedly saw Ecleo and Padero standing at the rear part of a car parked beside the road. In between them was a black plastic bag laid on the ground.

Navaja said the motorcycle she was riding had to slow down in the area where she saw Ecleo and Padero because the road reportedly was undergoing repair. She said it was Ecleo whom she first saw and their gaze reportedly met when the motorcycle slowly passed by Ecleo.

While the area was relatively dark, Navaja said it was somehow illuminated by light coming from sodium lamps near the area. She also said she clearly saw Ecleo's face as there was light from the motorcycle she was riding and from the car parked.

But Navaja said she only recognized Ecleo again when she saw him on television after he was accused of Alona's death. It was also on television that she learned of his name. She then realized it was that man she saw on the evening of January 5 in Dalaguete.

Asked if the one she saw on television was present inside the courtroom, Navaja then pointed to Ecleo who was seated on the bench for the accused. She described Ecleo as taller than the man he was with that evening she saw them. Ecleo reportedly wore a white shirt and jeans while his companion wore a vest with same material as that of his pants.

Navaja said she reportedly went to Alona's wake at Camp Sotero Cabahug on January 12 and told Crusade Against Violence vice president Thelma Chiong that she saw Ecleo in Dalaguete that evening of January 5. She said it was Chiong that she approached because she constantly saw her on television and thought that she was the one very active with the case.

She then executed an affidavit detailing what she saw evening of January 5, 2002. However, it was not mentioned in Navaja's testimony whether or not she saw Ecleo and Padero dump the garbage bag that she saw with them.

Ecleo is facing trial for a parricide case as primary suspect in the killing of Alona. Alona was found dead in a black garbage bag dumped in a ravine in Dalaguete in January last year, several days after she went missing. Ecleo did not look for her but immediately left for Surigao, there to remain free until the police and the military, under intense public pressure, were forced to attack his enclave.

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