Ecleo’s graft conviction affirmed

Manila Standard/June 18, 2008

The Sandiganbayan has affirmed the three graft convictions of a self-styled cult leader and former mayor of a Surigao del Norte town for irregular fund disbursements during his term between 1991 to 1994.

Citing lack of merit, the graft court First Division rejected a motion for reconsideration filed by the 52-year-old Ruben Ecleo Jr. former mayor of San Jose, Surigao del Norte, who was sentenced to 31 and a half years in jail.

In his appeal, Ecleo, who became the "supreme master" of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association when his father Ruben Sr., died in 1987, claimed he approved the payment in good faith and that he simply relied on the technical advice of his subordinates.

But the graft court overruled his claim, noting that his office was not a mere "rubber stamp."

"It was his duty as mayor to ensure that taxpayers are not short-changed for their money," the graft court said.

The graft court likewise stressed the arguments raised by Ecleo, the son of Rep. Glenda Ecleo, were already "deliberated, passed upon and explained by the court" when it convicted him on Oct. 13, 2006.

With the denial of his motion for reconsideration however, Ecleo’s bail would now be considered canceled.

Under the law, people convicted of even a single count of graft are not qualified for probation.

Two of Ecleo’s co-accused, former municipal planning and development coordinator Anadelia Navarra and private contractor Ricardo Santillano of PBMA Builders were also pronounced guilty for conniving in the fraudulent transactions. Each had been sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.

The graft court also ordered Ecleo, Navarra and Santillano to jointly indemnify the municipal government the amount of P2.86 million which represents the unlawful payments made to the contractor.

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