Cult member convicted for illegal guns

Cebu Daily News, Philippines/December 23, 2008

Cebu City, Philippines - After four years of trial, only one of eight members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) was convicted of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives by a Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Lapu-Lapu City on Monday.

In his decision, RTC Judge Benedicto Cobarde sentenced PBMA member Nestor Carrol to six to eight years in prison and a P30,000 fine while clearing another PBMA member, Master Sergeant Heracleo Rallestan, on the charges.

Cobarde's decision was a reversal of last year's conviction of Rallestan and Carrol's acquittal by Judge Ester Veloso of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) where a separate case was filed against the eight PBMA members.

Carrol and Rallestan along with six other PBMA members were on board a van when the police caught them during a checkpoint in Barangay (village) Mactan, Lapu-Lapu City on December 3, 2004.

Police found assorted firearms, ammunition and explosives in the bags inside the vehicle.

They also found Carrol and Rallestan in possession of .45 caliber pistols.

Aside from a six-to-eight-year prison term, Carrol was also sentenced to another 10 to 12 years in prison for illegal possession of explosives in violation of Presidential Decree 1866 as amended by Republic Act 8294. He was asked to pay P50,000 in fine.

Prior to the promulgation, most of the accused appeared relaxed and were smiling while talking with relatives about 4 p.m. on Monday.

Silence reigned after the court read its decision clearing Rallestan, Rosalito Oaper, Elpidio Amarila, Michael Baylon, Arjulyn Gallarda, Damiano Esconde, and Richard Caballero of their charges.

Judge Cobarde said there was insufficient evidence to prove conspiracy among the accused despite the discovery of firearms, ammunition and explosives found in the bags inside the van and the PBMA rings worn by the respondents.

After the 30-minute promulgation, Carrol declined to comment. His lawyer Noel Archival said they will file a petition for bail on Wednesday, Christmas eve.

Archival said he hopes to secure his client's freedom "in the spirit of Christmas."

With the absence of conspiracy, Judge Cobarde said the individual culpability of possessing the firearms and explosives had to be looked into.

Judge Cobarde also pointed out that Rallestan did not resist arrest and turned over two guns to the police, one of which is unlicensed.

The court also expressed belief that the unlicensed firearm presented by the police allegedly in Rallestan's possession was among the firearms inside the bag owned by Carrol.

The PBMA is a cult headed by Ruben Ecleo Jr. Ecleo is accused of killing his wife, Alona, in 2004. He has a pending murder case and is out on bail.

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