Philippines shoot-out leaves 17 dead

BBC News/June 19, 2002

Seventeen people have been killed in a gun battle between security forces and members of a Christian cult in the southern Philippines, according to police.

The violence erupted on the island of Dinagat late on Tuesday, when the authorities tried to arrest the group's leader, Ruben Ecleo.

Mr. Ecleo, who heads the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), is accused of murdering his wife.

He gave himself up on Wednesday morning, police say.

Police said one of their officers was killed in the gun battle, along with 16 PBMA followers.

Mr. Ecleo is considered to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ by an estimated one million followers in the central and southern Philippines.

Human barricade

On Tuesday evening, police raided a house in the town of San Jose in an attempt to arrest Mr. Ecleo and a co-defendant in the murder case, Juriven Padero.

Cult members then opened fire on the security forces.

Police said Mr. Padero was among the dead.

Mr. Ecleo, 47, has been wanted by the authorities since January, when the remains of his wife were found in a rubbish bag at the bottom of a cliff in Cebu island.

Mr. Ecleo, who lived with his wife and two children in Cebu City, fled.

In May, police said thousands of sect members in Dinagat island formed a human barricade to prevent police from arresting him.

The PBMA was formed in the 1960s by Mr. Ecleo's father.

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