Court junks appeal of 'cult' leader Ecleo

The Manila Times/August 18, 2009

The First Division of the Sandiganbayan junked the reiterated appeal of former Mayor Ruben Ecleo Jr. of San Jose, Surigao del Norte, and leader of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA).

Ecleo asked the antigraft court to overturn his conviction on three counts of graft that was handed down in October 13, 2006.

In a three-page resolution promulgated on August 6, 2009, and written by Associate Justice Norberto Geraldez, the First Division denied Ecleo's second motion for reconsideration and affirmed its February 17, 2009, ruling, which junked the former mayor's motion for new trial.

The Sandiganbayan ruled that Ecleo presented rehashed arguments in his appeal. The ruling also pointed out that the arguments that were previously considered by the court were the same when it convicted him of fraudulent disbursement of government funds.

"I must be stated, at the outset, that accused Ecleo's instant second motion for reconsideration partakes the nature of a pro-forma motion, which is prohibited under the Rules of Court," according the ruling.

The court added that "after painstaking review of accused Ecleo's second motion, the Court found no compelling reasons to change or modify the Resolution dated May 7, 2009, sought to be reconsidered."

The other members of the First Division, Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Alexander Gesmundo, concurred with the decision penned by Geraldez, chairman of the division,

Corruption charge

Ecleo was sentenced to 31 years imprisonment, while his co-accused, former municipal planning and development coordinator Anadelia Navarra and private contractor Ricardo Santillano of PBMA Builders, were each sentenced to 21 years.

All three were ordered to jointly indemnify the municipal government for the P2.86-million worth of unlawful payments made to the contractor.

In the findings of the Sandi­ganbayan, Ecleo was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of approving the full payment for the construction of a public market, a new municipal building and a guesthouse that government auditors discovered were tainted by fraud.

Inspectors found that the public market and the supposed new municipal building were mere concrete-and-steel skeletons, while the purported guesthouse turned out to be a private structure.

Ecleo is the son of Rep. Glenda Ecleo of Surigao del Norte. He is the "supreme master" of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, an alleged religious cult.

According to earlier reports, 22 missionary supporters were killed when they tried to block the police who stormed the group's compound in Dinagat, Surigao del Norte, to arrest Ecleo, who was summoned to face trial in Cebu in relation to the death of his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo. Her body was found dumped in a ravine in January 2002, and the authorities found that she was strangled.

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