Graft ruling to put cult chief back in jail

Cebu Daily News, Philippines/August 24, 2009

Cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. faces a 31-year jail term after he was convicted by the Sandiganbayan.

But it won’t be due to the the seven-year-old parricide case where he is out on P1-million bail.

The Sandiganbayan 1st division dismssed his second motion for reconsideration on a conviction for three counts of graft during his stint as mayor of San Jose, Dinagat Island in Zamboanga del Norte.

Ecleo, supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association (PBMA), was found guilty of violating Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in 2006 and was meted a prison term of 31years.

He is contesting the court's decision and filed two motions for reconsideration.

In a resolution, Associate Justice Norberto Geraldez of the Sandiganbayan’s first division said Ecleo failed to raise new issues that would warrant a reversal of decision.

"After a 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 arguments raised by Ecleo were just a reiteration of his first appeal," the court said.

The Sandiganbayan said Ecleo’s motion for reconsideration was a prohibited pleading under the rules of court.

"It 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," the court said.

Lawyer Orlando Salatandre, who represents Ecleo in a parricide case in Cebu City, said Ecleo can still contest the resolution of the graft court before the Supreme Court (SC).

"He (Ecleo) can still file a petition for review or certiorari before the Supreme Court," Salatandre told Cebu Daily News.

Salatandre said a verdict will only be considered final and executory once it is the High Court who gives the order.

But if Ecleo would fail to file a petition before the SC within 15 days, he added then the resolution of the Sandiganbayan would be implemented.

Ecleo must serve his sentence, said Salatandre.

Ecleo was found guilty of three counts of graft for overpaying the construction of two municipal buildings and for spending public funds for a women's center owned by his group, PBMA.

Former municipal planning and development coordinator Anadelia Navarra and private contractor Ricardo Santillano of PBMA builders were each sentenced to 21 years in prisonment for the anomalous construction of a public market.

The case was filed in 1998. Ecleo was accused of causing undue injury to any party, including the government, for giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

The public market project started on Sept. 23, 1991. The building was finished on March 4, 1993 and cost the P3.563 million. Ecleo, however, released P4.008 million, more than P500,000 more to Santillano.

The second anomaly was discovered in the construction of the municipal building on June 21, 1993 to July 22, 1993. An amount of P3.84 million was released to Santillano even if the project was only 37.38 percent completed.

Ecleo also released P300,000 to fund the repair and rehabilitation of a building privately owned by the PBMA Women's League.

Lawyer Redemberto Villanueva represents Ecleo in his graft cases.

Lawyer Alfredo Sipalay, one of the six prosecution lawyers in a parricide case filed against Ecleo in Cebu City, said the resolution of the Sandiganbayan should be implemented unless Ecleo files a petition for certiorari or gets a temporary restraining order before the SC.

"He (Ecleo) should serve his sentence unless he gets a TRO from the Supreme Court," said Sipalay whose group sought for the cancellation of Ecleo's bail in court.

Ecleo was also accused of killing his wife Alona who died by strangulation in her residence in barangay Banawa, Cebu City on Jan. 5, 2002.

Alona's remains were found three days later inside a plastic bag dumped in a ravine in Dalaguete town, in southern Cebu.

Sipalay said he will meet with the other prosecution lawyers to discuss some issues regarding the recent resolution of the Sandiganbayan."If Ecleo will be put to jail because of his graft conviction, then our motion for cancellation of bail becomes less of our priorities," Sipalay said.

The prosecution lawyers composed of Sipalay, Democrito Barcenas, Nicetas Ybañez, Fritz Quinanola, Kit Enriquez, and Gina Co have been waiting for the resolution of Regional Trial Court Judge Soliver Peras of branch 10, who committed to resolve their motion before the trial of the parricide case against Ecleo resumes on Sept. 23.

Ecleo was freed in April 2004 on a P1 million in bail to enable him to seek medical treatment for his heart ailment.

His physicians had told the court that Ecleo suffered from "cardiac abnormality" and described the cult leader as a "walking time bomb" who might die anytime due to possible cardiac complications.

Thelma Chiong, national vice president of the Crusade Against Violence, welcomed the resolution of the Sandiganbayan against Ecleo.

"Naghuwat mi nga mabalik siya (Ecleo) sa prisohan. Nalipay mi anang resolution. Mora na sad mi og nakadaog. (We are waiting for Ecleo's return in jail. We are happy with the resolution of the Sandiganbayn. We somehow tasted victory)," Chiong said.

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