Philippine Sect, Police Clash, Over 12 Said Dead

Reuters/June 19, 2002

Cagayan de Oro, Philippines -- More than a dozen people were killed in a shoot-out between police and members of a sect in the southern Philippines when authorities tried to arrest the group's leader, witnesses said on Wednesday.

The shooting erupted on Tuesday evening when heavily armed police moved in to arrest Ruben Ecleo, leader of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), on Dinagat island, the witnesses said.

It was not clear if the casualties were members of the sect, police or both. Police were not immediately available for comment.

Sect members used an M-60 machinegun during the shoot-out that started in the town of San Jose and continued intermittently into the early hours of Wednesday, the witnesses said.

Newspapers described the PBMA as an anti-communist pseudo-Christian group formed in the 1960s by Ecleo's father.

Ruben Ecleo is called 'Supreme President' or 'Master' by his followers, the reports said.

Ecleo, who has been sought by police since January after he was charged with the killing of his former wife, gave himself up on Wednesday morning, the witness said.

Further details of the clash in Surigao del Norte province, 450 miles southwest of Manila and near the main southern island of Mindanao, were not immediately available.

The police operation followed several unsuccessful attempts to take Ecleo into custody.

In May, police said thousands of sect members on the island formed a human barricade to stop police arresting their leader and they vowed to die rather than hand him over.

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