Cult leader tests positive for drug use

Not marijuana

Inquirer (Manila)/June 21, 2002
By TJ Burgonio and Carlito Pablo

"Divine Master" Ruben Ecleo Jr. was high on drugs during Wednesday's bloody encounter on Dinagat Island, police officials said Thursday. Ecleo tested positive for use of shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride.

"That means that he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the encounter between his armed followers and the policemen," said Director Nestorio Gualberto of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

The clash, which happened when the authorities served Ecleo a warrant of arrest, left 19 members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association and a policeman dead.

But Gualberto said Ecleo did not test positive for marijuana use, as some policemen had suspected.

The 47-year-old cult leader tried to sidestep questions about his alleged drug use. "I've already answered that question before," said the surprisingly meek Ecleo, who was presented to the media around noon.

PBMA followers--3.5 million in 15 countries, according to the cult's website--believe he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Clad in a yellow detention shirt, Ecleo appealed to PBMA members in Surigao del Norte to be calm "to prevent another bloodshed (sic)."

He expressed regret over the violence. "Had I known that this would happen, I should have surrendered. I had thought of surrendering to Senator (Robert) Barbers, but the gunfight broke out," he said.

Ecleo also denied having anything to do with the killing of his wife, Alona Bacolod-Ecleo. He said that his wife's brother, one Boboy Bacolod, was behind the murder, saying he was the last person seen with her.

Ecleo faces more criminal charges, officials added.

"Definitely we will file murder charges (and charges of) attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms" against Ecleo, said Chief Supt. Alberto Olario, who took him into custody on Wednesday.

At least 100 policemen raided the cult's commune on Dinagat late Tuesday to serve an arrest warrant on Ecleo, sparking a firefight.

Olario said Ecleo also faced possible multiple murder charges over the massacre of his in-laws in Cebu on Tuesday night. A brother-in-law, among the slain, was a witness to Alona Bacolod's murder.

"He could be charged for it because it was his employees who committed the killings in Cebu," Olario said over local radio.

His wife's parents, sister, and a neighbor were also killed in the attack. Police later killed the gunman, whom they identified as a PBMA member.

Olario said that when he tried to serve the arrest warrant at Ecleo's hilltop mansion, "I saw him holding a gun, his bodyguards around him armed with high-caliber weapons. Instead of surrendering, they let loose a hail of bullets."

He said Ecleo surrendered before dawn Wednesday after an Army company arrived to reinforce the police.

An unknown number of his followers were also detained to determine who among them fired guns. Police said there are 50,000 cult members on Dinagat.

"If they fired guns they will be charged, because of the slain policeman," he said.

Olario said police had seized at least 10 firearms from the commune, adding that "clearing operations" were continuing to hunt down armed cult members who could have escaped under cover of darkness.

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