Cult chief: Saint to followers, a criminal to his critics

Murder and firearms charges face Filipino 'mystic' Ruben Ecleo Jr after a gun battle in which 17 died

Strait-Times/June 21, 2002
By TJ Burgonio and Carlito Pablo

Surigao -- To his followers, cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr is like Jesus Christ but to his critics, he is a wife killer, womaniser and drug addict.

'Our master has always been a good and loving person,' said Erlinda Custodio, a loyal member of Ecleo's Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association.

'Like his father, he taught us to be good and to live by the word of God. He could never have done what they accuse him of, so they have no right to arrest him.'

Ecleo is suspected of having murdered his wife, Alona Bacolod, after her remains were found in a black rubbish bag at the bottom of a cliff in the south of Cebu island on Jan 30.

Police allege Ecleo killed Alona as she nagged him to kick his drug habit.

On Tuesday, at least 100 policemen raided the cult's commune on the southern island of Dinagat to serve an arrest warrant on Ecleo who was in hiding.

It sparked a gunfight in which 16 cult members and a policeman were killed.

As the operation was under way on Dinagat, a suspected cult member attacked the home of Ecleo's in-laws, killing the leader's father- in-law, his wife, their son and daughter, and a neighbour.

Yesterday, police said multiple charges would be filed against Ecleo.

'Definitely we will file murder charges, attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms', said Chief Superintendent Alberto Olario, who arrested Ecleo on Wednesday.

Followers believe their leader has supernatural powers.

They say he can transfigure himself, heal the sick, resurrect the dead and foretell events, including the siege of his mansion on Tuesday.

'Master Ruben told us there would come a time the island would be in chaos, that the police and military, used by the Ecleos' political enemies, would come and kill our loved ones,' said follower Jose de Guzman.

But Ecleo's critics say he has a dark side.

His dead wife's brother, Benjamin Bacolod, a witness to her murder who was killed along with his parents on Tuesday evening, said last week: 'He is nothing divine. He is an ordinary criminal who can afford to kill his own wife because he is already deep into drugs and has gone crazy.'

And a former cult member has accused Ecleo of raping her young niece, alleging the victim was the cult leader's half-sister.

'Ruben's father got my sister, Marife, pregnant right after she finished high school and she gave birth to twins,' Officer Oliveros said.

'They are supposedly Ruben Jr's half-sisters but he raped the elder of the twins and got her pregnant. Only a crazy person can do that.' -- Asia News Network, AFP

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