Ex-congressman turned-fugitive Ruben Ecleo Jr was captured on Thursday, July 30, after more than 8 years on the run, following a graft conviction handed down by the Sandiganbayan in 2006. (READ: Ruben Ecleo finally nabbed in Pampanga)
While he was arrested over the graft conviction, where he was sentenced to 31-and-a-half years in prison over anomalous deals when he was town mayor of San Jose, Surigao del Norte (now Dinagat Islands), it was his decade-long murder trial that grabbed the headlines of local dailies and broadcast programs here in Cebu City.
Ecleo was convicted in 2012 by a Cebu City court for the gruesome murder of his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo in 2002.
Lawyer Democrito Barcenas told Rappler in a phone interview on Thursday, July 30, that the murder of Ecleo’s wife was the one of the decade’s “sensational” murder cases in Cebu.
Barcenas was one of 5 lawyers assigned to prosecute Ecleo for the murder. The other lawyers who prosecuted the case included Kit Enriquez, Fritz Quiñanola, Fred Sipalay, and Gina Co.
“We did everything within the rule of law, and we’re happy that we have achieved something that resulted in our cry for justice,” Barcenas said.
Ecleo disappeared shortly after his conviction and was dropped from the roll of members in the House of Representatives after his conviction. Ecleo was able to serve two years of his term before going into hiding.
Despite the murder case and graft conviction, he was still able to win a seat in the House of Representatives in the 2010 election.
Who is Ruben Ecleo Jr?
Ruben Jr is the son of Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) founder Ruben Ecleo. The religious group – often described as a “cult” – has about a million members in the Philippines and abroad.
Ecleo Jr, the “supreme master” of the group, took over after his father died in 1987. He served as mayor of San Jose from 1991 to 1994 while head of the PBMA.
Ecleo was the number one most wanted person of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Former president Benigno Aquino III had offered a P2-million reward for information leading to his arrest.
According to a police report, the 60-year-old Ecleo used the alias “Manuel Riberal” while in hiding.
The murder of Ecleo’s wife
Alona Bacolod-Ecleo was a medical student at Southwestern University in Cebu City and in her last year of medical school in 2002 when she went missing that January. She was living in a house with Ruben in Sitio Banawa, Barangay Guadalupe that year.
According to court documents, Bacolod was strangled inside her home and was later found in a ravine in Dalaguete town, about 87 kilometers south of Cebu City, wrapped in a garbage bag.
When Alona went missing, Ruben returned to the Dinagat Islands to allegedly “look” for Alona. But according to a report in the Inquirer, the court saw his leaving Cebu as an “indication of guilt.”
Armed clash, Bacolod family massacred
An armed clash took place in the Dinagat Islands when members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Central Visayas were met by armed members of the PBMA on June 19, 2002, when they attempted to serve Ecleo with the arrest warrant then.
According to a report in the Philippine Star, 19 people were killed in the raid, 16 of them PBMA members, while one police officer was killed. At least 50 PBMA members were arrested during the raid.
A day before the raid in Dinagat, members of Alona’s family, who were residing in Barangay Subangdaku, Mandaue City, at the time, were all killed, including her brother Ben, sister Evelyn, and parents Elpidio and Rosalia. A neighbor of the Bacolod family was also killed in the crossfire.
Ecleo denied having anything to do with the massacre in Mandaue, but police suspected that the assailants were members of the PBMA.
According to a report in the Manila Bulletin, during the trial, Ecleo claimed that the murder was carried out by Ben, Alona’s brother who was among the family members killed in Mandaue City.
A certain Cedric Divinadira came forward as a “surprise” witness during the trial to testify that he worked for Ben and knew of his plans to kill Alona.
Ecleo claimed he was at the PBMA chapter in Talisay City at the time Alona was killed. He also said the body found in Dalaguete town was not Alona’s.
Presiding Judge Soliver Peras, the 7th judge who presided over the case, said in his 100-page decision that Ecleo’s alibis were weak. A report in the Inquirer quoted the judge as saying that Ecleo “did not make any effort to look for his wife, nor did he report her missing when she failed to come home.”
Peras said that instead, he went to Lapu-Lapu and Bogo City, in other parts of the province, where he went to a karaoke with friends.
The same report said Ecleo only went to the police’s homicide section after he was invited because Alona’s siblings were the ones to report her missing.
Peras found Ecleo guilty of parricide and convicted him to reclusion perpetua, or at least 30 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay Alona’s surviving family and lawyers P650,000 in damages.
Ecleo was not present in the court when his conviction was handed down in April 2012.
He and his family maintained his innocence after the conviction.
When Ecleo was presented to the media by the National Capital Region Police Office earlier Thursday, July 30, he continued to maintain his innocence in the murder case.
“I did not do it but I was accused and it was proven, so I admit it. There is nothing I can do,” he said in Cebuano.
In a text message to Rappler, Brigadier General Albert Ferro, current Central Visayas police chief, hailed the capture of Ecleo as justice served for the Bacolod family.
“Justice is finally served for the murder of his wife,” Ferro said. – Rappler.com