They pray to the Holy Trinity, and their own version of the “mysteries” of the rosary in the ancient Aramaic tongue only they understand.
Some still attend Roman Catholic mass.
Every first Saturday of the month, members gather for songs and rituals before a picture of Ruben Ecleo Jr. in a headquarters in Talisay City where non-believers are not welcome.
“From bad to good” was how a businesswoman in Talisay City described her life after accepting Ecleo as her “supreme master”.
She said she and her 10 children follow the teachings of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) and remain loyal to Ecleo despite the scandal after he was accused, then convicted of the 2002 murder of his wife Alona.
From living in a shanty 38 years ago, the woman who is in her 60s today, has a successful cattle business supplying meat to fast foods and restaurants.
She spoke to Cebu Daily News on condition that her name would not be exposed.
She said Ecelo used to frequent their house, and was the one who gave her the smart advice to to buy vacant lots in Talisay. He told her Talisay would be a booming city like Hong Kong one day.
She and her family don’t fail to attend the monthly conference in the first Saturday of the month.
“Don’t call us a cult,” said Leon “Boy” Famulagan, vice president of the PBMA Nonoc, Talisay City chapter to which the woman belongs.
He said the PBMA, founded in 1965 by Ecelo’s father in San Jose, Dinagat Island in Surigao del Norte, is a non-sectarian, non-profit, humanitarian organization and a “brotherhood”.
The late Ruben Ecleo Sr. was the “divine master” whose reputation as a spiritual healer drew many followers.
Famulagan said the PBMA had more than 5,000 members in Cebu in the 1980s but that this has dwindled to about 400 members following the controversy over the murder of Ecleo Jr.’s wife.
When CDN asked to visit the PBMA headquarters, Famulagan demurred, saying their chapter president Warlito Ponteros, who brings the keys, wasn’t around.
He said the building was an “ordinary” open structure with a very high wall, which made it difficult for passersby to look inside.
He said they gather before a table with the photo of Ruben Ecleo Jr. and the “Santisima Trinidad” or Holy Trinity to pray and sing songs.
Famulagan said the PBMA has its own constitution, by-laws and board of directors.
It’s three main objectives, he said, are 1. to perform charitable actions, which is to serve faithfully, to help benevolently, and to give voluntarily; 2. to promote brotherhood among people regardless of religion, race and age, and; 3. to promote international peace and unity among nations.
Holding up two rings, one on each hand, Famulagan said members can be identified through engraved ring likes these.
A small ring is worn by ordinary members. Another kind is worn by those who don’t go on mission work. The biggest ring classifies a member as one who has worked as a missionary.
He said the ring symbolizes one’s personal decision of surrender or return to the Father in Heaven and is inspired by the “parable of the prodigal son” in the Bible and Gospel passages about being “born again” and totally reformed in flesh and spirit.
Famulagan said the PBMA is not against any religion and that its members are free to join the activities of various religions.
He said PBMA teachings are a mixture of Christian, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Akashic doctrines.
Members are not forced to abandon their religion, he said, but are advised to take the teachings of PBMA as an “additional source of spiritual nourishment and enlightenment.”
Some members still attend Sunday mass and read the Bible. There are also PBMA Muslim members or observe Muslim traditions, he said.
Famulagan said teachings of PBMA trace their origins to the Bible and Jewish doctrines.
He said they directly confess their sins and misdeeds to God in order to be clean and worthy in His eyes.
He said he once attended a Catholic mass in Tabunok, Talisay where a priest was lambasting the PBMA in the pulpit. Famulagan said he went to the convent and confronted the priest to correct what he said to the people.
The Talisay businesswoman whom CDN interviewed said she used to do business without scruples just to get ahead, and was impatient with people.
“Ang inahan man gani nako ang tikasan sa una (My mother was also a cheat),”she said.
Her change of world view started as a domestic health problem.
She said her husband’s wounded foot didn’t get better after medical attention by a physician. It got worse and his stomach swelled.
One morning at the market, she noticed a man praying for a sick person. She approached 24-year-old Edgar Corpus, brought him to her shanty and let him attend to her sick spouse.
After a week, her husband was well. It was 1974 when she decided to join the PBMA.
It wasn’t a quick entry, she said, as the PBMA requires you to abandon vices and bad attitudes.
She said all members have to give up smoking, gambling, and drinking of any kind of liquor. Violation of this rule is a ground for getting cut off from the group.
Every member should observe the highest level of morality and discipline, she said.
It took two months before she was finally accepted in the PBMA she said. From there on, she and her family had to follow specific rules.
She said she prays everyday at 6 a.m. 2:30 p.m; and 6 p.m.
The “Revised Prayer” is in the Aramaic language and considered a mystery in itself, she said.
The first part is a dedication, for various purposes as needed – for healing, protection and others. It is addressed to the Holy Trinity (God Father, Son and Holy Spirit), to all saints in heaven and to one’s guardian angel or angels.
The woman said she conducts her cattle business guided by PBMA tenets and has prospered as a supplier of meat to fast food chains in the Philippines. She said she and her children remain loyal to Ecleo despite the trials and negative publicity he’s been getting.