SAN JOSE, Dinagat Islands—Dinagat’s legal status may have been finally settled, but the young province is bracing for a clash brewing among members of the only family that it has known as leaders—the Ecleos.
Vice Gov. Geraldine “Jade” Ecleo, sworn in as Liberal Party (LP) member on Sept. 12, has declared that she will contest the reelection to a third term of her mother, Gov. Glenda B. Ecleo, a member of the Nacionalista Party (NP).
“I’m all set to run against my mom in next year’s elections,” the young Ecleo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview last week. “And I’m running with the best of intentions—to liberate our people from poverty and provide alternative leadership which the Dinagatnons have been deprived of these past few years.”
Jade, 42, served as political officer of her mother, who was then representative of the first district of Surigao del Norte, before she became Dinagat’s first elected governor in 2007 after Dinagat became a province. In 2010, she was elected vice governor, upon the advise of her mother, who ran for governor.
Jade’s rebuke of her mother’s leadership in the province capped the young politician’s tumultuous—often public—feud with her 72-year-old mother and siblings, who also hold various elective positions in the island.
Glenda, in her speeches, has described her daughter as insolent and hardheaded. Jade has railed about her family’s “excesses,” somewhat a taboo for an Ecleo, a surname that has long commanded respect, if not religious reverence, among members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association (PBMA), which was founded by the patriarch Ruben Ecleo Sr.
Twenty-five years after his death, Ruben Sr. remains revered by PBMA members, whose votes are crucial for the family’s political hegemony. Here, it is not uncommon to hear locals imploring the blessing or help of the “Divine Master,” Ruben Sr., as any Catholic would pray to Jesus or saints.
But Jade has bewailed how this reverence has been handled irresponsibly by her siblings.
“When you’re an Ecleo, you’re automatically identified as a leader, whether you are capable or not,” she said. “I want to change that notion. I want the people to choose their leaders based on their capabilities, not on their surnames.”
This is why she enlisted Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-o, a native of Loreto town and whose party is in coalition with LP, to run for Dinagat’s lone congressional seat, she said. The post was held by her elder brother, Ruben Ecleo Jr., until he was expelled by the House of Representatives following his conviction for corruption and parricide early this year.
Ruben Jr.’s imprisonment and convictions have also become a source of disagreement between Jade and her family. While her mother and siblings have kept their silence on Ruben Jr.’s status as a fugitive, Jade has publicly called on her brother to surrender.
“If you have a brother who is a fugitive, and sickly at that, will you tell him to go on hiding?” she said. “But I’m being misunderstood here. I want him inside a prison cell so that he can be taken care of, so that he may have a chance to live again as a free man.”
At a fiesta speech in the island village of Boa, Jade did not mince words as she warned her family against using Ruben Jr.’s influence in the PBMA as its “supreme master.”
“I can see that they will use my brother’s name for political gain. But the association (PBMA) has nothing to do with elections,” she told members of the local PBMA chapter. “Elections have everything to do with your welfare.”
The Supreme Court has ruled with finality that the law creating Dinagat Islands province out of Surigao del Norte in 2006 is constitutional.