Fugitive cult leader sets terms for surrender
CEBU CITY—Cult leader and former Dinagat Islands Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. is willing to come out of hiding, but wants his two former lawyers disbarred, a police official said on Friday.
Ecleo, who has been on the run for six years, also wants the Supreme Court to reopen the parricide case against him, said retired Senior Insp. Atilano Fabella, a member of Ecleo’s Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA).
“He is just here in the Philippines, and he will face whatever happens as long as his two lawyers will be disbarred, and his case will be reopened,” he said, naming the lawyers as Orlando Salatandre Jr. and Giovanni Mata.
Fabella claimed that he was communicating with Ecleo’s 32-year-old son, Ruben Madron Ecleo I.
Fabella had earlier filed disbarment cases against Salatandre and Mata, which the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has dismissed for lack of merit.
The IBP considers Fabella a “fanatic member” of the cult and a “law graduate who has not passed the Bar exams, the reason why he prosecuted complaint by himself.”
Fabella has filed a motion for reconsideration on the IBP’s ruling.
In 2014, he filed disbarment complaints against Salatandre and Mata for allegedly mishandling the parricide case where Ecleo was found guilty for killing his wife, Alona.
He said Salatandre and Mata did not do their best to question the identity of the cadaver believed to be Alona, who was allegedly strangled by Ecleo inside their home in Cebu City on Jan. 5, 2002.
Three days later, a woman’s body was found inside a black garbage bag dumped in a ravine in Dalaguete town, southern Cebu.
Fabella said Salatandre and Mata reportedly got P250,000 from the Ecleo family for every court appearance during the first five years, and P150,000 every hearing in the succeeding five years.
Apart from the lawyers’ fees, both lawyers also collected P26 million from PBMA members while making a promise that their supreme master would be cleared of the charges, Fabella said.
Salatandre denied the accusations, saying he did his best to have Ecleo acquitted.
“Yes, the dead body was never proven to be Alona,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “But what can we do? The court still convicted him (Ecleo). We presented complete evidence but the judge just did not appreciate them.”
Salatandre, who handled Ecleo’s case for 10 years, said he performed what was expected of him as a lawyer.
He also denied receiving millions in PBMA funds for the defense.
“Accusing a person of a wrongdoing is easy, but proving it is difficult. What evidence (do) they have to prove the accusations against me? Those are but mere assumptions,” he said.
Salatandre refused to reveal the actual amount he received from Ecleo, saying it was confidential.
He said he was thankful to the IBP for dismissing the disbarment charges filed by Fabella against him.
In April 2012, Judge Soliver Peras of Regional Trial Court Branch 10 found Ecleo guilty of parricide for killing his wife Alona and sentenced him to spend life behind bars.
The decision was read without Ecleo after he jumped bail in 2011. He has been on the run since.
Ecleo was ordered to pay the heirs of his wife P25.65 million in damages and lawyer’s fees.
The case was elevated before the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision and said it was final and executory.
In August 2012, then President Benigno Aquino III offered a P2-million reward for Ecleo’s capture.
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