MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/15 April) – Many who have read about the conviction of Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. for the murder of his wife Alona Bacolod may have been wondering why the fugitive lawmaker continues to enjoy the support of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), a cult founded by his late father and namesake in 1965. The adoration shows that like his father, the younger Ecleo has attained a Godlike status among his followers.
How the convicted congressman – and his father before him – came to be objects of worship is a story in itself.
The Ecleo family, using the PBMA as its main vehicle, has dominated Dinagat politics since the 1990s. However, politics was farthest from the mind of the “Divine Master,” Ecleo Sr.’s title, when he charmed hundreds of peasant folk into the cult through his supposed healing powers and other supernatural attributes.
Ecleo Sr. wove many myths around himself, chief of which was his being a personification of God with a mission to save the world from sinfulness. He claimed to have received orders for his mission before barely reaching puberty, in the mountains of Leyte where he was said to have spent a period of reclusion.
After this “revelation”, Ecleo Sr. supposedly knocked his wits out learning Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic – and Aramaic! – so that he could decipher the ancient mysteries and unlock the future. He further claimed to have received a mantra that gave him the power to appear at will in different places at the same time.
The “Divine Master,” or simply “Master,” eventually required PBMA members to pay various fees and dues the amounts of which increased over the years. They were also obliged to buy rings that had cost at least P80 each by the early 1990s, a friend from Surigao del Norte told me. They wear their rings like badges of honor and distinction that they eventually came to be called “singsingan”, from the Visayan word “singsing” or ring.
Since the Ecleos came from a poor family, it is safe to assume that they built their fortune on the sales of these rings – and presumably other required items – and fees of blindly loyal cult followers.
Aside from its economic value, having hundreds of unquestioning followers has always been politically useful to the Ecleos. Back in the 1990s, sources in Surigao del Norte said that PBMA members from other provinces would flock to the province at least a year before an election and register there as voters. They would make sure their length of stay complied with the law’s minimum residency requirement. After the election they would go back to their actual places of residence.
Dinagat was not yet a province at the time and so the Ecleos needed to boost their numbers against Surigao del Norte’s well-entrenched political families. After Dinagat became a separate province there may be no need anymore for that scheme.
The PBMA has evolved from being a spiritual association to an economic and political base of the Ecleos. Still, PBMA members continue to revere the “Divine Master.” Mostly poor peasants with little or no schooling at all, they are holding on their belief that, like The Christ, he will rise again one day, an adoration that the convicted lawmaker has inherited. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno writes mainly on the environment, human rights and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)