Ecleo family and supporters rally behind Master Ruben Jr.

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/15 April) – Family and supporters of fugitive Dinagat Islands Rep. Ruben Ecleo, Jr. are standing behind him despite Friday’s decision convicting their leader for the killing of his wife Alona Bacolod 10 years ago.

The social networking site Facebook has become the venue of the Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association (PBMA) through Ruben Jr’s brother, Benglen and Geraldine “Jade” Villaroman-Ecleo to vent its outpouring of emotion and support to their beleaguered “Master.”

Benglen,  provincial administrator of the Province of Dinagat Islands (PDI), urged officers and members of the group to “please stay by your faith, be guided by your principles, and be consistent in practicing the values, teachings and highest ideals of the association in performing our mission towards the vision of our association.”

Ecleo, Jr., the “supreme master” of PBMA has two standing arrest warrants: one for the parricide case involving the killing of his wife, Alona, in 2002 in Cebu City; the other for conviction by the Sandiganbayan for anomalous construction of projects when he  was mayor of San Jose in the early 1990s.

For humanitarian reasons, Ecleo was granted temporarily liberty from his jail at the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center (BBRC) in Cebu City on a P1-million bail. His lawyers argued he was ill.

Regional Trial Court(RTC)  Branch 10 Judge Solivar Peras canceled his bail in April last year for failing to attend the hearings of his parricide case. Ecleo stopped attending the parricide hearings when the Sandiganbayan issued a warrant for his arrest on January 28, 2011.

Peras on April 13 sentenced Ecleo to reclusion perpetua or imprisonment of at least 30 years and ordered his wife’s family at least P25.62 million in damages.

The Facebook posting Sunday described Peras’ decision finding Ecleo guilty as  “unfavorable” and added that this was “not yet final and executory.”

Ruben’s younger sister Jade Villaroman-Ecleo, vice-governor of the province, in a separate post on Friday also urged members of the PBMA flock to “pray for Master,” stressing he “does not deserve to be punished this way.”

In a message dated April 15 from the Office of the Executive Vice President, the PBMA said  “the unfavorable judgment”  is “not yet final and executory.”

“The justice system of our Republic provided us an option of mechanism for due process. We have ten days to file our Motion for Reconsideration to make an appeal to the Court of Appeals, and on top of that, there is a highest tribunal of the land, the Supreme Court who could hear our quest for truth and justice; for our Supreme President, Master Ruben B. Ecleo, Jr,” it said.

It stressed that despite the setback, the organization is still in “normal condition”.

“The governance and administration of our association PBMA is operating in a normal condition given the existing institutions and mechanisms with functional management systems, structures, policies, and procedures for the delivery of its Missionary Programs and Services for the members and clients or beneficiaries of its charitable missionary services.“

As it urged loyal supporters to “stay by your faith,” the message also encouraged members to “be strong, confident, and keep the treasure of life entrusted to us; this is just temporary and will pass through the intervention of our Lord Jesus Christ..Good luck to all of us…”

A female PBMA member posted on Facebook that  she felt sad over Friday’s verdict, while a male supporter said “divine governance” is needed citing the decision was “unjust” and the justice system is not credible.

Surigao City legislator-lawyer Jose Expeditus B. Bayana said Ecleo’s verdict is expected after the PBMA leader lost a separate legal battle and was found guilty in separate graft charges.

The congressman has been in hiding since 2011. The last local report cited authorities pointing to Ruben Jr.’s presence in his hometown in San Jose but this could not be categorically confirmed.

Judge Peras 72-page decision cited Ecleo’s “hasty departure and continued stay” in his hometown were “an indication of guilt.”

Ecleo’s lawyer Orlando Salantandre Jr.said they will appeal the decision, maintaining the evidence against Ecleo was circumstancial.

Peras however ruled that “Conviction in criminal case does not entail absolute certainty — what is required is only that the degree of proof which…produces in an unprejudiced mind moral certainty of the culpability of the accused.” (Vanessa Almedda/MindaNews)