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Unease over Ecleo case

One of the more telling comments about the order of the Supreme Court directing Cebu City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Meinrado Paredes to re-raffle the parricide case against Ruben Ecleo Jr. comes from columnist BobbitAvila.

With the SC directive, the trial on the parricide case against Ruben Ecleo Jr., principal suspect in the killing of his wife, Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, is set to resume. It’s been more than a year after Regional Trial Court Judge Geraldine Faith Econg decided to inhibit herself from the case and, for the Bacolod family who cry to high heavens for justice, the SC order is a breakthrough after seven years of interminable delays.

However, while the public views the SC action as a step forward, there is a feeling of unease or distress that comes with the news. My good friend summed up the perception when he said, “I hope the resumption of the trial will not result in more killings.”

The death of Alona Bacolod-Ecleo on Jan. 5, 2002 invites the narration of the subsequent loss of lives of at least 23 other people after her own family pointed to Mr. Ecleo as the perpetrator. Following her gruesome murder came the massacre of her parents and two siblings in Mandaue City, allegedly pulled off by members of the cult group known as the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), one of whom was shot by responding policemen. Mr. Ecleo commands the loyalty of the cultists, who look up to him as their “supreme divine master.”

To the multiple loss of lives resulting from the mayhem in Mandaue, 19 more were added when PBMA members, who barricaded his Dinagat Island mansion, engaged a joint team of police and army personnel in a bloody shootout after the PBMA leader tried to repulse them from serving the warrant of arrest.

In June 2002, the cult leader was finally committed to the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center, where his presence further exposed the justice system to public ridicule. There were talks that he bribed jail guards and brought inside his cell women and illegal drugs. The biggest insult was his success in having had the court grant him bail for “humanitarian” reasons. While the parricide case was being heard in the sala of Judge Generosa Labra, a private lawyer for the prosecution, Arbet Santa Ana-Yongco, was shot and killed inside her home in barangay Zapatera, Cebu City, by persons with alleged links to the PBMA.

Nowhere is the legal cliché, “justice delayed is justice denied” more evident than in the killing of Alona Bacolod-Ecleo. If not for the pressure exerted by civil society group Crusade Against Violence, this case would have been totally forgotten. And yet, despite the order from the High Court to re-raffle case, one cannot expect that it will be all systems go for the prosecution. The lawyers for the Bacolod family will first have to surmount a psychological obstacle because of what happened to Atty. Arbet Santa Ana-Yongco.

Bobbit’s worry over developments in the parricide case against Mr. Ecleo finds credence in the recent disclosures of private lawyers in the prosecution, Kit Enriquez and Gina Go. In a news conference held last Monday, they revealed having received “mysterious” personal and telephone calls asking about the case.

As we wait for the identity of the next judge who will handle the controversial case, I wonder what sort of problems, technical or otherwise, would crop up that would once again delay the prosecution of the case. In any event, should this case go into full-blown trial, Mr. Ecleo will surely have his hands full.

Recently, the Sandiganbayan dismissed a motion that sought to overturn his October 2006 conviction on three counts of graft. As former mayor of San Jose, Surigao del Norte from 1991 to 1994, Ecleo was held liable for the fraudulent disbursement of government funds used in the construction of a public market, a new municipal building, and a guesthouse and was sentenced by the anti-graft court to 31 years imprisonment. His co-accused included a former municipal planning and development officer and a private contractor, who were each sentenced to 21-year jail terms. (inquirer.net)

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