RTC orders Rep Ecleo’s arrest

After he snubbed again and again the scheduled hearings on the parricide case against him, Representative Ruben Ecleo Jr.’s bail was cancelled Wednesday by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), which issued a new warrant for his arrest.

In a verbal order, RTC Judge Soliver Peras directed that the new warrant is to be given to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Caraga Region, for immediate enforcement.

The CIDG-Caraga had taken the Dinagat Island congressman into its custody in 2002.

“It is always the policy of this court to apply the law equally to all parties,” Peras said.

Separately, the court will also be ordering the surety firm that posted the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) master’s P1-million bail to bring Ecleo to court themselves within 30 days.

If it fails to do so, “the court will issue a judgment against the bond (forfeiture),” Peras said in an interview after the hearing.

A court employee, however, said forfeiture may be out of the question because Commonwealth Insurance Corp., as a bail bond agency, is no longer in operation.

Defense lawyer Orlando Salatandre, immediately after Peras issued the order, asked the court to hold off on issuing the new warrant and to give them time to file a motion for reconsideration.

But Peras declined. He said the warrant will be issued unless the defense gets a restraining order from the appellate court.

Salatandre opened Wednesday’s hearing with a motion to cancel the setting because Ecleo could still not attend; he said this was a result of complications owing to his recent Sandiganbayan conviction for graft.

This was Ecleo’s third absence since being summoned to appear in the Cebu court.

“The court observes that the legal problem raised by the accused is a simple matter that could be solved if he surrenders himself to authorities,” Peras ruled.

Private prosecutor Fritz Quiñanola, who appeared in court together with lawyers Kit Enriquez and Fred Sipalay, lauded the ruling.

The prosecution has been pleading with the court to cancel Ecleo’s bail since 2006, citing that the reason he was granted bail to begin with, his supposed heart ailment, is bogus.

Peras, in an interview after the hearing, likened the Ecleo case to an ordinary drug charge.

“If an accused that is out on bail refuses an order to come to court, his bail will be cancelled and he will be ordered arrested,” he explained.

He stressed that Ecleo was summoned because he was to take the witness stand as a rebuttal witness.

Once Judge Peras’s new warrant against Ecleo gets issued, this will be the second arrest order out against the PBMA supreme master.

The Sandiganbayan’s First Division issued a warrant for Ecleo’s arrest last Jan. 28.

This, in turn, came after the Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, and that of two co-accused, for their involvement in three anomalous construction projects while Ecleo still mayor of San Jose, Surigao del Norte, from 1991 to 1994.

Ecleo has been on trial in Cebu since 2002, when his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, a fourth-year medical student, was killed.

Twenty-three people died when CIDG-Caraga operatives, assisted by provincial policemen and soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion, arrived to arrest Ecleo in his Dinagat Island mansion last June 18, 2002.

He surrendered only after a night of bloody fighting between the law enforcers out to serve Judge Galicano Arriesgado’s warrant for his arrest.

One policeman, PO3 Rogelio Mordante of the Surigao del Norte Swat team, was killed in the gunfight. Two others were wounded.

Most of the casualties belonged to the PBMA and were mostly members of the White Eagles, men supposedly hand-picked by Ecleo to be his personal bodyguards.

The firefight lasted three hours and began around 6 p.m., when the police tried to get through an estimated 2,000 Dinagat Island residents, all PBMA members, who barricaded the Ecleo mansion.

Armed PBMA members in the crowd supposedly opened fire on the police officers, forcing them to return fire.

While the law enforcement operation in Dinagat was unfolding, Ben Bacolod, Alona’s brother and a witness in the parricide case, was shot dead in his home in Mandaue City, the victim of an ambush that also killed their parents, Elpidio and Rosalia Bacolod.

A neighbor, Paterno Lactawan, also died.

The assailant, 28-year-old Rico Gumonong, was later confirmed to be an active member of the PBMA and, at the time of the killing, was employed as a security guard of a local bank. (Sun.Star Cebu)

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