Cagayan de Oro -- "Voices" trained Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) founder Ruben Ecleo Sr. in reading and writing in Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Aramaic so he could "interpret the ancient mysteries," according to cult members.
The father of wanted former San Jose mayor Ruben Jr. was known to make predictions based on "Akashic Records" or, in Hindu mysticism, "cosmic consciousness." His continuing messianic mystique plays a major role in on-going drama on Dinagat, a small island off the northeastern point of the Mindanao mainland. There, cult members willing to die for their master are thwarting police efforts to arrest Ruben Jr., current leader of PBMA and son of Surigao del Norte Rep. Glenda Ecleo, who is wanted for the January murder of his wife, Alona, in Cebu last January.
Cult leaders say the older Ecleo had possessed the powers to be omnipresent like the "Master Jesus [Christ] who had been in the Americas, Egypt, India and in his native Judea simultaneously, aside from being in the monastery in the Essenean School, near Mount Serbal, overlooking the Black Sea." Mainstream Christian sects have rejected such teaching.
The cultists claim Ecleo "could do almost anything" by reciting the Mantra which, in Hinduism and Buddhism, refers to a sacred word or syllable repeated in prayer and meditation.
And like the biblical Jesus Christ, the PBMA leader can also transfigure himself and can even resurrect the dead, according to the cult.
"Master Ruben can materialize anywhere at will," claims the PBMA. It said Ecleo, on numerous occasions since his childhood, had been present in various places at the same time. "While performing his missionary work in Agusan, he was also physically traveling somewhere in Davao, Bukidnon, Leyte and Samar, using different names (and) perhaps different faces, some of whom are old or young identities ..."
The cult said "all manifested personalities" - with nicknames such as Ben, Obing, Fred, Freddie, Ruben, Tony and Dr. Laway - had cured the sick like the "Lord Jesus who first applied these powers in Judea ..."
PBMA leaders say Ecleo's healing powers directly come from "our Divine Father by virtue of the sacred or divine prayers which are called in Occultism as Mantras."
Ecleo Sr. built for himself and his family a "kingdom" on impoverished Dinagat, a small, irregular and typhoon-prone island mass off the northeastern tip of Mindanao.
Since it was chartered in 1965, the late cult leader's PBMA virtually turned the entire island into an "Ecleo Country." The cult also became a powerful political machinery that it created, wittingly or unwittingly, a dynasty for the Ecleos.
Ecleo's elder brother, Moises, became a governor of Surigao del Norte. His wife, the former Glenda Oliveros Buray of Gitagum, Misamis Oriental, is now a representative of Surigao del Norte to the Lower House while his son Ruben Jr. was one-time mayor of San Jose town. Another Ecleo son, Allan II, is presently mayor of the same town where the PBMA solidified its base.
On San Jose now stand four multimillion-peso PBMA landmarks - the "Divine Master's Shrine," "Master's Mansion," "Comet House" and the cult's administration building.
The San Jose edifices are indications that the PBMA has grown into a multimillion-peso, if not a billionaire establishment.
It is estimated that the PBMA has already raised at least P35 million in entran ce fees from its members since 1965. The figure is insignificant if one considered the estimated P70-million annual revenue the PBMA generates by imposing annual dues on its members in the country.
The PBMA charter obliges each new member to pay P10 as "entrance fee." Every year, each PBMA member is expected to pay a P20 annual fee.
The PBMA boasts of having 3.5 million members in the country alone. It claims it also has members in Jordan, Canada, Australia, Palau, Hong Kong, Guam, Singapore, Malaysia, London, Italy, Monaco, Germany, Hawaii, New York and Scotland, among others. The group claims it is also organizing more PBMA chapters abroad.
Aside from its fixed entrance- and annual-fee incomes, the PBMA charter also encourages members to voluntarily give money "when the Board of Directors or the Supreme President ... may desire to plead to the general members for the good or the betterment of the association."
The association's constitution and by-laws is silent on the sale of PBMA rings but a Surigao City-based source said all its members are expected to wear one for identification.
Each PBMA ring, according to the source, costs somewhere "between P50 to P100, more or less."
With all the money the PBMA rakes in, not to mention the influence it wields over Dinagat, nearby towns and neighboring Surigao City, it has virtually become a little government in its own right with a well-greased "private army," ironically, on the impoverished Surigao del Norte island. "Many of the PBMA members living in Dinagat are armed," said a Surigao-based source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The source said the armed PBMA members have made an oath to protect the "master," referring to Ecleo's son and successor Ruben Jr. who is facing a lawsuit in connection with the grisly murder of his wife, the former Alona Bacolod. Alona, who died by strangulation, was found inside a garbage bag dumped in a secluded area in Cebu last January.
Agents of the National Police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) who were sent to Dinagat island last week complained they failed to serve an arrest warrant against the parricide suspect because residents have been protecting the PBMA "master."
The Cebu-based CIDG team also accused the entire San Jose police force of coddling Ruben Jr. who is believed hiding inside the Ecleo mansion in San Jose town.
"That's the extent of the influence of the Ecleos in Dinagat. They even control the police," another source said.