Manila -- Detained Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. faces even more charges.
In a sworn statement made before Cebu City Prosecutor Jose Pedrosa dated May 16, 2002, Ecleo's brother-in-law, Ben Bacolod, said the cult leader ordered the killing of 11 of his followers in December 2000.
Bacolod, who himself was killed in a massacre of his family in Mandaue City Tuesday night, was believed to be the only witness in the murder of his sister, medical student Alona Bacolod, for which Ecleo faces parricide charges.
In Bacolod's affidavit, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR, the witness said Ecleo ordered his close-in security group, the "White Eagles," to shoot dead 11 members of the PBMA's "White Guerreros" group on the grounds of the Ecleo mansion in San Jose town on Dinagat island, Surigao del Norte on Dec. 13, 2000.
The 11 victims, mostly farmers and fisherfolk, had been on their way to see Ecleo, 47, and offer treatment for the cult leader's shabu addiction.
But before they could get within earshot, Ecleo allegedly ordered the White Eagles to open fire and cut them down.
Bacolod said in his affidavit that he had been having dinner inside the mansion when he saw the White Guerreros approach and said he recognized some of them: Teofilo Colot, Alex "Boy" Quiñanola, Emilio Quiñanola, Benny Apatan and Teodoro Mondeja.
Bacolod said he also saw others he knew by face, but whose names he could not recall.
He also said he saw former Army Scout Ranger Jojo Rivera, also known as Jojo Porras, team leader of the White Eagles, aiming his Armalite rifle at the approaching White Guerreros before firing a warning shot in the air.
According to Bacolod's statement, Ecleo came out of his mansion and asked who the visitors were seeking. Bacolod added that he told the cult leader that the White Guerreros were looking for Ecleo.
Bacolod said he then heard Ecleo give instructions to his security chief: "Upakan mo na yan, tayo ang nilapitan niyan (get them, we are the ones they've come for)." Upon Ecleo's orders, Rivera opened fire on the White Guerreros killing some of the visitors instantaneously. Bacolod said that Rivera shot a certain Mario Liboon in the leg.
Bacolod also said he saw Juriven Pedero, another of Ecleo's bodyguards, suddenly exit the mansion and open fire on the visitors with his Armalite rifle, killing Emilio Quiñanola. Another Ecleo bodyguard, identified by Bacolod as Rodyben Lubaton, also opened fire.
Bacolod also said in his affidavit that, during the killings, he saw Ecleo enter the mansion and go upstairs, returning only when his bodyguards stopped firing their weapons. According to Bacolod, the PBMA leader asked Pedero in Cebuano, "what is this, they're still there."
According to Bacolod's statement, Pedero replied: "They are no more, sir. They're dead! There's Eddie Quiñanola, dead." A statement to which Ecleo responded that "then that's good, so I no longer have to listen to the yelling of those people."
One hour after Ecleo ordered the shooting to death of his own followers, he was visited at home by San Jose Vice Mayor Toto Vales and Ecleo's cousin, Elvin Ecleo and a certain Sabalones, who all met with the PBMA leader on the second floor of the Ecleo residence to discuss the recent shooting incident.
Bacolod was killed last Tuesday night at his home in Mandaue City a few minutes after he granted a telephone interview to local radio station dySS to discuss the goings on at the PBMA. Bacolod, his parents Elpidio and Rosalia and his sister Evelyn were killed by a lone gunman armed with an Ingram pistol and an Uzi submachine gun. A neighbor, Paterno Lactawan, was also killed in the shooting incident. The gunman, Rico Gumonong, 28, was killed shortly after the massacre by responding policemen upon whom he opened fire.
Alona was murdered on Jan. 6 and her dead and decomposing body was found stuffed in a black garbage bag at the bottom of a ravine in Dalaguete town, Cebu City. Police said Alona was killed by strangulation.
Ecleo surrendered to the police on Wednesday morning. Caraga Police Chief Supt. Alberto Olario, to whom Ecleo surrendered, said: "Definitely, we will file murder charges, attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms (charges against Ecleo)." Ecleo also faces multiple murder charges for the massacre of his in-laws and parricide charges for the murder of his wife.
"He (Ecleo) could be charged with it (murdering his in-laws), because it was his employee who committed the killings in Cebu," Olario said.
Olario added that an undetermined number of PBMA cultists were detained while police are still trying to determine which of them fired guns at the lawmen serving the arrest warrant to Ecleo. "If they fired guns, they will be charged because of the slain policeman," Olario said, referring to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team member Rogelio Mordante, who was killed by the cultists during the violence Tuesday night.
The STAR obtained a copy of a murder complaint filed against Ecleo by the kin of the slain Quiñoneses, Rudy and Bienvenido Quiñones of San Jose town, before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Surigao City. The complaint said other witnesses to the Dec. 13 massacre fled Dinagat Island for fear of their lives.
The other witnesses, the complaint said, were the wives and children of the murdered White Guerreros - and some of the women who saw their husbands cut down in a merciless hail of bullets were pregnant, according to the complaint.
Leovigildo Pantejo, the Quiñoneses' lawyer, also subscribed the memorandum of complaints that indicated that the women and children who fled to different parts of the Visayas and Mindanao were still crying out for justice for the murdered White Guerreros, but were poor, unschooled and unable to sustain the cost of a lawsuit against Ecleo. Pantejo said the farmers and fisherfolk who joined the PBMA did so in the hopes of improving their lives socially, economically, morally and spiritually, especially since the government's social services are inadequate in their area.
Despite this, the San Jose Police report on the incident said the White Guerreros quarreled among themselves and that the prime suspects in the shooting incident were not around at the time of the supposed "quarrel."
The San Jose Police necropsy report said the victims died of stab wounds, not gunshot wounds. However, autopsies conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) medico-legal team on the exhumed remains of the victims revealed the truth: the massacre victims died of multiple gunshot wounds.
In the Quiñones' complaint memorandum, Pantejo said "the Mayor of San Jose is (the) brother of Ruben Ecleo Jr., (and the) political life of the island (is) controlled by them (Ecleos). It is no wonder that the local police authorities are controlled by them."
The persons named in the Quiñones' complaint were among the 16 PBMA cultists who died in the clash between the White Eagles and police officers attempting to serve Ecleo with a warrant for his arrest Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the Bacolod family's death at the hands of gunman Rico Gumonong was because the government was slow in approving the request of Pedrosa that the Bacolod family be put under the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Pedrosa said that the massacre of the Bacolod family could have been avoided had the Department of Justice immediately approved the Bacolod family's application for protection.
Angelito "Niño" Bacolod, the fifth of the Bacolod children and who survived the massacre, identified Gumonong as one of Ecleo's bodyguards.
As this developed, police in Cebu City have begun looking into reports that a member of the military may be the mastermind behind the Bacolod massacre. Police probers said they found the name of a military man registered as a received call on Gumonong's cellular phone. The name of the military man was also written on a piece of paper found in the dead gunman's wallet.
Unconfirmed reports yesterday also said a brother of the Bacolod patriarch, Alona's uncle, was beheaded along with three other members of the family in Dinagat, apparently by members of the PBMA.
In a related development, the White Eagles were reported to have broken up into smaller groups with the intent of avenging the arrest of Ecleo.
According to sources within the PBMA, the White Eagles, who once conducted motorcycle patrols on Dinagat Island, have gone underground after police and military personnel arrested Ecleo.
Sources also said some White Eagle members may have followed Ecleo to Manila. Ecleo is now detained in Camp Crame.
The White Eagles, sources said, are composed mostly of former military personnel who have gone absent without leave (AWOL) or were discharged from the service. They were hand-picked by Ecleo to secure the Ecleo mansion and to enforce the rules and regulations of the PBMA on Dinagat Island.
The White Eagles are also armed with high-powered firearms and have set up several hideouts on Dinagat, the source said, adding that the PBMA militia has "mobility both on land and in the sea."
The source added that the White Eagles made regular trips between Dinagat Island and Cebu using pump-boats and were often seen carrying high-powered weapons on such trips.
Members of the White Eagles wear red headbands and white clothes, as well as the amulets and rings given to them by their "divine master," which they believe will make them invincible and render them impervious to bullets.
Like the other PBMA cultists, the White Eagles believe that dying in Ecleo's defense will guarantee them eternal happiness in the afterlife and that they can be resurrected. Once they are resurrected, the cultists believe, they will attain immortality. The source said: "The White Eagles are not afraid to die. Death, to them, is their pass to immortality."
Reacting to reports that the White Eagles are on the loose, congressmen have urged the military and the police yesterday to disarm members of the PBMA immediately and prevent the cultists from causing more trouble in Surigao del Norte.
"With what happened in Dinagat, the authorities should now confiscate the weapons of this group. The government has long tolerated this cult and its members flout our laws," Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said.
The Barbers and the Ecleo families are political allies in Surigao del Norte and they belong to the Lakas-NUCD party.
Rep Crispin Beltran (Bayan Muna, party-list) said, "if the reports are true, the PBMA association of individuals have lost touch with reality and are, in fact, delusional, with violent tendencies," Beltran added.
Deputy House Speaker for the Visayas Raul Gonzalez said the authorities should disarm other armed groups as well as the PBMA cult: "I cannot understand why this is being tolerated by the peace-keeping forces of the government ... As long as the government (turns) a blind eye (to) these elements, the peace and order campaign will fail."
Rep Antonio Abaya (Lakas, Isabela), who chairs the House ethics committee, told reporters yesterday that no complaint has been filed against Surigao del Norte Rep. Glenda Buray Ecleo - the arrested cult leader's mother - for obstructing the arrest of her son and delaying negotiations for his surrender since January.
Abaya said some broadcast media practitioners in Cebu informed him that they intended to file a complaint against the Ecleo matriarch for obstruction of justice. However, Abaya's committee has yet to receive a formal complaint - the House ethics committee cannot investigate Representative Ecleo's involvement in the unsuccessful negotiation for her son's surrender until such a complaint is filed before it.
For her part, the congresswoman said she had "no comment" on the matter of her son's arrest and detention or on allegations that she delayed his surrender to arresting lawmen.
Incoming PNP Chief Deputy Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said there was no bungling on the part of the arresting officers: "That was actually the fourth attempt to serve (Ecleo's arrest) warrant." Ebdane added that he personally negotiated with Representative Ecleo for her son's surrender: "I told her, 'kahiyaan na ito (this is already the brink of embarrassment)!' You have to surrender your son." He reiterated past PNP statements on the matter that the cultists fired the first shot and engaged the lawmen in a gunbattle.
Civil society in the cities of Cebu and Surigao asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) to conduct drug tests on all the White Eagle group members after Ecleo tested positive for shabu use yesterday.
Surigao del Norte Provincial Director Supt. Ricky Nerbes said eyewitnesses to the Dinagat Island clash Tuesday said the members of the White Eagle group boasted that if the arresting officers would not go to the Ecleo mansion, they would go after them. Nerbes quoted the witnesses as saying the White Eagle militiamen seemed to be high on drugs at the time the violence broke out.
Among the 16 cultists who died in the incident were Rivera, Pedero, Arnel Bayatan, Rey Torres, Julius Rence Nacuan, Ananias Parullo Sr., Agustin Bug-Atan, Ernesto Bajastig, Mario Marsan and Herminigido Natad.