Government troops are set to launch a full-scale operation early today for the arrest of Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) supreme president Ruben "Bobong" Ecleo Jr. after negotiations for his surrender failed.
We will get Ruben Ecleo at all costs. We will come in massive force. Nobody is above the law," Police Regional Office (PRO) 13 director Alberto Olario announced.
Olario also said that if there were any casualties or damages due to the assault, only Rep. Glenda Ecleo, Ruben's mother, is to blame.
He said that an encounter could have been avoided had she only surrendered Ruben Jr., who is wanted for the killing of his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, to the authorities.
They also plan to file criminal and administrative cases against Glenda and San Jose, Dinagat mayor Allan I Ecleo if anything violent happens today.
While he assured that they would exert all efforts to avoid a bloody encounter, they will not hesitate to shoot back at anybody who fires at them.
They have also prepared search warrants on all the houses in the island where Ruben Jr. is possibly hiding.
An estimated 200 personnel are set to join the operation.
The assault team is composed of operatives from the CIDG-7, CIDG-13, Regional Mobile Group (RMG) 13, 50th Infantry Battalion from Agusan del Norte, 4th Infantry Division from Cagayan de Oro, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, Coastguard and other military units.
Olario said that he spoke with AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Roy Cimatu, and he was assured of helicopters and armored personnel carriers for today's operation.
PNP Chief Leandro Mendoza also reportedly gave Olario the authority to give the go signal on when to attack.
Rep. Ecleo reportedly said that there are presently 700,000 PBMA supporters expecting the attack.
However, police only estimated 50 of them armed.
Olario and CIDG 7 chief Edwin Diocos confirmed receiving reports about Ecleo hiring people to be his security personnel.
Diocos expressed worry of civilian casualties saying that a confrontation is highly possible if reports are true that Ecleo has 50-armed men around him and chose not to surrender.
Earlier, the plan was for Ruben Jr. to give himself up at the tightly-guarded mansion of Sen. Robert Barbers, a former police officer, in Barangay Lipata, Surigao city at 7 a.m. today.
This was after Barbers, a political ally of the Ecleos, bluntly told Glenda during a Sunday meeting that he could not prevent the police from enforcing the law.
Rep. Ecleo was given an ultimatum to surrender her son until 5 p.m. yesterday or else they would launch the full-scale attack.
"Nakakahihiya na, pati ako binibira na ng media sa Cebu, kailangang i-surrender na. Hindi na mapigilian (ang PNP), trabaho nila `yan," a police source, who attended the top-level meeting at Barbers' palatial house quoted the senator as saying.
But Rep. Ecleo changed her mind at the last minute, calling up Olario to say that the leaders and members of the PBMA would not surrender Ruben to the police.
They reportedly decided on this after a meeting at San Jose.
Earlier, a dyLA report said Ruben Jr. has finally given up to the pressure.
He reportedly passed on to his son, Ruben III, his post as supreme president of the cult in a ceremony attended by hundreds of his followers in his White Mansion yesterday after coming up with a decision to surrender.
Attending the meeting at Barbers' palatial house were Rep. Ecleo, Olario, Diocos and ranking police officials in the Caraga region.
Thus, Barbers, a former-policeman-turned-politician, has been considered "instrumental" for exerting pressure on the Ecleo's for the PBMA's supreme head to surrender peacefully.
The source added that Barbers even said that he would leave for Malaysia on an official trip today if Ecleo still refused to give himself up.
"Bahala na kayo dito, Martes ng umaga pupunta na ako sa Malaysia," he quoted Barbers as saying.
In turn, Rep. Ecleo asked the senator not to leave them behind while the peaceful turn over had not been materialized.
The PNP gave Ecleo a 5 p.m. ultimatum yesterday on whether to turn himself in or not. It was even expected that Ecleo would show up at Barber's house yesterday but it did not materialize.
Meanwhile, the relief of the 10-man police force in San Jose, Dinagat was put on hold following Ecleo's intention to surrender.
A fully-armed 30-man Provincial Mobile Group of the Surigao del Norte Police Office was scheduled to replace the local police force in San Jose yesterday morning.
A reliable source said that Rep. Ecleo called up Supt. Ricky Nerbes, Surigao del Norte provincial police chief, upon learning of the mass relief.
The Ecleo's became apprehensive over the mass relief, as it would indicate that the planned large-scale police operation in San Jose would push through.
The relief did not push through after Rep. Ecleo assured that her son would surrender at 7 a.m. today.
Of the 10 policemen in San Jose, only station chief, Insp. Virgil Ranes, was not a member of the PBMA.
A dyLA report also said that Ecleo was no longer heeding the advice of his congresswoman-mother.