Cebu City -- Seventy-three days after lawyer Arbet Sta. Ana Yongco, a private prosecutor in the parricide case against cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr., was brutally killed in her home here last Oct. 11, Michel Favila, an Ecleo follower, was finally charged for her murder the other day.
After the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) which investigated the murder filed the complaint with the city prosecutor's office, Regional Trial Court Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. promptly issued a warrant for Favila's arrest.
Favila, a member of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) which considers Ecleo as supreme master, matched the descriptions of the killer provided by witnesses to the Yongco murder last Oct. 11.
Shortly after the murder, Favila, who denied he was the one who killed Yongco, turned himself in to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Palawan and was brought to Cebu where he had been in NBI custody since.
With his arrest, Favila was removed from NBI custody and detained at the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center (BBRC), where Ecleo was also locked up prior to being granted bail.
Favila's lawyer Orlando Salatandre, also the lead counsel for Ecleo, filed a motion for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus but this did not stop the court from issuing a warrant for Favila's arrest.
Salatandre filed the petition with another judge, Pampio Abarintos, who scheduled a hearing on Dec. 29.
Nelson Bartolome, NBI regional executive officer, said that as Favila's custodian to whom the petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus was directed, they would still appear at the hearing.
But he said they would explain that the petition is already moot and academic because Favila has been charged and transferred from their custody to the BBRC.
An 11-page resolution approved by a panel of prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila was faxed to the city prosecutor's office last Thursday afternoon.
The DOJ panel still found probable cause to charge Favila after he was positively identified as the gunman, despite his denial and some inconsistencies in the statements of witnesses.
Another Ecleo follower, also now in the custody of the police, has been identified by a witness as the man who drove Favila away in a motorcycle after the Yongco killing.
The PBMA member, Nestor Carrol, was arrested with seven other fellow members at a police checkpoint in Lapu-Lapu City. Their van yielded high-powered weapons, prompting the police to suspect they were on a "mission."
Ecleo's followers have been known to freely give up their lives to protect the interests of their master.
When Ecleo was nabbed by a joint police-military team at his enclave on Dinagat Island in Surigao del Norte, more than 20 of his men were killed when they tried to prevent his arrest.
On that same day, a lone PBMA member was killed by Cebu policemen after he massacred almost the entire family of Ecleo's slain wife, Alona Bacolod.