Iloilo City -- They are not a cult but an association seeking to help other people without expecting payment in return, Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association Inc. (PBMA) Pototan Chapter missionary Roberto Cabaquil said yesterday.
Cabaquil was reacting to media reports that the PBMA is a cult that has led its 1.4 million followers to believe that amulets, rings and Latin prayers will render them invincible to bullets and other forms of physical harm and that they can be resurrected and made immortal.
"We denounce media reports that we, the members of PBMA, are cult members. It is very hurting on our part... we are here to help those people who are in need (of our help) without asking (for anything) in return," Cabaquil said.
Cabaquil now resides with his brothers at the PBMA compound in Iloilo City. He added that the PBMA is an association registered under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Oct. 19, 1965, with SEC registration number 28042. Its main office is located at San Jose town in Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte and was founded by the late PBMA "Supreme President" Ruben Ecleo Sr., who died in 1987.
"After Supreme President Ruben Ecleo Sr. died in 1987, Ruben Ecleo Jr. became the Supreme President while the elder Ecleo, is now our Divine Master, because the responsibility was handed down to the son," Cabaquil told The STAR .
The younger Ecleo was arrested on June 19 after an overnight, 11-hour stand-off and a sporadic gun battle between a joint police-military force serving a warrant for his arrest, and Ecleo's elite bodyguard of "White Eagles" - hard-core PBMA fanatics whose only goal was to prevent his arrest.
Ecleo faces charges of parricide for the murder of his wife last Jan. 6 and murder for the killing of his in-laws in Mandaue City last week, on the same day lawmen attempted to serve Ecleo's arrest warrant.
For members of the PBMA, Cabaquil said, it is wrong to call the younger Ecleo the PBMA's "Supreme Master" or "Divine Master." He is referred to as the PBMA "Supreme President" by PBMA members.
Based on the PBMA's articles of incorporation, the association's aim and purpose is charity: "To serve faithfully, to help benevolently and to give voluntarily." The group also seeks to promote "international peace and unity, (work) for mutual friendly relations with all nations of the world who uphold the true essence and principles of democracy, for free, good, clean and honest government in the Philippines and for the upliftment of the economic, spiritual, moral and social conditions of members of the association."
The PBMA, in its articles of incorporation, also aims to defend "the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines legally, spiritually, morally and socially" as well as establish a community center for all PBMA members and chapter offices or social halls "in every province of the Republic of the Philippines."
The PBMA articles of incorporation also state that the association aims to "maintain harmonious relations with other religious sects, societies or associations."
Cabaquil said anybody can join the PBMA "as long as they don't have any vices. They don't smoke, drink alcohol and (they) follow faithfully the Ten Commandments."
He also said the PBMA believes in freedom of religion, because the group doesn't interfere with a member's original religious affiliation: "We don't debate, especially when it comes to religion because these are the members' own beliefs and we respect them."
Cabaquil added that there is no age limit for joining the PBMA, adding that "this association is a continuation of religion. (PBMA members) can attend our monthly meeting and go to their own churches regularly."
Cabaquil also said the PBMA prays in its own version of Latin at 6 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 2:30 a.m., before going to sleep and just after waking up. However, he said PBMA members do not say Latin prayers at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m., 9 p.m., 12 midnight and 3 a.m. - refuting earlier reports on the prayer cycle of the group.
Cabaquil also said the news that PBMA members believe that amulets and rings render them invincible to bullets is untrue: "We at the PBMA are all humans and this association of ours is just like those of ordinary jeepney drivers - we are for the good actions (by which we believe we will) be saved." Cabaquil added that he does not believe that the younger Ecleo is a reincarnation of Jesus Christ: "It depends upon the belief of every individual member (of the PBMA) whether they believe that our Supreme President is a reincarnation of God, a prophet, a messenger or just a representative (of God). When Christ said 'whatever I did, when you do it is like me and whoever says he is God is not me' - that is what I believe."