By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
Former Dinagat Island Rep. and cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr., on the lam since 2012 when he was meted with a life sentence for brutally killing his wife, has been designated as the Philippines’ Most Wanted Person and to be the object of an intensified and more massive manhunt by police and military intelligence authorities.
Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, Philippine National Police spokesman, said recently members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Intelligence Group (IG) have joined hands in the hunt for Ecleo.
“We continue to gather more information to locate the whereabouts of Ecleo… the CIDG and IG are jointly conducting pursuit operation,” Mayor said. The CIDG is the primary unit tasked to pursue Most Wanted Persons and serve the warrant of arrest.
Chief Inspector Elizabeth Jasmin, CIDG spokesperson, confirmed that Ecleo is now the top MWP but she declined to elaborate on the details of their operation.
Ecleo is the last man in the so-called “Big Five” of high-profile fugitives that brought endless embarrassment to law enforcers for years until the capture of retired Army Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. in 2014 followed by the fall of three others — Globe Asiatique founder Delfin Lee and former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and his younger brother former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes — in 2015.
Ecleo was initially included in the top five MWP along with Palparan, Lee, and Joel and Mario Reyes.
Called “The Butcher” by political activists, Palparan went into hiding in December 2011 when he was ordered arrested by the Malolos (Bulacan) regional trial court in connection with the 2006 abduction and disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. After years of hiding, Palparan was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on August 12, 2014 in Sta. Mesa, Manila.
As for Lee, on trial for an alleged PHP 6 billion housing scam, there was some controversy on his arrest on March 2015. It turned out that Lee never left town nor hid and was in fact grabbed while being chauffeur-driven from house to office,
The Reyes brothers disappeared in March 2012 after the Puerto Princesa regional trial court issued warrants for their arrest in connection with the murder of Palawan broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega. They were arrested in Thailand for overstaying their visas and were then deported back to the Philippines in September 2015.
Ecleo went into hiding after he was meted with a 31-year jail sentence for graft by the Sandiganbayan in 2006. On top of this conviction, a Cebu City court sentenced Ecleo to life imprisonment in April 2012 for the killing of his wife.
The government offered a reward of PHP 5 million for any information leading to the arrest of Ecleo.
Ecleo is the “supreme master” of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA). He is also a son of Surigao del Norte Rep. Glenda Ecleo.
The 51-year-old Ecleo gained national attention when 22 of his followers and a policeman were killed in a firefight on June 2002 at the PBMA compound in Dinagat island off Surigao del Norte. Unharmed, he surrendered shortly after the incident.
Police and military forces then were trying to arrest him as a suspect in the brutal murder of his wife, Alona Bacolod Ecleo, and her parents.
Ecleo’s conviction at the Sandiganbayan arose from allegedly anomalous construction deals he entered into when he was town mayor of San Jose, Surigao del Norte between 1991-94.
In 2002, the Cebu RTC found enough evidence to find Ecleo guilty of killing his wife in cold blood.