New Religions - Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association
Probe focused on Ecleo cult member
by Jolene R. Bulambot ("Philippine Daily Inquirer," October 14, 2004)
Authorities are looking into the possible involvement of a member of the cult headed by Ruben Ecleo Jr. in the murder of the lawyer that had filed a parricide case against him.
The features of Michael Favila, of Cagayancillo town in Palawan province, match the sketch of the supposed killer of lawyer Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco, according to Reynaldo Esmeralda, National Bureau of Investigation director for Central Visayas.
Esmeralda yesterday said initial investigation showed that Favila, 44, was a former soldier and a reported member of Ecleo's Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA). He said Favila's whereabouts were being checked.
Ecleo is the PBMA's "supreme master.”
But Ecleo's lawyer, Orlando Salatandre, said investigators should not make allegations without sufficient evidence. He also said investigators should also look into the other sensational cases that Yongco was handling, and not focus on Ecleo's case alone.
"I am appealing to the investigators to be silent. The premature pronouncements are damaging to my client, to the PBMA and to his family," Salatandre said.
He reiterated his claim that Ecleo had nothing to do with the Monday killing.
Ecleo is accused of killing his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo in 2002.
He posted bail of P1 million after the court allowed him to seek treatment for his heart ailment.
Esmeralda flew to Manila yesterday to confer with Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez on the case. He returned to Cebu in the afternoon.
He said Gonzalez had instructed him to thoroughly investigate the case and to check all possible angles regarding the motive for the killing.
In an interview with radio station dyLA, Philippine National Police Director General Edgar Aglipay said the PNP was in fact studying other angles and not just the Ecleo case.
"The investigation is a continuing [process]," he said. "We will not close off other reasons or other motives and other suspects as far as the killing of prosecutor Yongco is concerned."
Aglipay also said it was difficult to pinpoint a specific angle in the absence of strong evidence.
Esmeralda said the sketch of Yongco's supposed killer was based on a description provided by two eyewitnesses now in NBI custody.
He said Favila's name was provided by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, which was later confirmed by the Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (CIIB) of the Cebu City Police Office.
The two agencies are working with the NBI to solve Yongco's murder.
Esmeralda said Niño Bacolod, brother of Ecleo's slain wife, had told him that the sketch of the supposed killer resembled one of the cult leader's bodyguards.
But when sought for comment, Bacolod said he was not actually sure of the gunman's identity.
Superintendent Paul Labra, CIIB chief, said he gave the Yongco family's lawyer and spokesperson Liza Corro a picture of Favila, which she later showed to witnesses.
"As I perceived it, the witnesses were able to identify the gunman through the picture we showed them yesterday (Tuesday) morning. I was not allowed to see and confer with the witnesses. It was Attorney Corro who relayed what the witnesses said when they saw the picture," Labra said in a phone interview.
He said that while there was "a concerted effort from the different investigating agencies," what they had was "just circumstantial [evidence]."
"Nothing is definite yet. We are still investigating," he added.
Labra said his men arrested Favila and a companion in July for carrying firearms inside a taxi in Barangay Talamban, Cebu City.
Police confiscated the firearms, along with membership cards of the PBMA Commando Brotherhood and Rubenian International, he said.
Favila and his companion were released after the city prosecutor's office dismissed the complaint of illegal possession of firearms, Labra said.
More statements of outrage were issued yesterday by various groups.
In Manila, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines through its national president Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz said: "[We] condemn in the strongest terms the grisly killing of [Yongco], "a lifetime member of the IBP and advocate of the rights of women and children."
It added: "[Her] murder has reinforced the perception of the Filipino people that there is a breakdown of peace and order in this country. When judges, lawyers and reporters are killed on a regular basis, and the list of unsolved crimes gets longer by the day, it is not unthinkable for ordinary citizens not to feel safe outside the confines of their homes."
Lawyers in Bohol province also issued a statement denouncing Yongco's killing.