Cult leader, wife killer Ecleo lived under new name, had new family in Angeles City

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 30 2020 08:36 PM | Updated as of Jul 31 2020 12:51 AM

Cult leader and former lawmaker Ruben Ecleo Jr. was arrested in San Fernando, Pampanga on Thursday for earlier convictions for graft and his wife's slay. ABS-CBN News

MANILA - It was on a routine drive from his house to the golf club that cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr., a fugitive for 14 years, finally fell in police hands.

He did not resist. The notorious leader of a cult in Dinagat Islands, whose fanatical followers had battled to death police out to get their "supremo" in 2 failed arrest missions years earlier, surrendered to operatives deployed in a case operational plan called "Almighty."

The Philippines' most wanted criminal, known for his piercing gaze, is now aged and weak.

And after nearly a decade and a half of evading prison time for a graft case and his first wife's slay, Ecleo, a one-time lawmaker dropped by Congress for his crimes, is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

"We're very happy that he was arrested peacefully and without resistance," said National Capital Region Police Office chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas in a press conference.

Ecleo’s arrest was the result of 6 months of surveillance work, police officials said.

They were careful to avoid another bloody confrontation, Sinas said, referring to how Ecleo's followers in the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association had previously engaged police in operations for their supreme leader's arrest in his native province in Mindanao.

"We're very afraid na may taga-San Fernando, Angeles na kakilala. Kaya nga, nung positive na identified na sumakay ng Grandia at maglaro ng golf, finlag down na sasakyan," said Sinas.

(We're very afraid that there were people in San, Fernando, Angeles (City) who knew him. So when it was positive, he was identified as the one who boarded the Grandia to play golf, his vehicle was flagged down.)

Ecleo was arrested with driver and known follower Benjie Faran at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday in San Fernando City, Pampanga on the strength of an arrest warrant issued over his 2006 conviction for graft. It would be six years later that he would be sentenced to life in prison for his wife's 2002 slay.

New name, new family

Ecleo's residence was traced to a village in Balibago, Angeles City. He lived under a new name "Manuel Riberal."

He had a new family too - a 30-year-old wife and a 1-year-old daughter. In 2002, he killed his first wife - strangled her to death in their home and dumped her at a ravine. He is also being linked to the massacre of four in her family in the same year.

Asked how he could have lived through those many years under police radar, Sinas said it may be because he looked different. At the subdivision where he lived, it seemed no one knew who he really was.

When presented to media, Ecleo looked like the years of evading justice had taken a toll. He was potbellied, had balding, disheveled white hair. He spoke through missing teeth, needed a pair of glasses, and told reporters he was hard of hearing.

But one thing he still seemed to have, said Sinas, was "a lot of money." The police report said he had P170,000 in cash at the time of his arrest.

Sinas said Ecleo would undergo processing for police to find out exactly how he had managed to escape arrest for long.

"We'll be checking. We'll be interviewing kung ano talaga kuwento niya - bakit siya matagal bago na-arrest na hindi siya umalis ng bansa pero nahirapan tayong mag-arrest sa kaniya," Sinas said.

(We'll be checking. We'll be interviewing what his story was - why it took a long time for him to get arrested even if he did not leave the country and yet we had a hard time to arrest him.)

"So, hopefully some of his insights will shed light para malalaman namin mga modus operandi niya kung paano [siya] mag-evade sa mga police," he said.

(So, hopefully some of his insights will shed light and we'll know his modus operandi on how he evaded police.)

When asked how he managed to move freely and even got to play golf, a sport played in a wide open field, Ecleo said it was all about "pakisama."

"Simple lang, pakisama ba. Tapos, siyempre, 'pag di mo ka man gumawa ng masama, laro lang naman 'yon," Ecleo told reporters.

(It's simple. It's about getting along with others and of course if you're not doing anything bad, it's just a game.)