MAYNILA (2nd UPDATE) - Police arrested on Thursday former lawmaker and cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. in San Fernando, Pampanga, 14 years since escaping a graft conviction and 8 years since he was found guilty of his wife's slay.
Ecleo was arrested with driver Benjie Faran, the National Capital Region Police Office confirmed. The former Dinagat Islands representative is considered the No. 1 most wanted on the Department of the Interior and Local Government's list.
He has a P2-million bounty on his head. He had been in hiding for 14 years, the Philippine National Police said.
PNP chief Police General Archie Gamboa said Ecleo's arrest should send a message to other fugitives.
“You can run but you cannot hide from the PNP. We will put you behind bars," he said in a statement.
Police said Ecleo has been living under the name Manuel Riberal in a subdivision in Balibago, Angeles, Pampanga.
Operatives of the Regional Intelligence Division-Special Operations Group and Regional Mobile Force Battalion of the NCRPO took him into custody at 4:30 a.m. Thursday through an arrest warrant issued over his graft conviction.
Police Col. Remus Medina, chief of the NCRPO's intelligence division, said Ecleo was on his way to play golf when caught by operatives.
"Mayroon tayong informant, almost 6 months na tayong nagbabantay sa kaniya... He did not resist arrest. Medyo may edad na kasi siya, medyo may sakit," he said.
(We have an informant, we've been surveilling him for 6 months... He did not resist arrest. He's of advanced age, he's sick.)
Ecleo's driver was, meanwhile, arrested, for violation of Sec 1 (c) of Presidential Decree 1829 or Penalizing Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders, said NCRPO chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas in a statement.
During his arrest, police seized his Toyota Grandia, over P170,000 in cash, fake IDs and jewelry.
The two were brought to the NCRPO headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Ecleo was convicted of graft in 2006 for the anomalous construction of the public market and town hall, and repairs of his cult's building in San Jose, Dinagat Islands when he was mayor there in the early '90s. He was sentenced to 31 years for this crime.
He was dropped from the rolls of the House of Representatives in 2012 for his 2006 graft conviction.
In the same year, Ecleo was sentenced to life imprisonment for the slay of his wife in Cebu City in 2002. He strangled his wife to death in their home and dumped her at a ravine in Dalaguete town south of the city. Her body was found three days later.
The court also ordered Ecleo to pay P25 million in compensatory damages to his wife's family. He was at large at his sentencing.
Ecleo is considered the "supreme master" of the cult Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association.
-- With reports from Zhander Cayabyab, ABS-CBN News
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