DURING his criminal trial, Ruben Ecleo Jr. described his young wife as 5 foot 1, “sexy, skinny, and slim.”
So why would he want to kill Alona? The 200-page verdict pronouncing Ecleo guilty of parricide pointed to drug use and anger.
Josebil Bacolod, one of Alona’s seven siblings, testified in court that Ecleo was a “drug dependent.”
He knew this because Josebil lived in the couple’s house in Forest Hills, barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City.
He said he bought shabu for Ecleo the day before Alona was killed.
This motivation for murder was prominently mentioned in the decision of Regional Trial Court Judge Soliver Peras of Branch 10.
The judge, leaning on Josebil’s testimony, said Alona “had been planning for a long time to have the accused brought to a rehabilitation center, if the latter would not stop using drugs.”
Alona was a fourth year medical student in her 20s studying in Southwestern University.
She ended up strangled, her body carried to a car in a black garbage bag then dumped 20 kilometers away in ravine in Dalaguete town 85 kilometers away on Jan. 5, 2002.
Her brother Josebil provided one of two key testimonies about that fateful day.
He said Ecleo, the supreme master of a cult which the Bacolod family had belonged to, was the last person to see Alona alive.
In his testimony, Josebil said he heard shouts for help from his sister and loud banging sounds coming from the couple’s bedroom past 9 p.m.
The judge, in his summary of key evidence leading to his April 13 finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, referred to the first-hand account of Alona’s brother.
Josebil testified that he decided to go down from his room to check what happened and pretend to get a drink of water.
He said he saw Ruben Ecleo in the living room without a shirt, sweating and with reddish eyes, looking angrily at him.
Josebil returned to his room, then went out again after a few minutes. He then saw Ruben Ecleo and Juryven Padero lifting a big black garbage bag into the baggage compartment of a red Toyota Corolla sedan and drive away.
“The natural course of events would be that since Jan. 4, 2002 in the evening, the accused was already sniffing shabu and was already high or stoned the following day,” Judge Peras said.
A second key witness, Gloria Navaja clinched it. She was in Dalaguete town where she said she saw Ecleo and another man standing by the roadside behind a car with a garbage bag between them.
Ecleo, the president of the PBMA was sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 20 to 40 years of imprisonment and ordered to pay P26.3 million in damages. He was also ordered to pay P26.3 in damages and attorney’s fees.
The judge said the testimonies of both eyewitnesses prevail over Ecleo’s alibi and denial.
He said Josebil’s testimonies were “straightforward, spontaneous, and direct and to be entitled to credit and full faith by this court.”
Josebil was able to identify the body of his sister through her clothes, jewelry, body build, hair and feet.
Defense lawyers tried to raise doubt about the identity of the dead woman.
Ecleo insisted the body wasn’t his wife’s and that he believed she was still alive.
He said he heard the medico-legal officer describe the cadaver’s height as 5’5 while his wife was only 5’1.
But Ecleo stumbled on the witness stand, when he was asked to state his name and personal circumstances the other year.
He replied: “Ruben Ecleo Jr., 50 years old, widow. . .” meaning that he knew and accepted that his wife was really dead.
The judge found it suspicious that Ecleo didn’t seem to be trying hard to locate his missing wife, if she had just disappeared as he said.
Instead of looking for his wife, Ecleo described how he went to PBMA chapters in Lapu-Lapu City and Bogo City where he had sing-along sessions. PBMA, according to Ecleo, has 5 million members nationwide, including close to 20,000 in Cebu.
“One word from him would have immediately galvanized all his members into action to look for Alona,” Peras said. Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol