The legal noose continued to tighten on cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr.
Days after he was convicted for the murder of his wife Alona, the Supreme Court dismissed with finality his appeal to reverse a Sandiganbayan decision which found him guilty of three counts of graft charges.
The news was welcomed by Alona’s family who plan to hold a thanksgiving Mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral this morning.
The High Court said Ecleo failed to file a petition for review within the required period of time.
Prosecution lawyer Fritz Quiñanola said an entry of judgment has been lodged before the Sandiganbayan against Ecleo.
This means the cult leader turned congressman of Dinagat Island in Surigao del Norte could no longer contest his conviction and has to serve 18 to 31 years imprisonment and pay P2.8 million to the government.
“The burden laid upon Ecleo is now very heavy,” Quiñanola said.
Cebu Daily News tried but failed to reach defense lawyer Orlando Salatandre yesterday.
Angelito Bacolod, one of Alona’s seven siblings, said Ecleo brought the ruling upon himself.
“Since Ecleo committed graft practices, he should face its consequences. But there is a remote possibility that Ecleo will surrender. He trusts his cult members who are willing to secure him,” Angelito said.
A petition for review was supposed to be filed within 15 days from receipt of the SC ruling.
But the High Court said Ecleo filed his petition over two years after the Sandiganbayan denied his motion for reconsideration.
Ecleo is supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA).
The SC said Ecleo also failed to support his contention that the Sandiganbayan erred in convicting him through technicalities and not merit.
Ecleo was found guilty of three counts of graft for overpaying the construction of two municipal buildings through public funds for a women’s center owned by his group, PBMA.
Ecleo, who was mayor of San Jose, Dinagat Island in Zamboanga del Norte at the time, faces a 31-year jail term after he was convicted by the Sandiganbayan.
Last Friday, Regional Trial Court Judge Soliver Peras of Branch 10 in Cebu City also convicted Ecleo for killing his wife Alona inside their residence in sitio Banawa, barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City on Jan. 5, 2002.
Ecleo was found guilty of parricide and meted a penalty of reclusion perpetua or 20 to 40 years of imprisonment.
He was also ordered to to pay P26.3 million in damages to the five remaining siblings of Alona, a fourth year medical student of a Cebu City university when she died.
Ecleo’s counsel in the parricide case is set to contest the ruling before the Court of Appeals (CA).
But Quiñanola said Ecleo must surrender first otherwise his appeal would be of no value.
“Ecleo is doomed to fail (in his appeal if he won’t submit himself to the jurisdiction of the CA),” Quinanola said.
He said Ecleo needs to sign the document needed in filing an appeal.
Ecleo has been hiding since a couple of arrest warrants were issued against him due to his conviction on the graft charges and his failure to attend three consecutive hearings in Cebu City last year.
In a GMA News report, Malacañang deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said they will seek the intervention of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to arrest Ecleo.
The Bacolod family intends to raise money as reward to anyone who can help lead the arrest of Ecleo.
Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City’s south district said Ecleo will surely be removed from Congress.
But he said certain procedures have to be complied with before the cult leader will be expelled.
“I’m confident he (Ecleo) will be removed,” Osmeña told Cebu Daily News. / Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter