The text message read: “Paki-alert diay sa mga myembro sa prosecution panel kay nasukog maayo sila (Ecleo family) kay dako kaayo silag nagasto. Naghatag pa sila several millions. Mora gyud nagplano mag-first strike. (Please alert members of the prosecution panel. The Ecleo family was very mad because they spent large amount of money in Ecleo’s case. They gave several millions. It seems that they are planning for a first strike).”
“Although it was just a report, we take the necessary precautions,” lawyer Fritz Quinanola, one of the private prosecutors in Ecleo’s parricide case, said.
He said they don’t want to suffer the same fate with lawyer Arbet Yongco, the private prosecutor in Ecleo’s case, who was shot dead in her office at corner Sikatuna and Alcohol streets, barangay Zapatera, Cebu City, in 2004.
“If Atty. Yongco was killed, there is no reason why it won’t happen to us as well. We just have to be alert. We are not robots who won’t feel fear,” said Quinanola, a retired police general.
“From the first moment we accepted this case, we burned bridges behind us. There’s a time in life when we have to accept the challenge. We can’t withdraw. We can’t turn back the hands of time. If it won’t be us, who will do the work? If not now, when? I hope God will help us,” Quinanola said.
Another prosecution lawyer Kit Enriquez also received the same text message from the unknown sender.
“You know some rich people, they think they can buy justice,” Enriquez said.
Enriquez said they already informed the police about the threat.
Meanwhile, the prosecution team will oppose the move of defense lawyer Orlando Salatandre to withdraw as the convicted lawmaker and cult leader’s legal counsel.
“It may just be a palabas. They have a hidden agenda here—some sort of strategy,” Quinanola said.
The withdrawal may be part of the legal strategy to delay the fifteen-day period for Ecleo to face his conviction and file the appeal in the higher court.
He said the pleading didn’t bear a date and Ecleo’s signature.
“I don’t think the court would allow the defense lawyer to withdraw from the case,” Quinanola said.
Salatandre earlier told Cebu Daily News that he decided to quit as Ecleo’s counsel since he is busy with others things. He said his decision was approved by Ecleo.
Quinanola said Salatandre should have requested Ecleo to surrender.
Does fugitive lawmaker Ruben Ecleo Jr. of Dinagat Island in Surigao del Norte look the same?
With his influence and wealth, prosecutors say Ecleo may have undergone cosmetic surgery to change his face.
“All things are possible if you have the money,” said Quinanola.
Quinanola cited the options left for Ecleo: “surrender, force arrest, go abroad or cosmetic surgery.”
“All (police) units have been alerted. I hope they can make an arrest as early as possible so the credibility of the Philippine National Police won’t suffer,” he told reporters.
Ecleo, is the supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), was convicted on graft charges last year and was sentenced to 20-40 years imprisonment and a fine of P26.3 million for his wife Alona in Cebu City 10 years ago.
Prosecution lawyers said Ecleo has until April 28 to surrender otherwise his conviction on the parricide case will be deemed final and executory.
The Sandiganbayan earlier found Ecleo guilty of three counts of graft for overpaying the construction of two municipal buildings and for spending public funds for a women’s center owned by the PBMA, during his stint as mayor of San Jose, Dinagat Island in Surigao del Norte.
He was supposed to be jailed for 31 years on that case. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter