Good old honest intelligence work key to capturing Ecleo, Apolinario-PNP

August 02, 2020

GOOD old honest police intelligence work combined with  giving officers all the resources they need were the keys to capturing two of the Philippines’ most wanted persons last week and proving that the long arm of the law will always catch up with criminals in the country, officials told the Journal Group yesterday.

PNP chief, General Archie Francisco F. Gamboa, has commended National Capital Region Police Office director, Major Gen. Debold M. Sinas and Police Regional Office 13 director, Brigadier Gen. Joselito T. Esquivel Jr. for their success in tracking down Ruben Ecleo Jr. and KAPA Ministry leader Joel Apolinario.

Gen. Gamboa said the arrest of Ecleo and Apolinario should send the chilling message to all other fugitives: “You can run but you cannot hide from the PNP. We will put you behind bars,” he said.

NCRPO agents on Thursday arrested the 60-year old Ecleo, a former Dinagat Islands Representative who ended up being the country’s most wanted man with a P2 million bounty on his head during an operation in Pampanga.

Ecleo, the self-styled ‘supreme master’ of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) who is wanted for murdering his wife and for a graft case has eluded the police, the military and the National Bureau of Investigation for nearly nine years until NCPRO officers arrested him at 5 a.m. last Thursday in San Fernando City in Pampanga.

Sinas said Ecleo used the alias ‘Manuel Riberal’ to conceal his true identity and live at Lot 6, Block 8 Orosa Subdivision in Balibago, Angeles City.  The official said early last year, they got a tip that the fugitive left Dinagat Island and stayed in Quezon City during the start of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila last March 16 before going to his residence in Diamond Subdivision, also in Angeles City.

“He changed his physical appearance in order to hide from authorities and is reportedly under the protection of his followers. However, we finally caught him after six months of persistent intelligence build-up,” said the NCRPO chief.

Members of the NCRPO Regional Intelligence Division-Regional Special Operations Group and the Regional Mobile Force Battalion, in coordination with the Police Regional Office 3 arrested Ecleo and his PBMA follower and driver Benjie Ferna,35, while they were on board his white Toyota Grandia.

Recovered from Ecleo’s possession were P173,150 in different denominations, several fake identification cards, three mobile phones and a number of jewelry items.

He later allowed the NCRPO agents to search his house where three handguns and an M-16 automatic rifle were recovered.

Ecleo has been the subject of a massive government manhunt since 2002 with officers from the PNP, the Armed Forces and the National Bureau of Investigation failing to capture the suspect who is believed to be under the protection of his cult followers, some of them soldiers and policemen in Dinagat Island.

In 2012, Ecleo was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of parricide for killing his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, a 4th year medical student in their home in Cebu City in 2002. The Sandiganbayan also ordered him jailed for 31 years for graft and corruption.

On June 20, 2013, police and soldiers out to arrest the suspect clashed with his heavily-armed followers in Dinagat Island leaving 21 cultists dead as they tried to prevent officers from arresting their leader. One policeman also died while another was wounded during the clashes.

On the other hand, Apolinario was arrested by PRO13 officers in his exclusive property in Lingig, Surigao del Sur where he and his supporters stockpiled weapons and ammunition. Apolinario’s followers battled the police two Tuesdays ago leaving two of them dead.

Esquivel said it seemed to be that Apolinario was building his own "private army" amid suspicions that some active and retired soldiers and policemen are acting as his security consultants or bodyguards themselves.

According to the official, it took hours for his men led by Colonel James Goforth to penetrate the island and occupy the KAPA ministry’s place.. The group has been accused of enticing  the public to invest at least P10,000 into the organization in exchange for an impossible ‘30 percent  monthly return for life.’

Esquivel said recovered during the raid were a cache of high-powered weapons including 30 pieces of M-16 automatic rifles, two M-4 rifles, one Garand rifle, three 60 cal. Machine guns, one cal. 50 Sniper rifle, three cal. .22 rifles, one Carbine automatic rifle, one 12-gauge shotgun, two RPGs, five cal. .45 semi-automatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of assorted live ammunition.