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Exhumed body similar to Ecleo wife’s, says forensic expert

CEBU CITY — One of the country’s leading forensic pathologists testified that the body of a woman which she subjected to a re-autopsy last March 7 bore similarities to that of Alona Bacolod, wife of cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr. whom he is accused of killing.

But Dr. Raquel Fortun, a forensic pathology professor of the University of the Philippines, nearly failed to make it to the stand the other day as the 19th prosecution witness in the celebrated trial when Ecleo’s lawyer Orlando Salatandre moved to bar her testimony.

Salatandre argued that Regional Trial Court Judge Geraldine Faith Econg never ordered a re-autopsy when she granted the prosecution’s motion to have the body exhumed only for purposes of DNA testing and have its dentures examined.

Prosecution lawyer Fritz Quinanola countered that Salatandre himself and another defense lawyer, Giovani Mata, were present during the exhumation and never objected to the examination, making their objection now "moot and academic."

Salatandre then moved to suspend the hearing, saying the defense needs to bring the matter to the Court of Appeals, but Econg denied the motion and ordered Fortun to take the stand.

Econg promised Salatandre that if the higher court issues a favorable ruling for the defense, she will order Fortun’s testimony stricken off the records.

Even if her order did not specifically mention a re-autopsy, Econg said it can be inferred that no DNA testing or dental examination can be undertaken without having to examine the body itself.

From the stand, Fortun echoed findings from a previous autopsy that the woman the prosecution claims to be Bacolod’s did not die of natural causes, but of asphyxia by strangulation, as evidenced by the protruding tongue and an eyeball misplaced from its socket.

She also testified that the external physical characteristics of the body matched or had similarities with Bacolod’s as described by her four siblings — Ricky, Josebil, Angelito and Rhea — whom she interviewed last March 8.

This testimony contradicted the contention of the defense that the body of a woman found inside a black garbage bag dumped in a ravine in Dalaguete town three years ago and which Fortun subjected to a re-autopsy upon exhumation is not Bacolod’s.

Ecleo, supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, stands accused of parricide in connection with Bacolod’s killing.

At the time of her death, Bacolod was in her senior year at medical school at the Southwestern University in Cebu City.

When Bacolod went missing, Ecleo did not mount a search, but instead went home to the PBMA enclave in San Jose, Dinagat, Surigao del Norte where armed followers secured him from arrest.

Eventually, it took a joint team of more than 200 soldiers and policemen, backed by armored personnel carriers, to capture Ecleo, but not before nearly two dozen of his men were killed in trying to protect him during the assault on his hillside enclave.

On the night he was captured in San Jose, nearly the entire family of Bacolod, including his mother and father, was massacred in Mandaue City by a lone PBMA member who was himself killed later by pursuing policemen. — Freeman News Service

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