Today’s Inquirer profile of Jesus Christ Followers, a small but apparently violent cult, brings some of the wackier fringes of Philippine religious life into focus. I’d love to attend the forthcoming court hearing where six children aged 11 to 19 intend to show their “brilliance” by defending themselves. They are in custody following a pitched battle with police, who had been asked by the parents of a 16-year-old to rescue their daughter from the cult.
Wielding steel pipes, sticks, rocks and human excrement wrapped in plastic, JCF members fought policemen on Jan. 28, leaving three officers injured. Twenty-two JCF members, many of whom suffered injuries, were arrested.I think we are going to see more and more stories like this. The declining influence of the Catholic Church, the poverty of the official education system, the absence of balikbayan parents, a corrupt political process, and a lack of moral leadership--in short, the collapsing centre of Philippine life--leave acres of space for quacks and charlatans like Emilinda Tionco, founder of Jesus Christ Followers, to tout their wares to gullible people with nothing much to lose.
The big daddy of recent cult leaders is of course Ruben Ecleo. Even a passing familiarity with his story is enough to demonstrate that the Philippines is no ordinary country. Bald, gun toting, shabu taking, harem having, and, it appears, wife murdering Ecleo was headline news in 2002. In January of that year, his wife was found inside a garbage bag in a ravine near Cebu. An autopsy showed that she had been strangled.
On the run, Ecleo holed up in Dingat, his private island off Surigao, with members of his cult. Five months later he was arrested after a Waco-like invasion left 20 cult members dead.
At the height of the standoff, a member of Ecleo's cult did some tidying up in Cebu and massacred Ecleo’s dead wife’s parents and two other members of the family. The assassin was then shot dead by the police (making it difficult to establish Ecleo's role in the multiple homicide, if any).
Astonishingly, despite the seriousness of the crimes of which he was accused, Ecleo was granted bail in March last year. More deaths followed. In October, one of the main prosecution lawyers in his trial was murdered. In December, a member of Ecleo’s cult was charged with her murder. More than two years after the murder of Ecleo’s wife, I can see no evidence of the case against him proceeding.
Ecleo’s dark tale is written in blood, by an author heavily influenced by Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the film Apocalypse Now. The fact that the so-called strong republic is unable to protect its citizens from such a fantastic Kurtz-like figure and his murderous followers is testament to the Philippine state's illusory qualities; despite the president's tough statements, it appears incapable of performing even the most basic functions.