Ruben Edera Ecleo Sr. (December 9, 1934 – December 20, 1987) was a Filipino cult leader who founded the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, Incorporated (PBMA, INC.) in 1965, and the mayor of the Municipality of Dinagat, Surigao del Norte from 1963 up to 1987. Married to Glenda Buray Ecleo, they had eight children: Ruben Jr., Glorigen, Grace, Benglen, Allan I, Allan II, Geraldine and Gwendolyn. Ecleo also has a son with former mistress Reyneria Borja named Ruben Al.
According to the teachings he propagated, he was born from a poor family in the island of Cabilan in the town of Dinagat, Ruben claims he started his mission as a transient healer-missioner assuming different names and personalities and travelled mostly in the Visayas area and in many parts of northern Mindanao at the age of 8. He claimed he can commune with spirit guides, which allowed him to master Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit languages from which he able to read the akashic records and interpret the ancient mysteries. However, he has never demonstrated his linguistic capabilities by talking to native speakers of the languages he says he knows. His cult's beliefs revolve around a new sort of wisdom which is a fusion of the Akasha (akashic), Buddhism, Christianism, Hinduism, and Judaism. His teachings became the fundamental doctrines of the PBMA.
Spiritual leader career and politics
In the early years of the 1960s Ruben organized his first group of followers which he then called “The First Thirteen”, the first batch of his fellow-workers, a group of healer-teachers known as “missionaries” resembling the Twelve Apostles of the Christ in the ancient Judea, who allegedly received his blessings, teachings and instructions. This “First Thirteen” became the “fishers of his members”. Owing to his growing fame as a spiritual leader and a healer, as well as the very poor level of education in the island where he began his cult, he was eventually called as “Dr. Ruben” or known by the title “Divine Master” to his followers, an indication of his "great proclivity in the spirituals and of the divine". In the PBMA cult, the title is equivalent to “Grand Master“ or “Worshipful Master“ of the order of Freemasonry. Through the help of his cultists, followers and supporters, in 1965, they organized and founded the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, Incorporated, a non-sectarian, non-stock, and a brotherhood organization with the prime objectives to extend the missions of his group to do charitable works; to serve faithfully, to help benevolently and to give voluntarily, among others. PBMA was registered on that same year on October 19 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under Registration No. 28042. This became the platform for their family to pursue political power in their severely underdeveloped island.
Ruben Ecleo also tried his luck in politics. In the 1963 local election, in his second attempt at the mayoralty, he won an overwhelming victory against an unpopular opponent. That launched his political career, cut short only by death. In 1981, he was featured in the WHO Magazine (September 26 Issue) as “The South’s Mysterious Superstar” for being a charismatic leader, the undefeated mayor of Dinagat and the architect of Barangay San Jose in the municipality of Dinagat for making it as the “Most Outstanding Barangay of the Philippines” in 1980; a recognition given by the elite Rotary Club of Makati. San Jose was then home of his association, the PBMA. He was chosen as the “Most Outstanding Mayor of the Philippines” in 1985.
Death, legacy and family controversy
Ruben Ecleo Sr. holds the record for serving the longest term as local executive in Dinagat for 24 years, from 1963 until his death on December 20, 1987. Days after his demise, PBMA’s leadership was bequeathed to his eldest son, Ruben B. Ecleo Jr. who was then a musician and a recording artist, who became the mayor of San Jose from 1991 to 1994, after its conversion from a barangay into a municipality in 1989. A mausoleum called the “Divine Master's Shrine” at the top of a hill in Barangay Aurelio, San Jose, Dinagat Islands was built by the PBMA members in honor of the elder Ecleo. This shrine symbolizes his lasting legacies.
Considered by his followers as a seemingly "Christ-like" figure, Ruben Ecleo Sr. and his group PBMA has an estimated membership of 3.5 million in 2002, but real statistics could be significantly lower.
References and sources
- All About the PBMA - Unofficial website of Members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, Inc.