06/04/2018, 12.21
PHILIPPINES
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Seven years on and still no culprit for Fr. Tentorio’s murder

by Peter Geremia

One of the accused asked to be able to provide a new deposition, identifying the group that planned the killing and the motive. PIME missionary: "After the waves of assassinations and the long night of martial law, let us pray that the sun of justice and peace will shine in Mindanao and throughout the country".

Mindanao (AsiaNews) - Seven years on and no one has ever been charged for the murder of Fr. Fausto "Pops" Tentorio, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) for over 32 years in the Philippines. The 59-year-old priest was killed on the morning of October 17, 2011, at the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor in Arakan, North Cotabato (Mindanao). Fr. Tentorio was in the crosshairs of the army because of his activity in favor of the Manobo tribals threatened by the exploitation of the mines. In December 2017, the identification of two senior army officers and other suspects in the murder had marked a turning point in the investigation. The new heads of the Department of Justice (Doj) in Manila have appointed a new team of prosecutors, which this month should initiate preliminary investigations and decide which defendants will be issued arrest warrants. The trial is due to start soon in court. Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME missionary in Mindanao, sends us this latest update.

Fr. Fausto was killed on October 17, 2011. Since then many investigations were held on and off, but no conclusion in court. The new administration of President Duterte started in June 2016 and promised to reopen the case. On March 31, 2017 the Department of Justice (DOJ) appointed State Prosecutor Peter L. Ong to conduct an in-depth re-investigation with financial assistance from the Asia Foundation.

 

This new prosecutor reviewed all previous testimonies and new testimonies were added. He came to Arakan and Kidapawan several times with his team for ocular verification and with great skill he proved the validity of key testimonies. On October 20, 2017 he signed his report with his findings and conclusions:

  • To dismiss the charges against the 2 Muslim suspects, Jose and Dima Sampulna, which were included in the first complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on February 10, 2012.
  • To file a new complaint for “Murder” against the following:
  1. Jimmy and Robert Ato (suspected hired killers)
  2. Jan Corbala (a Commander of a group of tribal warriors called “Bagani”) and 3 members of his group.
  3. Nene Durado (identified with the “Ilaga” fanatic group of Christian Settlers who fought against Muslims and Tribals since 1970s and even now continue to take over more and more lands of the Tribals)
  4. Former Arakan Mayor Romulo Tapgos and 2 Arakan businessmen.
  5. Lt. Col. Joven Gonzales and Major Mark Espiritu (2 military officers in command of the 57th IB and the Special Forces Units at the time of killing of Fr. Fausto).

 

The report of Prosecutor Ong was published on November 2017 and the news caused reactions both in the Philippines and abroad. The key witnesses and their families were rushed into safe houses under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) constantly guarded like prisoners. Then there was another delay until May 2018 due to the change of the DOJ secretary. Finally the new DOJ secretary Menardo Guevarra appointed a new team of prosecutors who should start their preliminary investigations this month of June and decide which of the accused will be issued warrants of arrest, then the trial in court should start soon. Also in May of this year, one of the accused proposed to give additional testimony identifying the group that planned the killing of Fr. Fausto and their motives. This may contribute to restrain such groups accustomed to killing with impunity and show that the practice of impunity may not last forever. We are grateful to the State Prosecutor Peter Ong and his team who were able to revive the case, even though we were about to abandon it as another unresolved case or a lost cause.

 

On the other hand, we are worried because the DOJ now is giving priority to many other cases which the military filed against suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and their supporters. This is part of the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao, which started with the siege of Marawi and was extended up to December 2018. Many soldiers from Marawi were sent to our areas and they are now deployed in the rural communities looking for NPA rebels or supporters, while the killings of drug suspects continue in urban centers.

On January 11, 2018 the DOJ issued the list of 600 suspected terrorists. Among them many farmers and community tribal leaders, particularly in Arakan and nearby areas, including several friends of Fr. Fausto. These are civilians always seen in their farms and in community activities, but now they are accused of having participated in ambushes and attacks led by the NPA rebels. Some of them were arrested, a few killed, and many are hiding and cannot work in their farms and their families are facing starvation.

 

Also church people are now questioned, like Sr. Fox, an Australian nun, 27 years among the poor in Mindanao who is facing deportation for joining farmers’ rallies. In Luzon, Fr. Mark Ventura, a Diocesan priest, 27 years old, was shot near the altar after Sunday Mass on April 29, 2018. He was known for his involvements with the Indigenous People, just like Fr. Fausto. Another priest was killed in Luzon last December, Fr. Marcelito Paez, 71, killed after helping release a political prisoner.

 

In this context of martial law in Mindanao and killings nationwide, what significance can Fr. Fausto’s case have? We still wonder what kind of justice can be obtained for Pops, we hope to be able to clarify the real motive for his killing and identify the groups responsible. Can this also challenge more people to seek justice for many more EJK victims and Human Rights violations? After the waves of killings and the long night of martial law, we pray for the sun of justice and peace to shine in Mindanao and all over the country, particularly among the population of Tribals, Muslims and Poor Farmers and Workers who are victims of chronic injustice and unpeace.

 

The Diocese of Kidapawan, along with other churches and civilian sectoral representatives, have launched a Peoples’ Peace Summit last November 29, 2017 and now continue to implement the Peoples’ Peace Agenda (PPA) with concrete plans of action involving civilian sectors as peace builders. We start by proposing our PPA to all armed groups, both government and rebel forces, and to all civilian authorities. Then we ask them for their peace agenda or their initiatives or suggestions for justice and peace.

 

Can this gradually change the culture of conflict and violence into the culture of justice and peace? If we could only realize that all are losers in war while in peace all can be winners… We believe that we can solve peoples’ problems through dialogue and peoples’ participation and we civilians can do more for peace than all the armed groups. If we could only mobilize our human resources and if we could use the budgets that are wasted in war by both sides, then we can save many lives and we can develop communities where all can contribute for the needs and happiness of all.

We continue to pray and move heaven and earth for justice for Pops and all the EJK victims.

In the name of all Pops’ friends,

FR. PETER GEREMIA, PIME

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