Seven people on trial in Kidapawan City for the murder of PIME missionary Fr Tentorio

The murder took place on the morning of 17 October 2011. The defendants are the two alleged killers, a tribal leader and three militants, and the member of a paramilitary group. Charges against the former mayor of Arakan and two army officers previously investigated have been dropped. The four key witnesses are under the protection of the authorities.

Manila (AsiaNews) – A court in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato, has remanded seven people for trial in connection with the unsolved murder of Fr Fausto "Pops" Tentorio (picture 1), a priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), this according to Fr Pietro Geremia, also a missionary with the Milan-based Institute in Mindanao.

Fr Tentorio was killed on the morning of 17 October 2011, at the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Aid in Arakan, North Cotabato (Mindanao). He had been in the Philippines for more than 32 years

Because of his work in favour of Manobo tribes threatened by mining, the missionary was not liked by the Filipino military. In December 2017, the case took a new turn when new suspects came into the picture.

Now a court has now decided to try the new suspects: Jimmy and Robert Ato (the suspected killers); Jan Corbala, commander of a group of tribal militants called Bagani, and three members of his unit; and Nene Durado, a member of the Ilaga movement, a group of fanatic Christian settlers who have been fighting against Muslims and tribals since the 1970s and who still continue to steal land from them.

It should be noted that the charges against some people who had previously been investigated were dismissed. These are the former mayor of Arakan, Romulo Tagpos, and two businessmen from the city; the Lieutenant Colonel Joven Gonzales and last Major Mark Espiritu, officers in command of the 57th Army Battalion and Special Forces units at the time of the killing of Fr Fausto.

In the brief filed on 1st April by Assistant State Prosecutor Rodan G. Parrocha (picture 2), the circumstances of the missionary’s murder are summarised: "That on or about 7:20 o’clock in the morning of October 17, 2011, at the compound of Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish, Arakan, North Cotabato, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating and mutually aiding one another, with the aim of accomplishing a common design, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously kill FATHER FAUSTO ‘POPS’ TENTORIO”.

The indictment goes on to say that the accused, “with treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, and with evident premeditation, as shown by evidence that such killing was previously planned on October 20, 2011 at Sitio Kamanagan, Brgy. Ganatan” shot and hit “said harmless victim FATHER FAUSTO ‘POPS’ TENTORIO, several times using 9mm caliber firearm with frangible bullets, hitting him several times on his head, trunk and the different parts of his body, which caused his instantaneous death”.

As preparations for the trial get underway, "The four key witnesses and their families are kept in a safe house under the Witness Protection Program (WPP),” Fr Geremia noted. “There are also new witnesses preparing to testify.”

"The trial can identify the perpetrators and the motive for the killing. It can obtain at least partial justice for Fr Fausto and other similar Extra Judicial Victims (EJK). The trial can provide more security to the witnesses so that they can return to their homes and their jobs.”

"It can also provide more security for those who continue the programs of Fr Fausto and all those who serve the Tribals all over the country, and it can even inspire more volunteers to serve the poor.”

Finally, "It can bring some comfort to the Tentorio family and to the PIME family and to all the communities who shared Fr Fausto’s activities. In particular, it can contribute to the peace process in Arakan and Mindanao.