Manero’s release order signed; will visit Kidapawan Diocese February 4

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 January) –  Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez today signed a resolution ordering the release from the national penitentiary, of Norberto Manero, Jr., leader of the paramilitary group that killed Italian priest Tullio Favali in Tulunan, North Cotabato on April 11, 1985.

Gonzalez signed the resolution and handed it over to lawyer Persida Acosta, Public Attorney’s Office head, who would bring the resolution to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, GMA TVNews reported.

GMA quoted Acosta as saying Manero would be freed within 24 hours.

But even before his release order was signed, Manero had planned to visit the Diocese of Kidapawan on Monday, February 4. Mondays are when all priests of the Diocese convene in Kidapawan.

Gregorio Andolana, chief legal counsel of the Diocese of Kidapawan, told MindaNews at noon today that Manero confirmed in a telephone conversation this morning, their visit to the Diocese to which Favali belonged, to renew the commitment he earlier made with the Diocese.

The February 4, 2008 meeting is exactly three years and one day since February 3, 2005, when representatives of the Diocese – Andolana and Italian priest Peter Geremia – went to Muntinlupa where Manero was detained, to present to him the concerns expressed by the Kidapawan Diocese and the witnesses to the Favali murder,  regarding his September 4, 2004 separate letters to then Bishop Romulo Valles, Andolana and Father Geremia.

In the letters, Manero, who is turning 62 on June 2, sought forgiveness and help for his earlier release from jail.

“Calling himself one of the “lost sheep” who has returned to the flock, Manero committed to be, among others, an instrument for the attainment of peace and conciliation,” as he vowed never to allow himself to be used by “dirty traditional politicians or military elements, or any influential people, particularly by vigilantes and fanatical groups.”

He also vowed not to harm or cause any harm to any of the witnesses, the lawyers of Favali, the priests and lay leaders of the Diocese and members of the Basic Christian Communities.

Manero headed the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force (ICHDF), the precursor of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).  Manero’s team of eight 0 — his brothers and neighbors in Tulunan, North Cotabato — killed Favali at the crossing of La Esperanza in Tulunan near dusk of April 11, 1985.

The Diocese of Kidapawan in late 2004 and 2005, responded favorably to Manero’s commitment and after several meetings within the Diocese, posed no objections to a grant of Presidential pardon to him.

Forgiveness and reconciliation

“We do not deny grace and conversion. From our assessment, there are indicators of repentance and conversion from Manero so the Church will respond by expressing our appreciation for that,” Bishop Valles told MindaNews on April 11, 2005, the 20th death anniversary of Favali, also the Diocesan Day of Martyrs.

“Forgiveness and reconciliation are the hallmarks of the Church,” he said.

Archbisop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato,  the bishop of Kidapawan when Favali was killed, told MindaNews on January 24 — the day Manero was supposed to have been freed and just a day after he attended the burial of an Oblate missionary killed in Tawi-tawi — “I take the position that the Kidapawan Diocese has taken and agree with the conditions mutually signed.”

Father Geremia, the principal target for murder of the Maneros then, told Mindanews on January 24, “kung talagang magbago siya, ok na. Kung i-project nya lang ang bagong image bilang bagong champion of non-violence and peace, medyo okay na. Kung nagbalik sya sa dati, ang Diyos maghatag justice  sa iya” (if he has really changed, okay. If he is projecting a new image as new champion of non-violence and peace, it’s kind of okay. If he has returned to his old ways, God will mete out justice to him).

In that Muntinlupa meeting on February 3, 2005, Manero Manero took the priest’s hand for the traditional “mano po,” embraced him and told him he wants to “go back to a quiet life.”

Encouraged by the visit of Father Geremia and Andolana, Manero wrote President Arroyo, through Bureau of Correction director Vicente Vinarao, that same day, requesting the “reinstatement of the grant of commutation of service of sentence” and a grant of executive clemency “to enable me to lead a new life and make amends for all my commissions and omissions while there is still time left.”

No obstacles

On the 20th anniversary of the Favalli killing in 2005, Andolana told MindaNews that there were no obstacles to Manero’s eventual release because he was entitled to the benefits prisoners can avail of, including a Presidential pardon and commutation of sentence due to good behavior.

Of the eight sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Favali, only Manero and Efren Plenago were still in detention as of April 11, 2005. Plenago was still detained due to some disciplinary action, said Father Geremia then. But the priest on January 24 said he does not know if Plenago is now  a free man.

Of the eight convicts, Rodrigo Espia fell ill and died in prison in the early years of their detention. The Lines brothers, Severino and Rudy, were freed after 1999 but opted to stay near the Davao Prison and Penal Farm where they are farmworkers of a banana plantation. Roger Bedano and Elpidio Manero have been freed, too, and so has Elpidio Manero, the principal triggerman who blew off Favali’s brains using a Browning Automatic Rifle.

By 2005, Norberto Manero, Jr. who escaped twice – in 1992 and 2001, had been serving in Muntinlupa as “mayor” or prisoner-supervisor of a wing comprising some 400 inmates.

Manero wrote Bishop Valles, Andolana and Father Geremia separate letters on September 22, 2004, asking forgiveness and assistance for him to be released soon through a Presidential pardon.

In December 1999, then President Estrada actually granted him conditional pardon but revoked it in March 2000 following an uproar from various groups and the discovery of a pending double murder case against Manero. This case was dismissed in 2002.

Manero applied for pardon under the Arroyo administration but the Board of Pardons and Parole denied his application.

Andolana said a new requirement for those applying for pardon was instituted after Manero’s pardon by Estrada, this time, requiring a certification from the complainants that they pose no objection to the grant of pardon.

“I served my sentence”

“Nasilbihan ko naman ang sentensysa nga ginbugna sang balaod kag guihinulsulan ko na ang tanan ko nga mga sala. Nakapangayo ako sang kapatawaran sang Diyos. Gani, nagapangabay ako sa imo, Bishop, nga tabangi ako sa akon paglaya kag pagbag-o.” (I have served the sentence imposed by law and I have repented for all my sins. I have asked God for forgiveness. I am requesting you, Bishop, to help me be freed and help me reform), Manero said in his Sept. 22, 2004 letter to Bishop Valles.

“Ako ang isa sa inyong mga ‘sheeps’ nga ‘nawala’ kag karon gusto na gid magbalik kag magpakatarong. Ini matuman lamang kung ako inyo man nga pagabuligan.” (I am one of your lost sheep and I want to return (to a life of freedom) and to do good. This will be fulfilled only if you help me,” Manero said.

“Sa dugay nga panahon nga ara ako sa bilangguan, nakamata na gid ako kay ginadawat ko gid si Kristo sa akon kinabuhi. Wala na ako sang ginaisip kundi puro kaayohan kag kaluwasan. Kon mahimo, tagaan nyo pa ako sang tsansa nga mapatunayan ko nga hindi ako malain nga tawo kag may kakayahan gid ako nga magbag-o sunod sa tudlo sang simbahan kag ni Kristo.” (In the long years I’ve spent in jail, I have awakened and have accepted Christ in my life. I think of nothing but only goodness and salvation. If possible,
give me a chance to prove I have the capability to change following the teachings of the church and Christ), Manero wrote.

In response, the Bishop ordered a series of meetings on the Manero letters with Father Geremia, Andolana and the key witnesses. The Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missionaries (PIME), the congregation to which Favali and Geremia belong, was also informed about the moves.

In the February 3, 2005 meeting with Manero, Father Geremia and Andolana presented to him the concerns expressed by the Diocese and the witnesses.

To allay their fears, Manero vowed not to harm or cause any harm to any of the witnesses, the lawyers of Favali, the priests and lay leaders of the Diocese and members of the Basic Christian Communities.

He also promised to ask forgiveness from all his victims during the time he was used by the martial law regime; to return a portion of the land he took away from the Bla-ans, and that he would consult and secure prior written consent from the Diocese should his life be turned into a movie. He promised to give a portion of his movie earnings to the witnesses.

Manero also vowed to indemnify the complainants and pay the damages as ordered by the court.

He also committed to authorize the Department of Justice to make himself undergo
special psychological and psychiatric examination on a regular basis to prevent any possible recurrence of violent tendencies or behavior.

“Forgiveness is not condoning but to free that person of the complex of having been a killing machine,” Father Geremia said.

“If he (Manero) can have a process of reforms and become also a promoter of peace then if it is possible for him, it is possible for many others,” he said.

In his letter to President Arroyo on February 3, 2005, Manero said,  “Madame President, I have already fully served the commuted service of sentence previously granted to me by former President Fidel V. Ramos with an excellent prison record and very good conduct while in prison,” he said.

“My sincerest apologies for the two escape attempts I had made in the past. These were all motivated by the terrible frustration, depression and family nostalgia I felt at that time and not for any other reason at all,” he said.

He said all he wants is to be reunited with his family and to lead an “new and peaceful life.”

“I have no intention of taking revenge against anyone. Vengeance has no place in my mind and heart. All I want is love, peace and harmony,” Manero wrote.

He said the President’s grant of his request would “surely open the door of opportunity for my total personal reformation and spiritual renewal” and give him “another chance to prove to you and to our fellowmen that I can also be an upright citizen of this country and a true son of God.”

He also informed the President that he has “personally asked forgiveness for all my sins from God and from the Bishop and priests of the Archdiocese of Kidapawan.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)