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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 January) – Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, who visited Arakan right after the killing (MindaNews, October 26, 2011), said that a task force had been assigned to look into the Tentorio murder case and three angles were being considered as the possible motives. However, he cautioned: “It might be good for us to consider all angles and motives because … there are inconsistencies if you take a closer look at the incidents and initial motive as claimed.”
We don’t know how Robredo came to his conclusion. But he was right. Behind the positive and reserved reactions to the arrest of Jimmy Ato, there’s “more than meet the eye” in the Tentorio murder case two and a half months since October 17, 2011.
(1) Immediately after the incident, police investigators had no leads. No eyewitnesses could identify the killer. Church workers who responded to the shots only saw a man running towards the road 50 meters away where a man with the get-away motorcycle was waiting. Yet, the NBI said witnesses had seen Jimmy near the church before and after the killing; one had talked to him after he shot the priest.
(2) Tentorio’s killer, according to the police a “highly-trained shooter”, knew where to hit his victim and how to use the “hard ball” and “hollow point” bullets. Was Jimmy Ato the “simple farmer” this highly-trained shooter?
(3) Jimmy was arrested on the strength of a warrant for destructive arson with homicide issued by RTC 13 of Cotabato City. Why was he taken to Cagayan de Oro City, then to Manila as Tentorio’s killer – not to Cotabato City where he could be tried for the crime he committed 16 years ago? [Destructive arson is punishable with death.]
(4) According to the NBI, they already had a strong case against Jimmy and his brother before his arrest. Why had they not secured the proper warrants for their arrest and for the recovery of gun and motorcycles used in the killing?
More than a week has lapsed since last December 29. Have the NBI filed a murder case against Jimmy and his brother as they told the press they would? There has been no report about the recovery of the murder gun and the escape motorcycle. Roberto has sought protection from the congresswoman of the second district of Cotabato.
What appears to be the bigger poser is the publicly alleged involvement of the military.
Some people in the parish have persistently voiced their suspicion that the military was behind the killing – citing facts and incidents. (MindaNews, October 20, 2011) Among them, for instance:
n In 2003, Manobos in Kitaotao, Bukidnon had to hide him from Baganis (Manobo warriors known to be military assets) wanting to abduct or kill him.
n Tentorio’s church had always been in constant military surveillance. One time, he complained to the town mayor of military agents entering his church without his permission.
n The military had him removed from the Arakan Municipal Peace and Order Council for his being vocal against their operations targeting Lumad communities.
n When Tentorio was shot, “soldiers taking part in a community development project in a nearby school … did not respond”.
“Show proof” was the military SOPS challenge. While the NBI indicated in their report “some military participation”, they evidently downplayed the parish peoples’ suspicion.
The military did more than just denying the implication. They hold the initiative. In the Inquirer Mindanao report of December 30, they appeared to be the primary source – citing the NBI report and Tentorio’s opposition to the hydropower project as the motive for his killing.
Tentorio, in his mission to empower the Lumads to keep their lands and live with dignity and respect, inevitably became entangled in the local political, economic and military-communist rebel conflicts. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, in his October 18 and 23, 2011 MindaNews columns (A Sojourner’s View), related Tentorio’s troubles – he had antagonized the military, the wealthy Ilonggo settlers, the mining prospectors and other vested interests. The Lumads he had organized were slowly breaking up.
The leftists and NPA rebels accused the military of being behind Tentorio’s killing. The military, while suspecting the priest as communist supporter, pointed to the NPAs as his killers like what they did in the Favali killing.
Roberto Ato has denied involvement in the Tentorio killing and having engaged the NBI in a running gun battle that morning his brother was arrested. He has sought the help of Rep. Nancy Catamco of the second congressional district of Cotabato, MindaNews of December 31, 2011 reported.
Confronted by police officers at Catamco’s office, Roberto said he was surprised of the report of his being pursued by NBI agents. “That’s a big lie. I was not pursued. Also, contrary to the reports, I didn’t have an armed engagement with any of the NBI agents that raided the house of my brother Jimmy, last December 29.”
Roberto said that last December 27, a former village official introduced two persons who identified themselves as miners to their clan in Iwak-Iwak. Jimmy took good care of them in his house. They turned out to be NBI agents. It was only through a radio report that he learned of his brother having been taken to Manila and presented as Tentorio’s killer
Catamco told PNP Supt. Raul Supiter, deputy province police director of North Cotabato, that she would not block any police operation to solve the Tentorio murder but said: “I would not allow that authorities just pick up anybody and detain him without due process. I was told that there is yet no warrant for the arrest of Jimmy and as regards the killing of Father Tentorio.”
When shown a copy of the warrant used to arrest Jimmy Ato, she remarked: “So you see? The court order showed that Jimmy was arrested for arson and not because of his alleged involvement in the priest’s killing.”
She told Supiter she would keep Roberto under her custody – represented by her legal counsel – until she is presented the proper arrest warrant. That was a challenge.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima hailed Jimmy Ato’s arrest as a “concrete sign” of the gains of the Aquino administration in its fight to end the culture of impunity and extrajudicial killings in the country (Inquirer Mindanao, December 30, 2011). She attributed the gains “to the steadfast, concerted and collaborative actions among relevant law enforcement agencies”.
She summarized portions of the NBI report but in the usual SOPS did not give “details so as not to jeopardize ongoing operations against the suspect’s accomplices, including the mastermind”.
Question: Jimmy Ato’s arrest solved the 16-year-old destructive arson with homicide case pending in RTC 13 in Cotabato City. Can the legality of his arrest in connection with the Tentorio killing stand in court? Rep. Catamco has essentially done that. Is Secretary de Lima trumpeting the correct hallelujah?
Was Jimmy Ato forcibly taken to cover up the failure of the military and the law agencies to identify the killers, the masterminds and the motive two and a half months after the killing? Despite the hyping of Jimmy’s arrest, the failure glares; the posers stare.
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at email@example.com.)