COMMENT: After the Arrest, Big Posers

1st of 2 parts

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/9 January) – The arrest of Jimmy Ato, alleged killer of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME in early morning of December 29, 2011 generated positive reactions. However, after the arrest followed big posers in the wake of conflicting and downplayed implicating and complicating circumstances and incidents.

 Three Bishops Say …

 Bishop Romulo dela Cruz of Kidapawan in whose diocese Father Tentorio belonged welcomed the arrest of Jimmy Ato as a “key step towards the achievement of justice and the ferreting of the truth behind Father Fausto Tentorio’s death”, MindaNews of January 1, 2012 quoted him.

The Bishop acknowledged the hard work done by the NBI-PNP-DOJ Team – with the logistical support of the Cotabato Provincial Governor’s Office leading to the arrest of Jimmy Ato: “I have seen firsthand how hard they worked at the risk of their own personal safety in conducting the detective work. I have seen how sincerely they have acted to make good President P-Noy’s vow to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of Father Fausto Tentorio.”

He exhorted those in the know to come out and help, reminding the people that there is still much to do; that with the arrest, “police work has, to a large extent, ended” and “the legal work [the long and arduous process to hale to court the suspect just] begins”.

Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) in Southern Mindanao, convenor of Exodus for Justice and Peace, welcomed Jimmy Ato’s arrest as “a piece of good news”, elaborating, “Good because we will know the motive of his killing. We hope this will bring us closer to justice for Fr. Pops [Tentorio]”, Inquirer Mindanao of December 30, 2011 reported.

According to the same Inquirer Mindanao December 30 report, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Roderick Pabillo welcomed the arrest of the alleged gunman but said: “This is not ‘case closed’ until the mastermind is … revealed. We want to know the motive behind the murder. We want to know … the mastermind so that we can fight the culture of impunity.”

Their call: Apprehend the mastermind; end the impunity of extrajudicial killings.


From Two PIMEs

 The same Inquirer Mindanao report of December 30 cited Tentorio’s two confreres and quoted their statements:

In a text message from Zamboanga City, Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME doubted that Jimmy Ato had been identified by witnesses as claimed: “As far as I know there was no clear witness to the crime. Unlike Tulio who was killed in front of many witnesses, Tentorio was killed with hardly a witness.” [“Tulio” refers to Fr. Tulio Favali, PIME, who was brutally shot in Tulunan, Cotabato on April 11, 1985.]

He noted more than two months after the murder, the motive had remained unclear: “We don’t know if the killing was related to mining, communist or personal vendetta because sometimes he cannot (sic) please everybody.”

 Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, who had long been assigned in the Kidapawan Diocese and was the original target of the Favali killers, was cited in the same Inquirer Mindanao December 30 report as being thankful to the “authorities for the arrest of the suspected killer of Tentorio”, calling it a “positive development”.

However, he said, “The next great task is to identify who planned and masterminded Tentorio’s killing; and those who tried to cover up the case.”

 That Jimmy Ato has been identified as a suspect and arrested is appreciated. However, identifying the masterminds and the motive is still very much awaited. Can the suspect shed the light leading to the eventual identification?


 From reports in MindaNews (December 30, 2011 and January 1, 2012) and Inquirer Mindanao (December 30, 2011) sourced mainly from the NBI with the PNP, military and DOJ contributing, the arrest of Jimmy Ato was principally the work of the NBI with the police assisting:

(1) The arrest was well-planned. NBI agents posed as vendors, mining prospectors, etc., staked Jimmy’s village, Iwak-Iwak, a sitio of Barangay Kulaman Valley in Arakan and listened and talked to people there and the neighboring areas. (However, in the Inquirer report, the military said the NBI agents only “chanced upon” Jimmy and his brother Robert – capturing Jimmy at 5 a.m., not at 3.a.m as claimed by the NBI and the police.)

The NBI said, Jimmy was seen by witnesses near the church before and after Tentorio’s killing. One witness was able to talk to him before he shot the priest.

(2) After the arrest, Jimmy, together with his father and family, was brought to the NBI Regional Office in Cagayan de Oro. The military said he was “flown to Manila on the same day”.

(3) Robert eluded arrest and engaged the NBI agents and the police in “a brief gunfight”.

(4) Jimmy was arrested on the strength of a warrant issued by Regional Trial Court No. 13 in 1995 for “destructive arson with homicide” committed in North Upi, Maguindanao. He was 16 years old at that time.

(5) The NBI would still file a murder case against Jimmy and Robert for the Tentorio killing and secure their warrants of arrest and search warrants for the recovery of the two motorcycles and the 9mm pistol used in the killing. (DOJ mentioned only one motorcycle with Roberto as the driver.)

(6) The NBI said Jimmy was “a simple farmer … who follows instructions from their tribal leaders” and was paid P1,500 to kill the priest. The DOJ suspected him and his brother as members of a gun-for-hire syndicate.

 In his confession, he said “a tribal elder summoned him and his brother” a week earlier to plan the killing in the presence of “three important personalities” – naming “almost all the personalities involved” including the “three” present in the meeting.

(7) As an SOPS (standard official press statement), the NBI declined to name the “three”; said “the masterminds hired two more gunmen aside from the Ato brothers”; suspected the involvement of “a political personality”; and indicated “some participation of the military” which the Eastern Mindanao Command immediately denied.

The military stated that the “alleged masterminds are wealthy landowners in Arakan who stand to profit from the hydropower project” that the priest, “his ‘lumad’ organizations and other left-leaning groups” actively opposed.

(8) Initially, the NBI revealed, Jimmy identified the motive for the Tentorio murder as “about the environment and small town politics”. The military clarified “environment” motive as Tentorio’s “strong objection to a proposed hydropower project” in Arakan. DOJ echoed the same motives.

In a news report immediately after the killing (MindaNews, October 20, 2011) police investigators were considering “Tentorio’s stand against mining, illegal logging or land-grabbing of ancestral domain” as possible motives of his killing. While there was no mention of these in the December news reports, these could fall under “environment” and “small town politics”.

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo visited Arakan right after the killing (MindaNews, October 26, 2011). He said, refusing to provide details, that a task force had been assigned to look into the case and three angles were being considered as the possible motives. 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.”

 (Continued Tomorrow)