“We hope that our message will reach Pope Francis in his visit here in the Philippines. Please help us seek immediate justice for the death of our beloved Fr. Pops” said Sandy Agat, a scholar of Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, is an indigenous Bagobo from Arakan Valley, North Cotabato.
“We felt our world stopped the moment Fr. Pops’ heart stopped beating. They took him away from us. The Lumad community has become restless in those three years that we have been seeking justice. We will continue all his dreams for us,” Agat added.
Italian Catholic priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME was shot dead on October 17, 2011 by men believed to be from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its paramilitary group. He sacrificed the comforts of his life and spent more than 25 years serving the people of Mindanao. Fr. Pops, as he was dearly called by people of Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, embraced the life of the indigenous people. He lived the life of the Manobos and speak fluent bisaya.
Fr. Pops helped build schools and sponsored indigenous youth to go to school. Sandy remembers Fr. Pops as he often told them: “Magtinarong og eskwela, magtu-on og sulat, basa ug pag-ihap aron dili na mi ilaron ug daugdaugon” (study well, learn how to read, write and count so no one can fool and oppress you).
The abandonment of the government of the needs of Lumad was clear to Fr. Pops. He built day care centers and provided scholarships so that the Lumad youth can go to high school and college.
Sandy said Fr. Pops endured kilometers of walk to their communities and learned their language and culture to understand their situation and embraced the life of the Manobo with all his heart. “He ate what we ate, lived simply and slept in our shanties. He is far from other priests I knew. He saw our misery. We do not have livelihood, we cannot go to school and there is no proper health service in our community.”
Fr. Pops worked with the local indigeous people’s organizations and helped promote sustainable agriculture. He was also part of the formation of Tinanananon-Kulamanon Lumandong Panaghiusa (Tikulpa), an organization opposed to large-scale plantations and other corporate businesses in the community. He criticized the military operations in Mindanao that caused massive human rights abuses. These are the reasons why he had been a military target as early as 2003.
Sandy recalled how the Lumad children were so happy when they set foot in school and experienced how it is like to be a student: “All the time we are in school, we think of Fr. Pops and his teachings and how he inspired us.” (Hustisya. Pagkakaisa ng mga Biktima para sa Hustisya/January 14, 2015)