Is Justice For Pops Possible?

Arakan, North Cotabato
August 25, 2013
JPM Statement

After almost two years since the killing of FR. FAUSTO “POPS” TENTORIO, PIME the Justice for Pops Movement (JPM) continues to pursue justice for Pops and other similar victims in the court of law.

The official investigations of the NBI were stopped last February 2012 when the NBI filed charges against four suspects: Jimmy and Robert Ato, and Jose and Dimas Sampulna. When we verified their findings with the local communities it was confirmed that the Ato brothers were involved, but the Sampulna were not. We found other witnesses who pointed to the Atos and also to the Bagani paramilitary group. We had to hide our witnesses and their families and there was a wave of threats from the Baganis and their sponsors. We appealed to President Aquino to disarm the Baganis and to order all government agencies to complete and to coordinate their investigations. The late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo and DOJ Sec. Leila de Lima promised to complete and unify the investigations. But then Robredo died soon and DOJ would not reply to our requests.

On the first anniversary of Pops’ death many voices cried out for justice both in the streets and in the media. Then on November 8 and 9, 2012 the Human Rights Committee of Congress held a Public Hearing in Davao on several Extra Judicial Killings (EJK) in Mindanao, including Pops case. Our witnesses repeated their testimonies, but the top military officers claimed that the Bagani group did not exist! Complete denial and refusal to cooperate.

Then we approached the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) who are mandated to monitor all government agencies to verify if they really protect the human rights of all in the country, including the human rights of civilians like Pops and other EJK victims. They proposed to hold a Public Inquiry as an attempt to break the wall of denial and impunity. Thus last May 22,23 and 24 the CHR PUBLIC INQUIRY was held in Davao with the presence of CHR Chair Loretta Ann P. Rosales and Jose Manuel S. Mamauag and others. They asked the NBI why they stopped their investigations and failed to produce credible findings. In fact three of their key witnesses retracted their testimonies and stated under oath that they were instructed to give false testimonies by a mystery- person identified only as “Loloy”. The NBI agents were not able to explain who this Loloy was, even though allegedly he brought the witnesses to the NBI office in Cagayan, but they admitted that the case that they filed was no longer valid because of the retractions. CHR Chair Rosales asked the head of the Task Force “Fausto” General Camba to explain why he failed to present any official report with the findings of the Task Force. No reply. It appeared that the Task Force was aborted.

The CHR Inquiry also confirmed that the Bagani were a creation of the military as multiplier force who were trained and armed by them and operating under the control of military officers and also used by politicians. Former Governor Manny Pinol stated that those who claim that the Bagani do not exist are telling a big lie because he was present as Governor when the group was organized. General Sedillo who was called to reply made no comment.

After the CHR Inquiry I went to the DOJ in Manila. Undersecretary Francisco Baraan gave me copy of the OPERATIONAL GUIDELINES OF A.O. NO. 35 from which I quote some points:

“Whereas, in order to ensure that political activist and media killings are effectively investigated and successfully prosecuted……

Whereas, there have been reported and validated violations of human rights of the individuals throughout the years, which have served to create an impression of a culture of impunity, wherein state and non-state forces have been accused of silencing, through violence and intimidation, legitimate dissent and opposition raised by members of the civil society, cause-oriented groups, political movements, people’s and non-government organizations, and by ordinary citizens……

Whereas the present Administration declares as a matter of paramount policy that there is no room for all these forms of political violence and abuses of power by agents or elements of the State, and towards this end commits to establish an institutional legacy of an efficient, coherent, and comprehensive government machinery dedicated to the resolution of unsolved cases of political violence in the form of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty, and security of person…..

NOW THEREFORE …the following are hereby promulgated:
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Special Investigation Teams for Unsolved Cases (SITU).. COMPOSITE TEAMS OF PROSECUTORS AND INVESTIGATORS DESIGNATED BY THE Inter Agency Com (IAC)…….”

USEC Baraan repeated that these guidelines will be applied to the Pops case as a test case to show that justice is possible for EJKs. He added that the Pops case is moving again after months of inaction.

True enough the new Regional Prosecutor, Fiscal Al Calica, convened both the witnesses and the accused for clarificatory hearings on july 24 and 31, 2013. The venue was our Arakan Parish where the crime took place so as to have also ocular inspection.

It was a great show. Our witnesses were brought from their hideout wearing bullet proof jackets surrounded by fully armed guards of WPP. The accused came accompanied by lawyers and staff of a prominent politician. At the start of the hearing our witnesses were a bit scared and confused seeing the accused free and with many supporters, while they were kept in hiding like prisoners. But soon their testimonies were validated. Then the NBI witnesses who accused the Sampulnas confirmed their retractions, so the Sampulnas were cleared. So now the accused are only the Ato brothers and the 5 Bagani headed by Jan Corbala, alias Kumander Iring. When Jimmy Ato was called, he appeared most uncomfortable. He claimed that he was tortured by the NBI and forced to sign his first statement, even though his statement was signed also by his father and his wife and a lawyer assisting him. Can anyone believe that? The Prosecutor gave him 10 days to prepare his counter affidavit

At the end of the hearing our lawyers filed a Manifestation requesting that the new guidelines for EJKs be applied immediately to Pops case so as to assign special investigators with authority to summon the military officers handling the Bagani and Politicians connected with them. We have also additional witnesses ready to testify.

During the time of Cory Aquino the killers of Fr. Tullio Favali PIME were sentenced to life imprisonment even though their leader, commander Bukay Manero, was the most famous asset of the military during Martial Law who eventually served 23 years in prison, then he came to the grave of FR. Tullio and asked forgiveness… Now under Cory’s son who is president now, is justice possible for Pops and other EJK victims?

Prepared by:

JPM Convenor