Manero kneels before Fr. Favali’s grave, kisses pix

BALINDOG, Kidapawan City (MindaNews/04 February 2008) – Carrying a candle lit at the prayer service in the chapel of the Bishop’s House to welcome “among utod Nonoy” (our brother Nonoy), Norberto Manero, Jr., who now wants to be called “Nonoy,” walked towards the grave of the Italian priest he and his group of paramilitary elements killed on April 11, 1985, knelt to put the candle on the left side of the marble tomb marker, made a sign of the cross then bowed to let his forehead touch the stone at 12:19 noon.

Manero stood up, spoke to Fr. Peter Geremia, their principal target for liquidation in 1985, and Gregorio Andolana, chief legal counsel of the Diocese of Kidapawan, as he pointed to the marker and the year of birth of Father Tullio Favali: 1946.

As it turned out, Manero and Favali were born that year – he on June 2, Favali on December 10.

Father Armando Angeles, the Diocesan Administrator (the Diocese has been without a bishop since Bishop Romulo Valles moved to Zamboanga City as its Archbishop in January last year), blessed the grave of Favali. Nine other priests took turns blessing.

At 12:24, Manero again knelt, made the sign of the cross, bowed and this time, kissed the ceramic photograph of Favali in the middle of the marker.

“Parang ako na ang pinakamasaya tungod kay gitanggap ako at napasaylo ako” (I must be the happiest now that I have been welcomed and forgiven,” Manero told reporters.

“Kumander Bucay is dead. Nonoy is very much alive,” said Andolana, quoting from Manero’s speech during their 65-minute closed-door conference with representatives of the Kidapawan Diocese, Manero’s relatives and lawyer.

Manero, as head of a paramilitary group then, was called “Kumander Bucay.”

In early February 2000, just as his December 1999 presidential pardon was made public,
Manero told this reporter, “Kumander Bucay is dead” and that he’d rather be called “Jun Manero.”

“Namatay yan si Kumander Bucay nung year December 28, 1999, nung na-release ako (Kumander Bucay died December 28, 1999, when I was released). Pag labas ko, sabi ko, wala nang Kumander Bucay ngayon (When I was released, I said, there is no more Kumander Bucay).

That presidential pardon was revoked and Manero found himself back in jail.

“God forgives, the Church forgives,” Andolana said.

As soon as he entered the conference room, Manero kissed the hand of  and embraced their intended target for liquidation in 1985 — Father Geremia.

Geremia, whom the Manero group then claimed was a member of the “NPA” (New People’s Army) was spared because he passed by Kilometer 125, Crossing La Esperanza in Tulunan, North Cotabato,  late that afternoon. In his stead, parish priest Tullio Favali responded to a distress call from neighbors about the Manero group’s attempt to kill tailor Rufino Robles, a leader of a prayer group, who was then hiding in the house of Domingo Gomez.

Court records note that Favali arrived at around 5 p.m. on his motorcycle and proceeded to the house of Gomez.

Based on the court records, this is what transpired:

“Edilberto Manero shouted at him (Favali) ‘hoy,’ but Norberto Manero, Jr., told him, ‘do not harm him for we will wait for Fr. Peter.’ Edilberto Manero ordered the other accused to surround Gomez’ house in order that Fr. Favali could not go out anymore while Norberto Manero, Jr., with the help of Efren Plenago brought the motorcycle of Fr. Favali to the center of the highway near Deocades’ carenderia, opened its gasoline tank, laid it down on the road and burned it. The rest of the accused were singing, laughing and guarding.

“A short while after the burning of his motorcycle, Fr. Favali went out from Gomez’ house, approached Norberto Manero, Jr., and asked what did they do to his motorcycle. Norberto Manero, Jr., stepped backward, leaned at the window of Deocades’ carenderia and with his right hand made a thumbdown signal. Edilberto Manero asked Fr. Favali, ‘ano ang gusto mo, padre?’ meaning ‘what do you want, Father? Do you want that I will break your head?’ Then Edilberto Manero fired his BAR rifle at Fr. Tullio Favali hitting him at the left side of his head. Fr. Favali fell down in a kneeling position with his two hands clasped on his breast. Norberto Manero, Jr., then said, ‘Ano, Edil, amo lang gali ina ang pagpatay mo sa pari?’ meaning ‘Edil, is that the only way to kill a priest?’ Edilberto Manero jumped on the dead body of Fr. Favali three times and kicked its left side twice. Then he fired many shots at the dead priest. Norberto Manero, Jr., picked up portions of the deceased’s brain and showed them to the passengers of a jeep which stopped and told them, ‘here is the brain of the priest we have already killed.’ Norberto Manero, Jr. and Edilberto Manero sang ‘Mutya ka Baleleng.’ The rest of the accused were laughing.”

Calling himself one of the “lost sheep” who has returned to the flock, Manero wrote to then Kidapawan Bishop Romulo Valles on September 4, 2004, seeking forgiveness.

Andolana, to whom Manero also wrote a separate letter, then said there were no longer obstacles to Manero’s eventual release because he is entitled to the benefits prisoners can avail of, including a Presidential pardon and commutation of sentence due to good

After a series of consultations with the witnesses, the Diocese of Kidapawan responded favorably and posed no objections to a grant of Presidential pardon to him.

“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 Romulo Valles told MindaNews at the 20th death
anniversary of Father Favali on April 11, 2005.

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

At the prayer service after the closed-door conference, Father Angeles said it was a “pribeleheyong pag-welcome sa among utod Nonoy” (privilege to welcome our brother Nonoy).

What  is happening, he said, is a “simbolo sa kalinaw (symbol of peace)” which he hopes will end the “sirkulo sa kabangis”  (cycle of violence) and herald genuine peace and reconciliation in the area.

Manero embraced not only Father Peter Geremia — but also neighbors who dared, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, to risk their lives to testify against Favali’s killers.

Among the witnesses was Manuel Bantolo who, while waiting for Manero to come (the appointment was at 10 a.m.; Manero arrived at 10:46 a.m.) recalled how the Maneros were their neighbors and playmates. Bantolo, who is turning 60 this year, says Norberto “changed” when he joined the Ilaga paramilitary group.

Norberto and Bantolo were later seen sharing a table over lunch. But the person he spent most of his time with, over lunch, was Father Geremia.

“Forgiveness is not condoning but to free that person of the complex of having been a killing machine,” Father Geremia said on the 20th death anniversary of Favali on April 11, 2005.

“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. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)