AFP killed Fr. Pops, say church leaders

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 October) – Militant church leaders and organizations have pointed accusing fingers at the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the murder of Italian priest Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME, who was killed by a lone gunman inside the compound of his convent in Arakan, Cotabato last Monday.

The militant groups have also blamed the Aquino administration for its failure to stop extra judicial killings, citing the murder of Tentorio as the 54th of such killings under the Aquino administration.

Bishop Modesto Villasanta, of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, supported his claim by citing “a number of cases” the UCCP has filed in court against AFP personnel suspected to have murdered some of their church leaders and personnel.

“We in the UCCP believe that many of the EJKs were perpetrated by those in government, a reason we filed legal suits against GMA (former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo). We are sure that those doing this are from the ranks of our armed forces,” Villasanta said.

The Aquino administration, the bishop said, is no better than his predecessor, Arroyo, in terms of violating human rights, especially in perpetrating EJK.

“We strongly condemned EJK even during the time of GMA because it (EJK) threatens democracy, but it is still happening now. Fr. Pops is the 54th EJK victim under this administration,” said Villasanta in an interview while they were holding their third of nine nightly candle-lighting protests in front of the city hall here.

EJK would threaten democracy because “its intention is to silence people who advocate for the rights of the farmers and the indigenous peoples,” he said, arguing that Tentorio was murdered to silence him of his advocacy against mining and for the respect of the rights of the indigenous peoples and farmers.

Tentorio’s advocacies, Villasanta said, “are his own share of preaching peace and justice.”

He said the death of every advocate serves to “strengthen our resolve to continue serving the people of God. We do not want more martyrs but if this is the reaction of the government, it will not stop us from preaching peace and justice.”

This developed as the Promotion of Church People’s Response announced that bigger protest actions of regional, national and even international scale are being readied “so our call for justice for Fr. Pops will reverberate around the world.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Romulo dela Cruz of the Diocese of Kidapawan, said in a text message that “the body of Fr. Pops will be taken down from Arakan to Kidapawan Cathedral on October 24 in the morning. A funeral mass will be held at the Kidapawan Cathedral on October 25 at 9:30 in the morning, then the procession to Balindog for the burial near the grave of Fr. Tulio Favali.”

Favali, also a PIME missionary, was murdered by a paramilitary group in Tulunan, North Cotabato, in 1985, on suspicion of being a supporter of the New People’s Army. (Romy Elusfa/MindaNews Contributor)