ARAKAN, North Cotabato – Silence filled the Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish as hundreds of people gathered and waited for Fr. Fausto Tentorio’s body to arrive from the nearby funeral parlor. Everyone looked shocked while some wept on the sidelines.
A crowd gathered when the blue casket arrived — albeit temporary pending the completion of the construction of the casket from the mahogany tree he planted (see other story) – and was positioned fronting the altar. When the lid of “Tatay Pops’” casket was finally opened at 5:15 p.m., the silence was broken by a chorus of wailing mourners — children, women and men, teachers and farmers, Lumads.
Tentorio, 59, an Italian missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was gunned down shortly before 8a.m. at the garage beside his convent while preparing to leave for Kidapawan City, 52 kilometers away, for the monthly Presbyterium of the Diocese of Kidapawan.
Gigie Liboon, parish staff, told MindaNews that she couldn’t believe that “Tatay Pops,” as he was fondly called, is gone.
Liboon, a former recipient of Tentorio’s scholarship program, said “Tatay Pops” had not shared anything on security issues related to their work in the parish.
“If there are problems related to our work, he would share with us. But he said nothing about security issues. It is really hard for us to accept his death since we have no idea why this has happened to him,” Liboon said.
Even Police Chief Inspector Benjamin Rioflorido, the municipal police chief, told MindaNews that they could not yet establish any lead on who could be behind the killing of the parish priest.
Rioflorido, who assumed his post on September 6, said the priest sustained 10 gunshot wounds but only seven empty shells had been recovered from the crime scene.
“Napakabait na pari yan. He really cooperated here during our meetings or any activities. Pero sa pagpatay sa kanya, malaking issue ito dito,” the police chief admitted.
Based on their investigation, Rioflorido said a lone gunman shot Tentorio about two meters away, just as the priest was about to board his Suzuki Jimny vehicle. The assailant moved closer to pump more bullet on the fallen priest, then ran towards the road some 50 meters away, where an accomplice on motorcycle, was waiting. The duo then sped off towards the direction of Davao City’s Marahan district.
“According to the witnesses, the suspect was holding his crash helmet when he shot Fr. Tentorio. Based on the empty shells we recovered, he was using a 9mm pistol,” said Rioflorido.
Even Tentorio’s assistant, Fr. Giovanni Vettorello admitted that he was also shocked upon learning that his fellow missionary was gunned down.
Vettorello had left for Kidapawan City on Sunday afterrnoon for the Presbyterium today.
“He had not shared with me anything concerning his security or any problems,” he said in mixed Ilonggo and Cebuano.
Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz told MindaNews that he had not heard of threats on the life of Fr. Tentorio. “As far as I gathered, there were none. Fr. Fausto used to laugh at rumors about threats on his life. Let us hope things will come to life,” he said.
Arakan councilor Richard Gayatin said he and his fellow town officials were also shocked.
Gayatin, a former church worker in the parish, added that they have not heard any security issues concerning the priest.
“Although Fr.Pops had been opposing the entry of large-scale plantations and mining here, that was years ago. There have been no other controversial issues these days that involved the priest or the church itself,” he told Mindanews.
North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza said she is saddened by the killing of Tentorio.
“All our peace efforts will be in vain if we cannot give justice to his death. He committed himself to work with the people in North Cotabato,” Mendoza told Mindanews.
Tentorio is the third Italian PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) priest gunned down in Mindanao but the second in the Diocese of Kidapawan. Fr. Tullio Favali was gunned down by a paramilitary group led by Nortberto Manero on April 11, 1985 while Fr. Salvador Carzedda was gunned down in Zamboanga City on March 20, 1992 by two men on a motorbike who overtook the vehicle he was driving.
Fr. Tentorio, or Fr. Pops, as he was fondly called, arrived in the Philippines in 1978 and was first assigned in Ayala, Archdiocese of Zamboanga, for two years. He was assigned to the Diocese of Kidapawan in 1980 and was stationed as mission administrator in the parish of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, a parish comprising Lumads (indigenous peoples), Muslims and settlers. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)