DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 October) – An Italian priest who had been serving Mindanao since 1978 and was head of the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate of the Diocese of Kidapawan, was gunned down at around 8:30 Monday morningjust as he was preparing to leave his convent in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, for the 9 a.m. Presbyterium in Kidapawan City.
Bishop Romulo dela Cruz told MindaNews Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME, parish priest of Arakan Valley, was hit on the left side of his head, chest and side while in his vehicle, preparing to drive for Kidapawan City. He said reports reaching him indicated there were two gunmen within the perimeter of the convent.
Dela Cruz said Tentorio was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Medical Speicalists Hospital in neighboring Antipas town at around 9:05 a.m.
The bishop, who rushed to the hospital told MindaNews they were bringing Fr. Tentorio’s remains to Arakan Valley where the wake will be held for two nights before transferring to Kidapawan City.
Tentorio is the third Italian PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) priest gunned down in Mindanao but the second in the Dicoese 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.
According to the website of the PIME, Fr. Tentorio was transferred to the mission station of Arakan in 1985.
“In his pastoral ministry, Fr. Tentorio gave special focus on the organization of and support for the indigenous tribes collectively known as the lumad. They are among the poor and exploited in his parish. It is necessary to organize them and provide them with opportunities for a better future through education, livelihood capabilities and agricultural enhancement right in their own home environment,” the website said.
Fr. Tentorio experienced a near-death experience on October 6, 2003 during one of his visits to the Lumads of Kitaotao, Bukidnon, portions of which are part of the parish of Arakan.
There, Fr. Tentorio had organized the tribal organization called the Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa or TIKULPA.
He left the parish of Arakan at 8 a.m. with four staffmembers, to visit the Lumads in Kitaotao. “After two hours of motorcycle and horseback riding, we reached New Kabalantian, Kitao-tao, Bukidnon where some people approached me and told me that armed men were waiting for me in Barangay Sagundanon, Kitao-tao, Bukidnon, three kilometers ahead where we were supposed to pass. They told me that these men belong to the group called Bagani, that they come from outside the area, and that their intention was to harm me, specifically by throwing hand grenades at me while I am passing by,” Fr. Tentorio said in his account of the incident in the PIME website.
“When night came, at around 7: 00 o ‘clock, I went to sleep in a small lumad hut with around 15 people. At about 7: 30 p,m. the people spotted few Bagani approaching the village, guided by Tata and Abing Gawilan, the sons of the kagawad who told me that there was nothing to worry about. They went straight to the hut that was next to where we were and asked information about Isidro Indao (vice chair of Tikulpa) and his whereabouts,” he wrote.
The armed men also asked where Fr. Tentorio was. The villagers denied he was around and asked the armed men why they were looking for the priest. “Will you kill him?”
One of the Bagani members reportedly replied, “No, we will just arrest him and bring him to our superior.”
“Worried of the possible consequences, the people denied to them that I was there. They told me and my companions to stay quiet in the house and hide there because the Bagani were looking for me. We decided to listen to their advice because to try to run would have been too dangerous. We did not know how many of them were there, and where they were hiding,” the priest wrote. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)