Of 13 priests killed from Marcos to PNoy: only one case solved

KIDAPAWAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/26 October)  —  The Queen of Prophets cemetery in the compound of the Bishop’s Residence in Balindog now has two Italian missionaries buried here:  Arakan parish priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio on a  plot fronting the huge cross, one grave away from his confrere, Tullio Favali, the first missionary from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who was gunned down in Mindanao by a paramilitary group on April 11, 1985.

Favali’s case is the only one out of 13 cases of Catholic priests murdered from 1971 to 2001, that has been solved, at least partly: his killers arrested, punished and later forgiven. But the case is only partly solved because to this day, the masterminds have remained anonymous and unpunished.

One of the 13 killed was a Bishop, Benjamin de Jesus of the Vicariate of Jolo.

Favali’s motorcycle, set on fire by the paramilitary group led by Norberto Manero, Jr. aka Kumander Bucay before he  was gunned down at Kilometer 125, Crossing La Esperanza in Tulunan, North Cotabato,  still stands  — at least remnants of it – on an elevated area fronting his grave.

Manero could not have failed to notice that on February 4, 2008 when, accompanied by Father Armando Angeles, the Diocesan Administrator, and nine other priests including his intended target in 1985 – Fr. Peter Geremia,  he visited Favali’s grave, lit a 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.

Before leaving, Manero again knelt, made the sign of the cross, bowed and this time, kissed the ceramic photograph of Favali at the center 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.

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Tried under the Cory Aquino administration, Manero’s group was sentenced to life imprisonment (the death penalty had been abolished by then). Manero was freed in January 2008, nearly 23 years after Favali’s killing, after serving a commuted sentence and a grant of Presidential pardon.

The Diocese of Kidapawan, after a series of consultations with the witnesses, had responded favorably and posed no objections to a grant of Presidential pardon to Manero after he, who called himself one of the “lost sheep,” wrote then Kidapawan Bishop Romulo Valles, in September 2004, seeking forgiveness

Grace and Conversion

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

“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  Favali on April 11, 2005, adding “forgiveness and reconciliation are the hallmarks of the Church.”

During Manero’s visit in 2008, Angeles said that what  is happening 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.

Geremia, whom Manero’s group accused to be a supporter of the New People’s Army, said on the 20th anniversary of Favali’s death: “Forgiveness is not condoning but to free that person of the complex of having been a killing machine. 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.

In the February 2008 visit, Manero embraced not only Geremia — but also neighbors who dared, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, to risk their lives to testify against Favali’s killers.

Father Tentorio, gunned down on October 17 in Arakan, North Cotabato,  is the first priest and first foreign missionary killed under the 16-month Aquino administration.

Tentorio is the third member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), to be killed in Mindanao, the second in North Cotabato, after Favali.

The 13 priests gunned down in Mindanao were all active in serving and fighting for justice for the marginalized sectors in society. Some were active in protecting the environment, in empowering the indigenous peoples, in inter-religious dialogue and peace-building, in clean elections.

Fr. Jonathan Domingo of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate noted that priests were killed for “promoting peace, dialogue, environment, fighting for IPs. Bottomline, they were siding with the poorest of the poor in Mindanao.”

Of 13 killings of  Catholic priests from Marcos to the present-day Aquino administration, only Favali’s case has been solved, partly. The rest of the cases from 1971 to 2011, still await justice.

There are other church leaders and workers from other religious affiliations who were also killed within this period, a number of them listed in the book “That We May Remember,” published by the Promotion of Church People’s Rights in May 1989. The book listed incidents of killings, arrests, raids and other forms of harassments on church people from the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 to November 1987. Task Force Detainees and Karapatan have their own listings as well.

This listing by MindaNews focuses only on Catholic priests who were killed in Mindanao since 1971.

As can be gleaned from the list, all administrations from Ferdinand Marcos to Corazon Aquino;  to Fidel Ramos to  Joseph Estrada, to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Benigno Simeon Aquino III, have had their share of priest-killings. All of them vowed justice.

Father Tentorio, gunned down on October 17 in Arakan, North Cotabato,  is the first priest and first foreign missionary killed under the 16-month Aquino administration.

Tentorio is the third member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), to be killed in Mindanao, the second in North Cotabato, after Favali.

Of the 13, four were from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), three from the PIME, one each from the Claretians, Society of Jesus (SJ) and Society of the Divine Word (SVD). The rest were Diocesan priests.

The list:

Marcos administration
1971, November 3: Fr. Nelson Javellana,  OMI, then director of the Notre Dame of Ampatuan in Maguindanao. Javellana and a group of CNEA volunteers (election watchdog) believed that clean and credible elections were possible in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao. Riding back home in a mini bus after a seminar on the conduct of elections in Cotabato City, they were ambushed somewhere in Tambunan, Dinaig, Maguindanao, according to an account of Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., OMI.

1981, April 13: Fr. Godofredo Alingal, SJ, parish priest of Kibawe, Bukidnon.  Shot in his convent by three suspects. One acted as lookout, two proceeded to his room. He was shot as soon as he opened the door, according to an account published in the book, “That We May Remember” published by the Promotion of Church Peoples’ Rights in May 1989. The Bishop of Bukidnon in 1981, Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ, said, “We start with this one fact: If there is anything certain in the many uncertainties that surround the murder of Father Alingal, it is this: He was gunned down because of his unflinching proclamation of the Gospel of Justice.”

1985. April 11: Fr. Tullio Favali, PIME, 39, assistant parish priest of Tulunan, North Cotabato.  The paramilitary group led by Manero waited for Fr. Geremia’s return from his pastoral visits in the far-flung areas. While waiting for him at Kilometer 125, Crossing La Esperanza in Tulunan, they harassed residents.  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. Manero set Favali’s motorcycle on fire and when the priest rushed out to ask them why they burned his motorcycle, he was gunned down instead, portions of his brains picked to show to passing motorists.

Cory Aquino administration

1988, July 1. Fr. Mario Estorba, SVD. Parish priest of Loreto, Agusan del Sur. Killed in Butuan City. According to the book, “Green backlash: Global subversion of the environmental movement” by Andrew Rowell, Estorba was gunned down “two weeks after he filed a complaint arguing for better working and remuneration conditions with a local logging company.” The Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples said he was killed for fighting illegal loggers.

1989, April 16. Fr. Dionisio Malalay, 32, assistant parish priest of Tabina, Zamboanga del Sur, killed with Rufino Rivera, a councilor and religious leader of the same town. Amnesty International reported Malalay “ had actively participated in the defense of human rights and openly criticized a military death squad operating in Zamboanga del Sur.” The report said a soldier shot him twice with an M-14 rifle, killing him instantly.

1991, October 14. Fr. Nerylito Satur. 40, parish priest of Valencia, Bukidnon. Ambushed while returning to his parish from celebrating mass in Guinoyoran. Satur was at the forefront of the campaign against illegal logging in the area, He was one of 45 priests, deacons and local citizens deputized as forest officers by the Department of Environment and Resources to arrest illegal loggers. He helped seize three truckloads of timber and arrest the responsible loggers in July.

1992, May 20: Fr. Salvatorre Carzeda, 49, PIME. Killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen who fired four shots, two of these to the head, as he was returning home to the regional house of the PIME in Zamboanga City. He had just come from a conference with participants of a course organized by the Silsilah Dialogue movement.

Ramos administration
1997, February 4: Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI. Shot dead in Jolo, Sulu, a few meters from the Cathedral in downtown Jolo, Sulu. De Jesus, well-loved by Christians and Muslims in Sulu, was the first Bishop gunned down in the Philippines.

Estrada administration
2000, May 3: Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, Claretians. Kidnapped along with teachers and students in Basilan a few days earlier by the Abu Sayyaf.  He was tortured and killed.

2000, December 28. Fr. Benjamin C. Inocencio, OMI, Chancellor of the Vicariate of Jolo. Gunned down on Holy Innocents’ Day near where Bishop de Jesus was killed in 1997.

Arroyo administration
2001, August 28: Fr. Rufus Haley, Society of Columbans, 57. He was shot and killed on his way home to his parish..

2008, January 15: Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI, director of the Notre Dame of Tabawan in Tawi-tawi and head of the mission station was praying in the chapel when armed men barged in and tried to take him. He resisted. He was beaten then shot. Tabawan is an island located some eight hours away by boat from the capital town of Bongao.

Benigno Aquino III administration
2011, October 17. Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME, 59, Killed in his convent’s garage in Arakan, North Cotabato. The still unidentified gunman fired ten bullets and ran down towards the road (some reports said “walked casually”) where an accomplice was waiting on board a motorcycle.

Like  past Presidents, President Aquino vowed justice for the slain priest.

MindaNews notes another Catholic priest was killed in Mindanao within the period cited although his case is different from the rest: Father Frank Navarro, a Diocesean priest in Surigao del Sur joined the New People’s Army in the early 1980s and became its most famous commander in Mindanao under the Marcos regime. He was killed in an early morning raid by the military in his camp in the hinterlands of Surigao del Sur on August 9, 1994.  It took two weeks for the NPA to announce his death as his body could not be immediately retrieved amid military operations.  The military raiding team did not know they killed Navarro. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)