ARAKAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/17 October) – Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio aka Tatay Pops, had pointed to a particular mahogany tree among the hundreds he had planted at the back of the convent in the 1980s, as the one that would be used for his coffin when he dies. And when he did Monday morning — felled by ten bullets from a 9mm pistol while he was about to board his Suzuki Jimny vehicle to attend the monthly Presbyterium of the Diocese of Kidapawan, 52 kilometers away — his mahogany tree was felled to make his coffin.
So enamored was he of having a coffin made of the mahogany tree he planted that he had an Option B in case Option A would not survive, parish workers said. Option B was a mahogany tree from among the many he also planted behind the Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish, a few meters from the garage where he was felled.
But Tatay Pops, parish priest of Arakan and director of the Indigenous Peoples Program (formerly the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate) of the Diocese, would have to wait till the mahogany felled by a chainsaw after his murder Monday morning, dries up. On the first night of his wake, his body was placed inside a casket painted electric blue, with silver handle.
Fr. Peter Geremia, himself an Italian and a PIME missionary as well, told MindaNews the blue casket is only temporary and will be replaced by the one made of mahogany as Fr. Tentorio had wished.
Geremia was the target of the killers of Fr. Tullio Favali, the first of three PIME priests martyred in the Philippines, all of them in Mindanao.
The band of paramilitary elements led by the dreaded Norberto Manero alias Kumander Bucay, had waited for Geremia’s return from a village visit afternoon of April 11, 1985 and were harassing residents near the crossing of La Esperanza in Tulunan, North Cotabato when Favali, who was informed of the harassment by a resident who rushed to the convent, arrived on a motorbike late afternoon to intervene. He was gunned down, his motorcycle burned and part of his brains picked up and shown to passengers passing by the highway.
Fr. Salvador Carzedda, also an Italian PIME missionary, was gunned down in Zamboanga City evening of March 20, 1992 by two men on a motorbike who overtook the vehicle he was driving.
1st under PNoy
Fr. Tentorio became the third PIME missionary martyred in Mindanao, the second in North Cotabato. He was the first priest killed under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Carzedda was killed under President Cory Aquino’s administration.
Geremia said the last time he saw Tentorio was on September 9, during a clergy meeting. He said Fr. Tentorio said nothing about threats on his life.
Parish workers also said Tentorio mentioned nothing about threats on his life although his position on human rights, protection of the indigenous peoples, the environment, promotion of justice, etc.. had led to harassments, the last one reported in October 2003 when armed men belonging to the Bagani, a paramilitary group allegedly set up by the military, arrived in the community he visited, looking for him. The villagers denied he was around. Tentorio wrote about that incident in Kitaotao, Bukidnon in the PIME website.
Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz told MindaNews Tentorio did not mention security issues. He said the priest “used to laugh at rumors about threats on his life.”
“Let us hope things will come to light,” the bishop said.
“We call on every believer and his friends to pray for the repose of the soul of this good and faithful priest. We also call on all the law enforcement agencies of the government to speedily solve this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the bishop said in a pastoral statement issued Monday.
“We grieve for this great loss, but we trust in God’s mercy that Justice may be served,” he said.
Dela Cruz was Bishop of Basilan when Claretian missionary Rhoel Gallardo was gunned down by the Abu Sayyaf members on May 3, 2000.
Fr. Tentorio’s interment will be determined as soon as the flight schedules of the priest’s family, are arranged, Geremia said. The wake is presently at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help church here.
Martyr for Justice and Peace
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) in a statement Monday “strongly condemn(ed)” the killing of Tentorio.
“For a fellow missionary who selflessly worked to help the Indigenous Peoples and the poor farmers of Arakan Valley in North Cotabato to die in such a manner, we are saddened by the fact that there are sectors in our society who are against our work to help bring about peace in Mindanao,” the statement signed by Fr. Lauro de Guia, OMI Provincial Superior for the Philippines, said.
The statement appealed to “the peace-loving people to help in giving light to the death of Father Fausto and bring the perpetrators before the bar of justice.”
The OMI has had four missionaries gunned down in Mindanao, one of them Bishop Benjamin de Jesus in Sulu in 1997.
Barug Katungod Mindanao, a “consortium of Mindanao tri-people human rights defenders spearheaded by Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao and supported by the European Union,” said the killing of Tentorio “belies the military propaganda of bringing ‘peace and development’ through Oplan Bayanihan in the countryside. When even a missionary for the Lumads is targeted, (this shows a) continuing state of impunity in the countryside.”
“President Benigno Aquino III has his hands bloodied with this latest extrajudicial killing of a Roman Catholic clergy, and a foreign missionary at that. This killing exposes Oplan Bayanihan anew as a mere rehash of the murderous Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo administration. A state policy of killing political dissenters continues to exist and the blood of Fr. Tentorio is another testimony to this continuing state violence,” Barug said.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines of which Tentorio served as Alternate sub-regioanl coordinator for Southern Mindanao, said his death underscored the “culture of impunity sweeping the rural areas of Mindanao.”
“Fr. Pops had been an active advocate for the rights of the indigenous peoples. Serving in the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate of the Diocese of Kidapawan, he was also one of most active priests,” it said.
“I cannot fathom the minds of people who would be so evil as to plot the killing of a justice and peace loving missionary like Fr. Fausto. His assassination creates profound sadness and brings tears to the people who know of his kindness as well as his courage in the face of hazards to his life,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said.
Quevedo was Bishop of Kidapawan from 1980 to 1986. Fr. Tentorio moved to the Diocese of Kidapawan from Zamboanga in 1980.
“His death is pure murder. I totally condemn it as a crime that cries out to heaven. If the perpetrators think that his murder would silence priests, religious sisters and brothers, and bishops from proclaiming the justice of God’s kingdom, they are wrong. The blood of martyrs like Fr. Fausto fans the daring and courage of those who care about peace and justice enough to sacrifice themselves while travelling the road of active non-violence. I strongly appeal to the authorities to search for the perpetrators and bring to justice,” Quevedo said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)