Bishop says arrest of suspect in Fr. Tentorio’s killing “key step” towards justice

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 January) – Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz  is “not prepared to dismiss and make light of the results of the work of the NBI-PNP-Department of Justice Team” in Thursdays’ arrest of  a suspect in the October 17 killing of Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio and welcomed the development as a “key step towards the achievement of justice and the ferreting of the truth behind Father Fausto Tentorio’s death.”

“I have seen first hand how hard they worked at the risk of their own personal safety in conducting the detective work. I have seen how sincerely they have acted to make good President P-Noy’s vow to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of Father Fausto Tentorio,” the bishop said in a statement dated January 1 but which he read at the 10 p.m. mass on December 31 in Kidapawan City.

Tentorio, parish priest of Arakan and a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was killed early morning of  October 17, just as he was about to leave the parish convent for a monthly Presbyterium at the Bishop’s House in Kidapawan City.

Investigators admitted they had no leads as no witnesses came forward to point to the killers.

Dela Cruz urged parishioners to let the DOJ team continue its work on the case. “That is the least we can do, instead of spinning ‘conspiracy theories’ bereft of factual foundations, but are more products of stale and sterile ideologies from the right and the left.”

“And if you should be moved by the Spirit, because of what you personally know or have done, come forward, and help the Prosecution form a fuller picture of what happened. Of course, all of us should continue to pray for the intercession of Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace, for the conversion of the guilty, the forgiveness of the repentant and the renewal of our faith in God’s justice,” the bishop said.

Dela Cruz said he knew of the coordinated operations of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the DOJ  “from the beginning.”

“I have been quietly kept abreast with the progress of the detective work, principally led by the National Bureau of investigation, with tangential support of the Philippine National Police, and the indispensable logistical and material support of the Provincial Governor’s Office. With earnest prayers, I have followed the slow and painful progress of the investigation asking God that the investigators be kept from harm’s way and that their arduous efforts, many times solitary and against long-standing apathy with government inaction, be rewarded with success,” the bishop said.

Dela Cruz  added that now that an arrest has been made, “police work has, to a large extent, ended” and “the legal work begins.”

“The Prosecution must piece together, from the many affidavits of witnesses, those who have to be hailed before the bar of justice. That is another long and arduous process, not unlike the one which the Diocese once went through in the case of Father Tullio Favali’s killing, more than 25 years ago,” he said.

Favali was gunned down late afternoon of April 11, 1985 by a paramility group led by Norberto Manero,  in a crossing in Tulunan, North Cotabato.  Unlike Tentorio’s killing, which had no witnesses, Favali’s had several witnesses who courageously took the witness stand then.

Favali’s killers were arrested, prosecuted, sentenced to life imprisonment, served their sentences and were released after they were pardoned. The Diocese of Kidapawan

Posing as vendors, miners

NBI agents  arrested Jimmy Ato,  a member of the Teduray tribe and the alleged gunman of  Tentorio in Sitio Iwak-iwak, Barangay Kulaman Valley in Arakan, North Cotabato on December 29.

Virgilio Mendez, NBI deputy director  told reporters in Cagayan de Oro City where Ato was brought, that a brief gunfight ensued after Ato’s companions fired at the NBI operatives as they were bringing him down to the highway.

He said  Ato “is spilling the beans” and has named “almost all the personalities involved in the murder of Fr. Tentorio.”

Mendez said Ato was paid “only P1,500 to kill the priest.”

He said they knew of Ato’s involvement after NBI covertly sent teams of  civilian spies to listen to what the community was talking about regarding the priest’s murder. “Some posed as vendors, others as miners looking for gold,” he said.

Mendez said Ato’s alleged accomplice, his younger brother Roberto, eluded arrest and was believed responsible for firing shots at the NBI team.

But Roberto, a Teduray from North Upi in Maguindanao, denied involvement in the  killing of Tentorio.

Fearing for his life and his family’s, Ato sought the help of Rep. Nancy Catamco of the 2nd district of North Cotabato who held him under her protective custody until authorities show her a warrant for his arrest.

Roberto said he was surprised to learn he was being pursued by the NBI for his alleged involvement in Tentorio’s death.

“That’s a big lie. I was not pursued. Also, contrary to reports, I didn’t have an armed engagement with any of the NBI agents that raided the house of my brother, Jimmy, last December  29,” Roberto told police officers during a briefing Friday night at the office of  Catamco.

Roberto said that two days before the arrest of his brother, a former village official introduced to their clan two persons who identified themselves as miners prospecting in the area.

These two persons were treated well.  In fact, they stayed in my brother’s house. We did not expect they would treat us this way. When my brother was arrested, he asked why.  But they refused to answer him,” recounted Roberto.

Roberto said he learned only through the media that his brother was flown from Cagayan de Oro City to Manila and presented to the public as Tentorio’s killer. He also learned later that the two persons who stayed in their village were actually NBI agents.

During the briefing in her office Friday night, Catamco told Supt. Raul Supiter, deputy provincial police director in North Cotabato, that she will not block any police operation that would solve the killing of the Italian missionary but stressed it should observe due process.

“I would not allow that authorities just pick up anybody and detain him without due process.   I was told that there is yet no warrant for the arrest of Jimmy and Roberto as regards the killing of Father Tentorio,” she said.

Supiter showed Catamco a warrant for the arrest of Jimmy for a crime he committed when he was 16 years old.  The crime happened in his hometown in North Upi, Maguindanao.

According to the warrant issued in August 1995 by the Regional Trial Court branch 13 in Cotabato City, Jimmy was accused of destructive  arson with homicide.

“So you see?  The court order showed that Jimmy was arrested for arson and not because of his alleged involvement in the priest’s killing,” said Catamco.

C atamco said she would keep Roberto in her custody unless authorities present to her the arrest warrant.

“For the meantime, I tasked my legal counsel to be his lawyer,” Catamco said. (MindaNews)

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