A year after Fr. Pops Tentorio’s murder, no case filed in court

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 October) – Exactly a year after  the murder of  Italian missionary Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, no case has been filed in court and the parishioners and indigenous peoples in Arakan, North Cotabato, where he served as parish priest, as well as the Diocese of Kidapawan and his congregation, the Pontificial Institute of Foreign Missionaires (PIME), are still waiting.

Fr. Peter Geremia, also  of the PIME and presently the assistant parish priest in Arakan, told MindaNews that one year later,  justice has remained elusive.

As of October 17,  the first death anniversary of Tentorio, Geremia said they have yet to hear fom the Department of Justice on the status of the case.

He recalled that the last time Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan replied to his follow-up query was on September 13. During that time, he said,  Baraan asked him if he received a letter from them (Department of Justice).  He replied he didn’t.

He quoted Baraan as saying, “Sorry, Father, to tell you that the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) doubts your witnesses.”

“I replied I also doubt their (NBI) witnesses,” Geremia said.

“In fact, one of their witnesses, Lamlayon, signed a retraction and then in the last conference here with them, we agreed our lawyers to interview their witnesses and their lawyers will interview our witnesses and then their remaining witnesses contradicting our witnesses are only Jimmy Ato and Omboy and our information is that Omboy is not a reliable witness,” Geremia added.

The priest said Baraan told him he would go to Kidapawan and talk to their witnesses personally.

“I told him that’s much better because the original instruction of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was that they review our witnesses and their witnesses and maybe probe them together to clarify their conflicting testimonies . Then I mentioned to him that the anniversary is approaching and he said, ‘I will do that by the end of September.’”

September is gone but Baraan didn’t arrive, he said.

On October 16, Geremia said he again followed up Baraan but was told through text that he had just arrived from a trip abroad.

A year later

The Justice for Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio Movement (JPM) urged the public to “join us in remembering his life, mission and martyrdom” on his first death anniversary.

Tentorio, parish priest of Arakan in North Cotabato, was about to board his vehicle at the garage of his convent to attend a Presbyterium at the Bishops’ Residence in the Diocese of Kidapawan on October 17, 2011 when a gunman approached and shot him.

In Kidapawan, a  mass will be held at 10 a.m. at the compound of the  Bishop’s Residence in Kidapawan City, where Tentorio was buried.

The JPM said there will be a “Silent Prayer Protest at the Regional Trial Court, Kidapawan City”  to be led by Geremia and other JPM members.

From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the JPM press statement said “hundreds of farmers and Lumads will hold a Caravan from the Kidapawan Bishops’  Residence to  the  57th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Makilala, North Cotabato”  before proceeding to the mini-gym of the Cathedral for the concert –tribute.

At the concert, the album “Living and Dying,” produced by the the Concerned Artists for Justice for Pops, will be launched.  The album has 13 songs and proceeds from its sale will go to the programs started by Father Pops, Geremia told MindaNews.

In Manila, a “Walk for Fr. Pops! Walk for Justice! “ will be held at 4 p.m. from Liwasang Bonifacio to Plaza Miranda, followed by a mass at 6 p,m. at the Minor Basilica of Black Nazrene with Bishop Broderick Pabillo as celebrant.

Follow-up

Since Tentorio’s murder, Geremia has been following up on the case with the Department of Justice on behalf of the PIME and the Diocese of Kidapawan.

He said he had repeatedly written Justice Secretary Leila de Lima but his letters went unanswered. One of the letters requested the Justice Secretary to coordinate with other agencies like the Department of Interior and Local Government to ensure the protection of 27 witnesses and their family members who had gone into hiding for fear of retaliation and
to have the suspected culprits, the Bagani paramilitary group, disarmed.

“We made urgent requests to Secretary de Lima such as expand investigation to other suspects and masterminds,  witness protection program for new witnesses  and families (and) coordinate
investigations and security measures  with all concerned agencies in order to defuse fear and to promote a climate of peace,” Geremia told MindaNews in mid-June.

He said they received “no reply to our letters and requests” although he acknowledged De Lima met with them and the Italian ambassador in her office on April 26 where it was agreed that a case conference in Kidapawan would be held “to unify the conflicting testimonies.”

Then Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo told MindaNews during the ARMM Summit in Davao City on June 19 that he had not received Geremia’s request coursed through de Lima and asked if he could meet with Geremia over breakfast the next day. Geremia, however, could not make it to the meeting.

‘The only one’

On June 28, Robredo assured Geremia and Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz in a telephone conversation that the police would provide security to the witnesses.

Immediately, Robredo ordered regional police director, Chief Supt. Alex Paul Monteagudo to ensure the witnesses’ protection.

Robredo also met with De Lima, apparently on the same day after the telephone conversation with Bishop dela Cruz and Geremia, and that both agreed to have a joint team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine National Police to review the conflicting testimonies.

Since that phone conversation on June 28, Robredo had repeatedly updated Geremia  by text message on the progress of  the case and his meetings with de Lima. His  last text message to Geremia, a few days before he died in a plane crash on August 18, was on the Bagani, the paramilitary group suspected to have killed Father Tentorio.

The death of Robredo dealt a big blow as well on the quest for justice for Tentorio.

Siya lang naga-reply sa requests sa taas” (He was the only one [among national officials] who responded to requests for assistance),  said Geremia.

According to affidavits filed by new witnesses, the Bagani had attempted to kill Tentorio in a roadside ambush two days before killing him in the garage of his parish convent.

Since the murder on October 17, 2011, only one suspect has been arrested: Jimmy Ato, who was whisked off to Cagayan de Oro City after his arrest in Culaman, Arakan on December 29 and presented to the media by the NBI regional office there as the triggerman.

Nabbed on the basis of a warrant of arrest for an arson case he was implicated in years ago, Ato denied the NBI’s allegation four days later in an interview with reporters, but admitted he served as lookout in the killing of the Italian priest.

Ato was arrested on December 29 but it took the NBI nearly 45 days before a complaint for murder was filed in mid-February against him, his brother Roberto and the Sampulna brothers Joe and Dima.

Ato was detained at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) regional office in General Santos City until the Regional Trial Court Branch 13 in Cotabato City on August 30 ordered his transfer to the provincial jail of Maguindanao, to face the arson case.

The February complaint against the suspects in the Tentorio killing was based on the joint probe of the NBI regional offices in Koronadal, Cagayan de Oro and Davao in coordination with the Special Investigation Task Group Fausto of the Philippine National Police in Region 12.

Murder, attempted murder

On April 23, private prosecutors led by the Diocese of Kidapawan’s counsel, Gregorio Andolana, filed a complaint not only for murder but also attempted murder against the Ato brothers and the Bagani paramilitary elements Jan Corbala alias Kumander Iring, Neneng Durado, Kaing Labi, Joseph Basol and Edgar Enoc for having “conspired, confederated and helped one another”  in attempting to murder Tentorio on October 15 as he was going down from a funeral mass in Barangay Dalag and in murdering him as he was about to board his vehicle in his parish convent early morning of October 17.

North Cotabato  prosecutor Jose Agerico de Guzman told MindaNews on June 29 that his office should not be blamed for the delay in filing the case in court. He said he even created a
panel of prosecutors to expedite the filing of the case.

But de Guzman said the problem is that some suspects cited in the NBI investigation which was the basis for filing the complaint in February, are not in the list of suspects in the complaint filed by the private prosecutors. He said witnesses affidavits’ in the private prosecutors’ complaint implicated other people who were not part of the NBI’s list of suspects, and that one witness in the complaint filed by the NBI, retracted his statement in an affidavit attached to the private prosecutors’ complaint.

He said the panel was studying the complaints thoroughly to ensure there would be no miscarriage of justice. He said he was “apprehensive that if we file the information (for murder and attempted murder) and evidence against these people are not strong enough, the case will be dismissed in the end” and “we will be blamed again.”

An October 11 MindaNews report from Kidapawan said the provincial prosecutor’s office had submitted to the DOJ central office its resolution on the  Manila has yet to release its decision on the resolution submitted by the provincial prosecutor of North Cotabato three weeks earlier, on the killing of Tentorio.

In the report, Prosecutor de Guzman said:  “ I understand that there were several conferences between the Italian (embassy) and the DOJ office in Manila” and that they have “expedited the process and we sent it after we’ve finished our job. It’s no longer in our decision. All the things had been laid down and sent to the DOJ.”

A year after Tentorio’s death, they are still waiting, Geremia said.   (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews with Malu Cadelina Manar)

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