ARAKAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/01 October) – The mission of slain Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio has remained alive in this remote town nearly a year after his death, a fellow Italian missionary who has assumed his work as parish priest here said.
In an interview, Fr. Giovanni Vettoretto of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) said all the programs of his predecessor are being implemented with the help of Fr. Peter Geremia, now the assistant parish priest (not the parish priest as earlier reported).
Geremia, also a PIME missionary, assumed Tentorio’s post as coordinator of the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate of the Diocese of Kidapawan. He was the parish priest of Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat province since 1985.
Tentorio was gunned down inside the parish compound on October 17 last year while he was about to board his car.
“All the programs of Fr. Fausto, particularly the scholarship, literacy and health care for the indigenous peoples are still being implemented,” he said in the local dialect.
The death of Tentorio has encouraged the people even more to continue and give value to what he had started, said Venttoretto.
But he admitted that they can still feel the pain and the absence of Tentorio, adding that the parishioners are still crying for justice.
“We, the people in Arakan our fellow priests and our Bishop can feel the absence of Pops here in Arakan. We can feel the empty space,” the missionary said.
Yolanda Andagkit, a parish staff and a lumad, told MindaNews that she is among those assigned in the literacy program under the Tribal Filipino Program for Community Development Inc. (TFPCDI).
Andagkit, who was also one of at least 3,000 Lumads who have benefited from the scholarship program of Tentorio, said they always go around monitoring the 35 daycare centers, which were established by the late priest.
Asked for comment on the progress of the case, Vettoretto said: “Personally, not just slow or very slow. It seemed that it stopped. It seems there are influential people who are interfering on the case.”
He said that whenever he went to the villages to say mass, people would ask him what has happened to the case.
“But I cannot give them any specific update,” he said.
Almost a year after Tentorio’s death, no case has been filed in court. The complaint for murder filed before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Kidapawan City in February has not moved as witnesses have gone into hiding for fear of reprisal.
Only one suspect has been arrested so far, and he is presently detained at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) regional office in General Santos City.
Jimmy Ato, who was whisked off to Cagayan de Oro City after his arrest in Kulaman, Arakan on December 29, was 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 that happened 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.
The suspect was arrested on December 29 but it was only in mid-February that the NBI filed a complaint for murder against him, his brother Roberto and brothers Jose and Dima Sampulna.
Everything has changed
Though the programs of the slain priest have continued, Vettoretto said everything has changed after October 17 last year.
He added they received threats and harassments from some groups a few months after the death of Tentorio.
But Vettoretto said he is unfazed, saying that he doesn’t mind the rumors that he could be also a target for assassination.
“I don’t think we can say we are back to normal life the way it was before…Fr. Fausto was the actor in this kind of life,” he said, adding they are trying to do what Tentorio had planned for the people of Arakan.
“I think what Fr. Fausto planned 25 years ago and ran in this mission life is still very much alive,” he said.
Tentorio was ordained in Italy in 1977 and left for the Philippines the following year. He first stayed in Ayala, [Archdiocese of Zamboanga], where he worked for two years.
He arrived at the Diocese of Kidapawan in 1980 and was stationed as mission administrator in the parish of Columbio town, Sultan Kudarat.
Then in 1985, he was transferred to the mission station of Arakan, where he assisted the indigenous peoples in their struggle against the entry of commercial plantations, illegal logging and other threats to the ancestral domain of the lumads. (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)