2 years later, still no cases filed vs. Fr. Pops’ suspects

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KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 17 Oct) – “Let us keep our hope for justice alive.”

This was the message of Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, DD, during the Eucharistic Celebration on the second death anniversary of Italian missionary Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME, at the bishop’s residence compound here today.

Militant groups and parishioners of slain Italian missionary Fausto "Pops" Tentorio, PIME, call for justice in a march rally in Kidapawan City on Thursday October 17, 2013. The rally is in commemoration of the 2nd death anniversary of the priest. Up to this day, no cases have been filed in court yet against the suspects. Mindanews Photo by Keith Bacongco
Militant groups and parishioners of slain Italian missionary Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME, call for justice in a march rally in Kidapawan City on Thursday October 17, 2013. The rally is in commemoration of the 2nd death anniversary of the priest. Up to this day, no cases have been filed in court yet against the suspects. Mindanews Photo by Keith Bacongco

The Italian missionary was gunned down inside his parish compound in Arakan, North Cotabato.

Two years later, no cases against the suspects have been filed in court yet.

Dela Cruz urged the parishioners to continue praying and not to lose hope in pursuing justice for Tentorio.

“Hope springs eternal,” the bishop said.

Just like the killing of Fr. Tulio Favali in 1985, the parishioners remained hopeful that justice will be achieved.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” Dela Cruz read the gospel.

Ten other priests joined the bishop in a mass held beside the cemetery, where slain missionary Tulio Favali was also buried in 1985.

Around 1,000 people coming from different parishes of the diocese gathered for the commemoration of Tentorio’s killing.

The parishioners, lumads, and members of militant groups marched around the major thoroughfares of the city amid the heavy rain.

The bishop said the Church is grateful for the persistence of Fr. Peter Geremia, Tentorio’s colleague in the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and fellow Italian, despite his age.

Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, remains hopeful that justice for Fr. Fausto "Pops" Tentorio will be achieved despite the struggle to build up the case against paramilitary members suspected of killing his colleague. Geremia stressed that his quest for justice is not just for his fellow missionary but also for the other victims of extra-judicial killings.

Like a miracle

Geremia said in an interview last week that it would be “like a miracle” if justice will be served (on Tentorio’s case) in his lifetime.

At 75, Geremia admitted that he had some frustrations while struggling to build up the case against the suspected paramilitary members who were reportedly behind the killing of the 59-year-old missionary.

“If that were to happen, that will be like a miracle. I would be grateful. But if it doesn’t come out completely in my time, maybe it will come out eventually,” he told MindaNews.

Tentorio’s parishioners have been accusing the military as behind the killing, which the military repeatedly denied.

Tentorio has been known for his advocacy work for the indigenous peoples, environment and human rights.

Geremia, assistant parish priest of Arakan, admitted that some of his colleagues and parishioners have been telling him that what he is trying to accomplish in the present system is almost impossible.

Like the exposé on the anomalous transactions on the priority development assistance fund (PDAF), Geremia said he is also hoping that a whistleblower would come out and say something about the system of impunity in the government.

He added that it seems those who have been implicated, particularly the members of the paramilitary group, are “untouchables.”

“We continue to challenge the system of impunity as we continue to challenge the system of corruption,” Geremia stressed.

Further investigation

Gregorio Andolana, lawyer of the Diocese of Kidapawan, said they have requested for further investigation following the retraction of three witnesses.

Al Calica, chief regional prosecutor for Region 12, has ordered for further investigation following the clarificatory hearings held in Arakan last July.

During the hearing, Geremia said witnesses presented by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) retracted their statements implicating brothers Jose and Dimas Sampulna, in effect clearing the Sampulna brothers.

“So now the accused are only the Ato brothers and the five Baganis headed by Jan Corbala, alias Kumander Iring,” the priest said.

Andolana, a former congressman, said that even with the admission of former North Cotabato Governor Manny Piñol that the Baganis exist, no investigation has been made.

During the public inquiry conducted by the Commission on Human Rights last May, Piñol admitted that they organized and trained the Bagani paramilitary.

The Ato brothers, who were arrested in December 2011, are still under the custody of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco (2nd Dist.).

Dominador Damlayon, one of the witnesses that had earlier pointed at brothers Jimmy and Robert Ato, had already retracted his statement that he signed before the NBI in Cagayan de Oro last year.

Damlayon claimed that a certain Loloy brought him to the NBI office in Cagayan de Oro City, and that he was forced to sign the prepared affidavit.

But the NBI denied Damlayon’s claim, adding they did not know any Loloy.

Keeping the memory alive

Unlike the case of Favali, the progress of Tentorio’s case is very slow.

Geremia recounted that Favali’s killers were sentenced in a little more than two years after the April 11, 1985 killing in Tulunan, North Cotabato.

Both Andolana and Geremia believe that somebody is “blocking or manipulating” to mislead the investigation.

Andolana, who also served as the Church’s counsel during Favali’s case, admitted that they feel “like they are alone” in pursuing justice for Tentorio.

“During the Favali case, we can feel the eagerness of the people, they were cooperating. But now, it seems that Fr. Peter is the only one who is actively fighting for justice,” he said in an interview.

Amid the slow progress, Geremia is still hopeful that he and the people of Arakan will achieve justice for his slain colleague. He said that his quest for justice is not just for his fellow missionary but also for the other victims of extra-judicial killings.

“We keep on pursuing justice to keep the memory of the victims alive. And to keep their cause alive,” he said.

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