Special team for Unsolved Cases to probe Tentorio murder

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 March)  — While the country focuses on the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Malacanang on Thursday, March 27,  a new team of investigators will conduct a probe in Kidapawan City on the same day, on the 2011 killing of  Italian missionary, Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio.

Tentorio, parish priest of Arakan in North Cotabato, was gunned down outside his parish convent early morning of October 17, 2011, as he was about to drive his vehicle to Kidapawan City for the monthly Presbyterium.

Fr. Peter Geremiah, assistant parish priest of Arakan, told MindaNews in Kidapawan City on Monday afternoon that a team from the Special Investigation Team for Unsolved Cases (SITU) will conduct the probe at the Regional Trial Court there on Thursday, March 27.

The SITU’s scheduled investigation is apparently in response to the letter of  Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima  dated January 17, 2014,  informing her that many parishioners have been asking “Why can’t DOJ (Department of Justice) obtain justice in court for Fr. Pops and other victims like him?”

Dela Cruz said he was informed that the first investigation on the murder, conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation, was “blocked and diverted and their key witnesses retracted their testimonies.”

After the NBI investigation, Dela Cruz said a new team of investigators called SITU was announced in October 2013, pursuant to Administrative Order 35 issued by President Aquino on November  22, 2012, creating the “Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons.”

“Up to now,” dela Cruz said in his January letter, the SITU probe had not been started.

The Bishop said their lawyers had proposed “a list of persons to investigate or to provide information, and they are waiting for a case conference with the SITU team as soon as possible.”

“Why are the wheels of justice, apparently stuck? Is someone blocking or diverting the investigation again? How can we trust that justice is possible under the present administration?” asked Dela Cruz, who has just been named the new Archbishop of Zamboanga.

In response, De Lima on February 4 wrote a memorandum to Prosecutor Cabi Marohom,  through Regional Prosecutor Al Calica, reminding him that the killing of Fr. Tentorio is “certainly one of the most prioritized by the leadership that sits in the Inter-Agency Committee” which she, as Justice Secretary, chairs, and therefore, “a speedy and thorough investigation is required.”

copy of De Lima’s letter was furnished the Bishop.

Marohom was designated as a member of the roster of AO 35 prosecutors mandated to implement the presidential directive and  chairs the SITU investigating Tentorio’s case.

De Lima told  Marohom that “no formalities are required before the SITU can be created.”

“As AO 35 prosecutor and therefore head of the SITU,  you need only to invoke the Administrative Order to secure the cooperation of law enforcement agencies,” De Lima said, adding that the NBI and PNP are members of the Inter-Agency Council (IAC).

De Lima reminded Marohom that Section 15 of the Operational Guidelines of AO 35 requires the SITU to submit to the IAC Secretariat its Investigation Report “within 30 days from the time it convenes.”   (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)