The Queen of Prophets cemetery in the compound of the Bishop's Residence in Balindog, Kidapawan City now has two Italian missionaries buried there: Arakan parish priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio on a plot fronting the huge cross, one grave away from his confrere, Tullio Favali, the first missionary from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who was gunned down in Mindanao by a paramilitary group on April 11, 1985.
Favali's killing late afternoon that day in a residential area at Crossing La Esperanza along the national highway in Tulunan, North Cotabato, was witnessed by many. Tentorio's killing early morning of October 17, 2011 at the garage of his convent by a lone gunman was witnessed by no one.
Chief Supt. Lester Camba, deputy regional police chief for Administration and concurrent head of Task Force Fausto, said the main problem of the investigators is that there were no witnesses to the killing of the 59-year old Father Tentorio.
He appealed to parishioners of Arakan that "if they truly love Fr. Fausto, help us in the investigation."
Police investigators Zalawi Shariff Moreno and Jay Canto said the gunman fired his 9mm gun at Tentorio at least twice, piercing through the glass window of the already opened driver's side of the priest's Suzuki Jimny, shortly before 8 a.m. October 17, just as he was about drive the 52-kilometer trip to Kidapawan City for the monthly Presbyterium of the Diocese of Kidapawan at the Bishop's Residence.
The investigators said the gunman apparently moved closer after the initial shots and pumped more bullets on the fallen priest, then ran towards the road some 50 meters away, where an accomplice was waiting on board a motorcycle. Other reports said the gunman "walked casually" to the road.
Fr. Peter Geremia, also an Italian PIME missionary and parish priest of Columbio in neighboring Sultan Kudarat province, said that based on the explanation of the medico-legal officer, Chief Inspector Raymond Cabling, two types of bullets were used on Tentorio, and the gunman was "very sophisticated, very well trained, a professional with the best equipment and the rarest bullets."
He said Cabling told them that of 1,800 autopsies he had performed, Tentorio's case was only the second where two kinds of bullets were used from one gun.
Geremia also said that based on the medico-legal findings, the gunman appeared so self-assured. "He was not afraid of being stopped by anyone."
"What's the immediate incident that could have triggered the killing of Fausto?" asked Geremia, who was the principal target of the paramilitary group that killed Favali, in 1985. The paramilitary group then said Geremia was a supporter of the communist New People's Army (NPA), an accusation commonly hurled at those who fought for justice and peace, truth, respect for human rights, etc... under the Marcos dictatorship that ended with a "People Power" revolt in February 1986.
Answering his own question, Geremia said: "We're still trying to find out," adding efforts should be undertaken to find out "who, where is the source of the bullets. Who are the backers?"
He said the medico-legal officer told them the gunman "knew his gun, knew his target and knew how to eliminate the target."
Poor and oppressed and...
Tentorio, fondly called Fr. Pops or Tatay Pops, arrived in the Philippines in 1978 and was first assigned in Ayala, Archdiocese of Zamboanga, for two years. He was assigned to the Diocese of Kidapawan in 1980 and was stationed as mission administrator in the parish of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, a parish comprising Lumads (indigenous peoples), Muslims and settlers.
According to the website of the PIME, Fr. Tentorio was transferred to the mission station of Arakan in 1985.
"In his pastoral ministry, Fr. Tentorio gave special focus on the organization of and support for the indigenous tribes collectively known as the Lumad. They are among the poor and exploited in his parish. It is necessary to organize them and provide them with opportunities for a better future through education, livelihood capabilities and agricultural enhancement right in their own home environment," the PIME said.
Geremia described their mission as serving the PDOMES (Poor, Deprived, Oppressed, Marginalized, Exploited and Struggling People),
As an advocate for Lumads' right to self-determination, friends and colleagues said Tentorio was not the type to spend time in conferences, preferring instead to spend time with the Lumads in their villages -- on motorcycle, on horseback, on foot, on a 4x4 vehicle -- deeply immersed in their problems and aspirations
Who would have wanted Tentorio dead?
Even before investigation could begin, Day One reports quickly pointed to mining interests as behind the killing of the priest - the first Catholic priest - and first foreign missionary - gunned down in the Philippines under the 14-month old, still popular administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
The human rights group, Karapatan, lists Tentorio as the 54th victim of extra-judicial killings (EJKs) under the Aquino administration.
Tentorio's colleagues and officials in Arakan town in North Cotabato, where the well-loved Tentorio spent 26 years of his life there, want authorities to "explore all angles" to determine who is or are behind his murder.
Father Giovanni Vettoretto, another Italian PIME member and assistant parish priest of Tentorio at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish in Arakan, and Geremia, said that while Tentorio's anti-mining stance may not be ruled out as possible cause, this cannot be the immediate cause for his murder.
Arakan Mayor Geraldo Tuble echoed the priests' sentiment, adding that Tentorio was not the only one against mining in Arakan. He said mining firms can never enter Arakan because the people are against it and the local legislature had even passed an ordinance opposing the entry of mining firms here. He also said they also passed an ordinance banning expansion of plantations except in two barangays - Dalag and Miocan.
Arakan has a population of 40,000 spread across 28 barangays (villages) in the hinterlands of North Cotabato, at the boundary of Bukidnon and Davao del Sur provinces. The economic potentials of the area - vast agricultural lands, some mineral resources, and a relatively huge voting population - at least 20,000 - has made the town a strategic area for politicians and the business sector, the military, the New Peoples Army, the paramilitary.
Councilors Richard Gayatin and Leonardo Reovoca, former church workers, said there were resolutions by the local legislature opposing mining when some mining firms filed exploration applications but eventually an ordinance was passed opposing mining here last year.
Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) records showed two applications for exploration in neighboring Antipas town but local officials allege they encroach on portions of Arakan: Visayas Ore Philippines, Inc, a subsidiary of Nihao Mineral Resources, over 11,951 hectares for chromite, cobalt, nickel, in October 2007 and Altop Mining Mati Resources Corp. over 7,716 hectares for nickel, cobalt, iron and other associated minerals, in September 2008.
Constancio Paye, MGB regional director said the applications of Visayas Ore and Altop were denied in June this year.
Focus on other aspects
Vettoretto noted that the mining issue is more felt in other areas outside Arakan.
Between Tentorio and Geremia, the latter is more vocal and more identified with anti-mining issues more than the former. Geremia's Columbio parish is among the towns straddling the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mining, Inc. (SMI), a firm backed by Xstrata Copper, the world's fourth largest copper producer.
Touted as the largest undeveloped known copper deposit in Southeast Asia, the Tampakan project is potentially the largest single foreign direct investment in the Philippines with capital expenditures pegged at $5.9 billion should it go into commercial production.
But the Tampakan project is strongly opposed by the local Catholic Church on concerns for the environment, human health and food security, and faces security threats from the NPA.
The area where SMI is operating straddles three provinces - South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat mostly in areas affecting the Lumads (indigenous peoples) - and three Catholic Dioceses - South Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Kidapawan which includes Columbio parish.
The South Cotabato government last year passed an Environment Code banning open pit mining. SMI and the Aquino administration have been exerting efforts to get South Cotabato officials to lift the ban but South Cotabato officials have refused to budge.
The three Dioceses on the other hand have launched a signature campaign to present to President Aquino their opposition to the project.
Vettoretto said that while he would not exclude Tentorio's anti-mining stance as among the possible reasons behind his killing, he wants other angles pursued because focusing on (the mining) issue alone could mislead investigators to the exclusion of other possible motives.
He said investigators should not focus only on this aspect, even as he acknowledged that the investigation "will not be so easy."
He said he hopes local and national authorities "can unite efforts to do something and bring out the truth."
Vettoretto added that unpunished killings embolden killers. "Impunity is a big issue," he said.
Martyr for Peace and Justice
Cotabato Arcbhishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, Bishop of Kidapawan from 1980 to 1986, described Tentorio as "a martyr for justice and peace," a "worthy member of that noble line of martyrs in the Church in Mindanao who in their lives advocated causes that would help create a more just, a more peaceful, a more loving society. Such causes are for the poor like the indigenous peoples as well as for the integrity of creation."
"His death is pure murder. I totally condemn it as a crime that cries out to heaven. If the perpetrators think that his murder would silence priests, religious sisters and brothers, and bishops from proclaiming the justice of God's kingdom, they are wrong. The blood of martyrs like Fr. Fausto fans the daring and courage of those who care about peace and justice enough to sacrifice themselves while travelling the road of active non-violence. I strongly appeal to the authorities to search for the perpetrators and bring to justice," Quevedo wrote.
Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, a political detainee under the Marcos dictatorship and whose friendship with Tentorio spanned 34 years, recalls the last time he spent a lot of time in Arakan with Tentorio, when he was doing his fieldwork for his doctoral dissertation on the collaborative efforts of the indigenous peoples, the church and other civil society groups in Arakan in the late 1990s.
"I made it a point to spend weekends in the convento during the year of my fieldwork in Arakan. Through the night we had long chats. He shared his heartaches about what was happening in Arakan, the frustrations he faced with the work. He felt so sad that the well-to-do Ilonggo settlers who have come to Arakan have grabbed the Manobos' land. That the government continued to be in the hands of settlers and provided so little for the needs of the Manobos. That rich landowners and businessmen were continuing to find ways to set up plantations. That Ilonggo parishioners continued to ask him why he cared so little for them and that he only paid attention to the needs of the Lumad (indigenous peoples). And he shared about his fear that despite what he and his colleagues - including highly committed Manobo leaders - were doing for and on behalf of the Manobo, there was no assurance that they could continue to encourage them to remain united in their struggle for self-determination for the sake of their children's children," Gaspar wrote.
When Tentorio was killed, two of his former parish workers and scholars had been elected as councilors.
But the once united Lumad community had split into two organizations, one against the other.
In 2003, Tentorio wrote about his near-death experience on October 6, 2003 during one of his visits to the Lumads of Kitaotao, Bukidnon, portions of which are part of the parish of Arakan. Armed men belonging to Bagani, a paramilitary group believed to have been organized by the military looked for him in the village where he stayed the night. According to Tentorio, when the villagers asked if they would kill the priest, one of the Bagani members replied, "No, we will just arrest him and bring him to our superior."
"Worried of the possible consequences, the people denied to them that I was there. They told me and my companions to stay quiet in the house and hide there because the Bagani were looking for me, Tentorio wrote.
Servant of the masses
The Communist Party of the Philippines Southern Mindanao Regional Party Committee (CPP-SMRPC) in a tribute published as a one-page paid advertisement in a major national newspaper, blamed the military for killing Tentorio.
"To the assassins whose bullets felled him, to the fascist Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that wanted his head, and to the current oppressive Aquino regime, whose policy is to justify exploitation and intensify oppression, Fr. Fausto "Pops" Tentorio's death was yet another crime. To the masses, to all peace-loving advocates, to the revolutionary movement, his was a death of a martyr, a beloved servant of the masses," the CPP-SMRPC said.
"His death is unbearable to the people whom he served, to the masses who have etched him in their hearts. The Communist Party of the Philippines and the revolutionary movement mourn his death and pay tribute to his profound life, a life well-spent in the service of the people. He was an Italian who became a great Filipino- a communist, an internationalist, who devoted more than half of his life to serve the interest of the poor Filipino masses and make the cause of the Filipino people as his own," it added.
The CPP statement, signed by Siegred Red, said the Army's 6th Infantry Division "carries the blood debt for Fr. Pops."
Brig. Gen. Rey Ardo, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, said, "let us wait for the results of the investigation of the Task Force."
Geremia said "both government/church and the NPA/NDF (National Democratic Front) praise Fr. Fausto's service to the People. Both claim to own him and his service to the people. They all converge and meet and support Pop's movement. This is a sign of a possible direction for the peace process. All who support Pop's movement can join in the on-going movement 'Sowing the Seeds of Peace.' A long road to Peace... We can walk together in Pop's spirit."
"In Pop's name please do not allow anyone to disturb or stop Pop's popular movement. Don't provoke the wrath of the PDOMES but join them in sowing seeds of Peace."
He could have changed course
When Favali was killedin 1985, the 33-year Tentorio "could have changed course, packed up his bags and head for a safer and kinder place on the missionary map," Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz said.
"But he did not. He had fallen in love with his people," the Bishop said in his homily at the mass concelebrated with six other bishops, two of them former bishops of Kidapawan, and 90 priests, at the Our Lady of Mediatrix Cathedral here on October 25.
accompanied to his final resting place by some 3,000 parishioners and
sympathizers led by Bishop dela Cruz and Zamboanga Arcbhishop Romulo Valles,
formerly Bishop of Kidapawan.
Tentorio, whom the Bishop described to be one who was "content to labor in relative obscurity," had been described in at least 500 news reports, articles, statements and declarations "for what he
purportedly stood for," the Bishop said. He said Tentorio was described as "an environmentalist-priest," "a human rights defender," "the anti-mining activist," "the protector of cultural minorities."
He thanked everyone for the expressions of sympathy and solidarity, adding these have been a source of comfort and hope but "there is a tendency, even by well-meaning souls, to enlarge the life of one who has met a high-profile death."
"We do not have to boost to mythical proportions Fr. Fausto's life in order to make sense of his tragic death," the Bishop said, adding he should be remembered "simply as a good and faithful priest who loved his people and sought to serve them as best as he could, even in the face of danger to his own life."
He said Tentorio wanted to be remembered through a verse from the Prophet Micah, which he had asked, in his last will and testament, to be written on his tombstone: "You were told, O Man, what is good and what God requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Dela Cruz said Tentorio showed mercy, especially to the poor and the Lumads. "He sought justice for them, when they were dispossessed of their land, when they were harassed by men with arms, when their own government seemed to abandon them. By doing that - even in a quiet and humble manner, for Fr. Pops was no firebrand - can earn you enemies, enemies that go after even the kindest of men."
"Imong pangandoy, akong pangandoy"
The bishop added that Tentorio's last will and testament was written in Italian but he added these words in Binisaya: "Ang imong pangandoy, akong pangandoy, and imong pakigbisog, akong pakigbisog: Busa kaw ug ako usa ra. Kauban sa pagpanday sa ginharian sa Dios" (Your dream is
my dream. Your struggle is my struggle. Therefore, You and I are one: companions in building the Kingdom of God).
"Stripped of all editorializing, social commentary, and propaganda literature, Fr. Fausto's death is simply an emulation, a following and imitation of Jesus' own death on the cross," dela Cruz said.
He noted that when Favali was killed 26 years ago, "something like resurrection followed and is now reflected in the number of priests of the Diocese. Fully one half of their number comes from the Tulunan-M'lang area where Fr. Favali met his martyrdom."
The Diocese of Kidapawan has about 40 priests, 25 of them Diocesan. Of the 25, 12 or 13 are from Tulunan and M'lang.
As of November 2, Camba, chief of Task Force Fausto, said there is no update as yet on the investigations.
Tentorio was the third PIME missionary gunned down in Mindanao, but the second in North Cotabato. Another PIME missionary, Salvatorre, Carzedda, 49, was gunned down in Zamboanga City in May 1992.