Italian priest who served indigenous peoples of Mindanao killed

“It is very clear that the priest’s murder was pre-meditated as there was already a threat on his life by the Bagani paramilitary group under the jurisdiction of the 73rd IB, eight years ago due to his love for the Lumads, particularly in organizing them to have their voice heard…” — Rural Missionaries of the Philippines

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – A long-time Italian Catholic missionary living among the Manobo tribe was shot dead this morning inside the Mother of Perpetual Help parish in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato.

Fr. Fausto Tentorio of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), died of multiple gunshot wounds this morning, October 17, as he was preparing to go to a clergy meeting in Kidapawan City. Initial reports reveal that the assailants entered the convent and shot him on the head and chest with three bullets, instantly killing him.

Tentorio first arrived in the Philippines in 1978 and was assigned to North Cotabato in 1985.

In a statement sent to Bulatlat.com, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), of which Tentorio was an active member, said, “It is very clear that the priest’s murder was pre-meditated as there was already a threat on his life by the Bagani paramilitary group under the jurisdiction of the 73rd IB, eight years ago due to his love for the Lumads, particularly in organizing them to have their voice heard…”

The RMP was referring to the first attempt on Tentorio’s life in 2003 when he was hunted down by Bagani paramilitaries in Kitaotao, Bukidnon.

The Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad (Kalumaran), a group of Mindanao indigenous peoples,
holds the Aquino administration responsible for the death of Tentorio. The group said the priest had criticized the massive military operations in the community he served.

In a peace forum organized by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) in Davao City last year, Tentorio was quoted as saying, “It is clear that it is the military that rules the country. They have been empowered by martial law. For me, as long as the military will not bow to civilian supremacy, no peace will come to communities. Even if we discuss the substantive agenda (in the peace talks), the military will find ways to subvert it. Unless we have a strong president, maybe we cannot do that. The future does not look bright.”

End Impunity Alliance noted that Tentorio’s killing came after the declaration of Major General Jorge Segovia, 10th Infantry Division commander, that Southern Mindanao is the new epicenter of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Kalumaran pointed out that Tentorio’s death was preceded this year by the murder of Lumad Higaonon leader Datu Lapugotan and his nephew Solte San-ogan in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, as well as the deaths of Jimmy Arion, Nicomedes de la Peña, Sr., Nicomedes de la Peña, Jr., and Ruben Gatong in San Fernando, Bukidnon. The group claimed that paramilitary groups formed and supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are responsible for these deaths.

In a separate statement, Barug Katungod Mindanao, a consortium of Mindanao tri-people human rights defenders, said, “President Benigno Aquino III has his hands bloodied with this latest extrajudicial killing of a Roman Catholic clergy, and a foreign missionary at that. This killing exposes Oplan Bayanihan anew as a mere rehash of the murderous Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo administration. A state policy of killing political dissenters continues to exist and the blood of Fr. Tentorio is another testimony to this continuing state violence.”

“His killing is a clear disrespect for his right to life and liberty. It is an injustice to his mission to proclaim and live out the gospel,” the RMP said in a statement.

“As an RMP member he was very active in his support for and in pushing forward initiatives for the promotion of the human rights of the poor farmers and indigenous peoples in Arakan Valley. He took up the defense of the poor and the oppressed against every form of social injustice. What happened to him is a clear manifestation of the various attempts to silence his prophetic voice in defending the rights of the rural poor in the countryside. We denounce the extra-judicial killings that is still happening and we demand justice for Fr. Fausto Tentorio. We believe that we can only have authentic and lasting peace if we have respect for human dignity, justice and freedom,” the RMP added.

Kalumaran condemned the killing. “It is a great tragedy and irony that during the indigenous peoples month of October, a great advocate of the Lumads has been ruthlessly shot and killed,” the group said.

Tentorio worked with local indigenous peoples organizations to build a school for Lumad youth in Arakan Valley and develop the local economy through sustainable agriculture. The Italian priest was instrumental in the formation of Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa (Tikulpa), a local organization that has opposed agri-business plantations and other corporate business interests in the area.

“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,” a statement at the PIME website read.

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the Italian missionary was also active in opposing large-scale mining in Mindanao.“Before the time of his death, Fr. Pops and his organization, the Tribal Filipino Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan, are very active in defending the rights of indigenous people and protection of the environment from the entry of large-scale mining in their area,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.Tentorio and the TFP of the Diocese of Kidapawan are among the most active advocates and staunch oppositionists to the foreign mining project of Xstrata. The project plans to establish an open pit mining and mine waste facility in Sultan Kudarat, one of the areas of concern of the TFP that will affect the watershed and forests in the said province.

According to Kalikasan-PNE, Tentorio is the sixth anti-mining advocate killed this year.

“The death of Fr. Pops is a continuation of the reign of terror in Lumad communities that began under the Marcos regime and has persisted through subsequent presidencies. Like his mother, Aquino is pursuing a low-intensity conflict strategy against those individuals and communities that work for alternative, community-centered forms of development preventing the entrance of foreign capital and big business in ancestral domain areas and rural communities,” Kalumaran said.

Tentorio is the third Italian PIME priest gunned down in Mindanao. Fr. Tullio Favali was gunned down by a paramilitary group led by Nortberto Manero on April 15, 1985 while Fr. Salvador Carzedda was gunned down in Zamboanga City on March 20, 1992 by two men on a motorcycle.

“Justice should be immediately rendered for Fr. Tentorio and all victims of summary executions. Such climate of impunity exists to this day, thus victimizing anti-mining advocates such as Fr. Tentorio because of the non-prosecution of those accountable for the previous cases of human rights violations and the existing counter-insurgency plan Oplan Bayamihan of the Aquino administration,” Cristina Palabay, convenor of the End Impunity Alliance, said. ()

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