The day Father Fausto Tentorio, who was known as Tatay or Father Pops to those in his parish, was murdered is irony at its best. He was shot to death on Monday, October 17, the day following World Food Day, and during the Philippine’s’ Indigenous Peoples’ Month.
Father Pops was a missionary from Italy. He was a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, PIME. The majority of people in Father Pop’s Arakan Valley, North Cotabato parish are Lumad, a people indigenous to the Philippines. A search on the Internet shows the area is a food bowl that is rich in natural resources. It also as a nature reserve. It can be considered a potential site for mining minerals such as gold. Father Pops worked with the community, and set up a school to help the Lumad take advantage of those resources, as well as a sustainable agricultural program.
The name of the valley is taken from the Lumad peoples. They have long been aware of the richness of the valley, and in Manobo called it ara, which means abundant natural resources, and kan, which means heroism and bravery.
Sadly, the death of Father Pops is not the first time that PIME missionaries have had to put their lives at risk by serving in these areas. There have been two missionaries who were kidnapped. In June 1998, Fr. Luciano Benedetti was kidnapped in Zamboanga del Norte. Fr. Giancarlo Bossi was kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay in June 2007.
Nor was Fr. Pops the first to lose his life. Two other PIME missionaries made the ultimate sacrifice in the Philippines. In 1985 Norbert Manero Jr and other members of a paramilitary operation known as the Ilaga gunned down Fr. Tulio Favali. The military used the Ilaga to get rid of anyone who they suspected of being anti-government. In 1992, Fr. Salvatorre Carcedda, liked Father Pops, was killed by a man on a motorcycle.
These motorcycles were a trademark of the paramilitary death squads used during Gloria Arroyo’s presidency. The martyring of Fr. Fausto Tentorio may mark a resurgence of these squads. A coalition of Lumad organizations in Mindanao known as Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad (Kalumaran) believe this is a case. They are holding the president’s Oplan Bayanihan responsible for the assassination of Father Pops.
A supposed pacification campaign, Oplan Bayanihan is increasingly targeting the Lumad, who are more and more restless, in the Mindanao. That restlessness stems from mining interests and agribusiness that are encroaching onto their ancesteral lands. Several Lumad leaders who have been outspoken about these issues have been murdered because of this so-called program of pacification. In the past year, at least five assisinations can be laid at their door. Those people include Datu Lapugotan, a leader of the Lumad Higaonon, and his nephew Solte San-ogan, in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur. Jimmy Arion, Nicomedes de la Pena, Sr., Nicomedes de la Pena, Jr., and Ruben Gatong were all murdered in San Fernarndo, Bukidnon.
As these paramilitary organizations were recently endorsed as security and protection of mining companies by the president, the death squads in the Mindanao area may get bolder.
The government is playing a very dangerous game by using these groups. They were used against Muslims by Marcos. This resulted in “lost command” fanatics still found in the Mindanao area.
The word “fanatic” may not be a strong enough term. In the Favali case, his assassins were all convicted and imprisoned. However, one, Manero, was released in 2008. He went to the grave site of Favali, so that he may seek forgiveness. He declared himself to be converted in prison, and a new man. He continued to assert that he had killed Favali only because he had been accused, falsely, of burning Favali’s motorcycle, and wasn’t aware that he was a priest.
Reading the Supreme Court decision upholding Maneros’ conviction. It includes grisly details which contradict Manero’s claims to be born again. There are witnesses that say he, and others, conspired to kill another PIME missionary. They confronted Favali, and called him Padre, showing they knew who he was. Once they killed him, they defiled his body. There were also unsubstantiated rumors of canniblaism.
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