By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – The lawyer handling the case of the killing of Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio is dismayed over what he said was the slow process the Department of Justice (DOJ) was employing in handling the case of the slain activist-priest.
Noel Neri of the Pro-Labor Labor Center joined leaders of the Promotion of Church Peoples Response (PCPR) and human rights groups Karapatan and Hustisya in a dialogue with DOJ officials last November 17. The date marked the first month since the brutal killing of the Italian Missionary Father of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME).
“Granted that the DOJ is also busy with other cases and concerns, it still could have acted much more swiftly in the case of Fr. Tentorio’s brutal murder. For one thing, it could have immediately ordered the arrest of the soldiers and members of paramilitary units in the periphery of the church where Fr. Pops was killed. These armed elements should have been immediately considered suspects in the case. There were also many policemen in the area; none of them have been questioned directly in connection to the murder,” he said.
The labor and human rights lawyer said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other government bodies involved in investigating the case might try to do a shortcut and arrest random suspects and present them to the media. “It’s not unlikely that this could happen; we have this happen before in similar cases where a high-profile individual has been killed by suspects from the police or military but random suspects were presented just to show that the investigations have borne fruit. We don’t want fall guys or innocent civilians to be tagged with the murder of Fr. Tentorio—we want his real killers and the masterminds of his murder to be arrested, prosecuted and punished,” he said.
Fr. Joe Dizon of Kairos Philippines said that during the dialogue with the DOJ’s Francisco Baraan, head of the department’s task force on extrajudicial killings, Baraan promised that the DOJ was doing all that it can to bring closure to the case.
“He assured us that work is being done to ensure that the case is resolved,” he said.
Baraan reportedly requested Dizon and the other PCPR officials and allies who sat in the dialogue to limit the release of information he shared with them, specifically sensitive details pertinent to the case.
“He did, however, tell us that the DOJ has already established the motive of Fr. Tentorio’s killers: he was not killed as a part of a robbery gone wrong or because he had enemies. He was killed because of his advocacies and because he was a good priest who carried out his calling faithfully and well. Fr. Tentorio was a passionate advocate against irresponsible and destructive mining and was a champion of the indigenous people of Arakan Valley. He was silenced by those who wanted to stop what he fought for,” Dizon said.
For his part, Fr. Giovanni Re, a colleague of Fr. Tentorio from the PIME, said those whom the slain priest served and those who loved him in return can only hope that justice be given him.
“It appears that we have no choice but to wait and see; but I hope that we will continue to take action to keep the struggle for justice for Fr. Pops alive. I hope that we will not let the authorities or the public forget this case, and in this way, we can also bring to the light the many other cases of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations. Fr. Tentorio’s death was not in vain, and we should continue what he started,” he said.
Bearing the mark of extrajudicial killing
In the meantime, the Justice for Fr. Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio Movement released a statement on the results of the fact-finding mission it conducted last October 18 to 19. It said that it was able to establish that the circumstances surrounding the brutal killing of Fr. Pops and even the execution of the murder resemble that of the method and style distinct to most cases of extra-judicial killings.
“The fact that it’s been a month since the killing, no single culprit is presented or arrested, and presented in the courts fortifies this pattern of state-sponsored killings,” the group said.
The fact-finding mission also found out that the motive of the killing is linked to the active missionary work of Fr. Tentorio with the poor peasants, indigenous peoples and their struggles for the environment, their land and their rights. The group urged DOJ secretary Leila De Lima to pursue the investigation and look into the involvement of the military in the priest’s killing.
“The DOJ should ensure the enforcement of punitive actions against the perpetrators and those who masterminded the brutal murder,” the group said.
Aquino continues policy of killing critics
Finally, PCPR secretary general Nardy Sabino said President Benigno Aquino III remains indifferent to the continuing and worsening state of human rights under his administration. He said Fr. Tentorio was the 56th victim of extrajudicial killings of activists and human rights advocates under his watch, and the second member the clergy to be also killed.
“The Aquino government continues to implement the policy of eliminating those who are socially active and critical against development aggression. His killing confirms yet again that the Aquino government is implementing the same counter-insurgency policy under the guise of peace and development that was employed by the previous regime. As commander-in-chief of the AFP, Aquino has done nothing to stop the AFP and paramilitary groups from committing heinous human rights violations including abductions and extrajudicial killings,” he said.
The PCPR is set to sponsor a concelebrated mass marking the 40th day of Fr. Tentorio’s killing on November 26, 6pm at the Quiapo Church. There will be a candle-light ceremony at Plaza Miranda. and international human rights bodies.