Is this a way to celebrate a silver Jubilee ?
Fr. Fausto Tentorio, or Fr. Pops, as he is fondly called, is a priest and an Italian missionary in the Philippines for the past twenty five years. Arriving in the Philippines in 1978, he first stayed in Ayala, [Archdiocese of Zamboanga], where he worked for two years and during which he acclimatized himself to the Filipino culture. He came to the Diocese of Kidapawan in 1980 and was stationed as mission administrator in the parish of Columbio. province of Sultan Kudarat. Here, he had his first taste of what it takes to be a missionary in a tri-people setting of Christians, Muslims, and indigenous tribes.
Five years later, in 1985, Fr. Tentorio was transferred to the mission station of Arakan. The new place was nothing new to him, as he had been coming in and out of this place to visit since the missionaries here are his confreres in the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).
By then, he had known what it takes to live with and work among a tri-people milieu of Christians, Muslims and indigenous tribes. To this day, his eighteenth year in Arakan, Fr. Tentorio finds this mission truly meaningful and fulfilling.
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.
It was during one of his visits to the lumad of Kitao-tao, Bukidnon that he came face to face with a near-death experience. The territory of the parish of Arakan extends its boundary to some parts of Kitao-tao Bukidnon. Here, Fr. Tentorio has organized the tribal organization called the Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa or TIKULPA, for short. What happened during his journey to Kitao-tao? We read on from his own account.
In the morning of October 6, 2003, I left the parish of Arakan, Cotabato at 8:00 o ‘clock together with four of our staff to visit some villages of indigenous people in the area of Kitao-tao, Bukidnon about, 30 kilometers away. This place is within the jurisdiction of the Catholic Mission Station of Arakan. After two hours of motorcycle and horseback riding, we reached New Kabalantian, Kitao-tao, Bukidnon where some people approached me and told me that armed men were waiting for me in Barangay Sagundanon, Kitao-tao, Bukidnon, three kilometers ahead where we were supposed to pass. They told me that these men belong to the group called Bagani, that they come from outside the area, and that their intention was to harm me, specifically by throwing hand grenades at me while I am passing by. This information was not new to me. In fact, I heard it the day before. Taking precautions, I decided to check the truth of this information by sending two people to Barangay Sagundanon while I waited in New Kabalantian. There they consulted Kagawad Punggok Gawilan, the officer in charge of the Peace and Order, who told them that there was no danger for me. When they came back and reported to me what the kagawad had said, I decided to proceed to our destination, but not passing through Barangay Sagundanon where the Bagani were camped. Instead, I diverted through the longer route of Sitio Balayong and Sitio Badyang. When the three people who were supposed to come and fetch us did not arrive, I became a little bit suspicious.
We walked for almost two hours and when we reached Sitio Malinao, Barangay White Culaman, Kitao-tao, Bukidnon, and the people came running to me, happy to see me alive. They told me that the three people who were supposed to meet me has been prevented to pass through Barangay Sagundanon by the Bagani, and the three children who were supposed to go to school in Barangay Kabalantian, Arakan, Cotabato where I was coming from were also sent back to their place. Some people who came from Barangay Sagundanon, the place where the Bagani were camped, told me that they heard that the Bagani would cut my head, roast my ears and eat them.
When I heard that, I became worried. But I trusted that the information given by the kagawad who said not to worry about these rumours was accurate. And so I decided to stay in the village of Sitio Malinao.
When night came, at around 7: 00 o ‘clock, I went to sleep in a small lumad hut with around 15 people. At about 7: 30 p,m. the people spotted few Bagani approaching the village, guided by Tata and Abing Gawilan, the sons of the kagawad who told me that there was nothing to worry about. They went straight to the hut that was next to where we were and asked information about Isidro Indao and his whereabouts.
Isidro Indao is the vice chair of the TINANANON- KULAMANON LUMADNONG PANAGHIUSA (TIKULPA). TIKULPA is an association of tribal groups in this area that I and the PIME Fathers of Arakan Mission organized and support. They also asked, “Where’s the priest?” The villagers answered, “he is not around here”, why are you looking for him,.
“Will you kill him ? ” One of the Bagani 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. We decided to listen to their advice because to try to run would have been too dangerous. We did not know how many of them were there, and where they were hiding.
The discussion went on for many hours. Among those present were some local villagers, most of them women. Some of the Bagani approached our hut and using a flashlight, peeped inside. We kept quiet because we were afraid to be discovered and killed. We did not believe that at that time of the night they just wanted to arrest and question us, since this group has a reputation for killing. Some of them wanted to go inside the hut but Marlinda Indao, one of the women villagers, told them that there is a patient inside the house and it would not be good for the patient to see them for it might induce nervousness. Fortunately, they heeded and so the two Baganis just stayed at the terrace while the others slept at the nearby hut. The Bagani stayed in this village all through the night. They posted themselves all over the area.
When dawn was breaking, the people were afraid that we could be spotted, since the hut was made of material that could allow anyone to see the inside. They had us hide ourselves inside a small bamboo cabinet and they put some of their children in front of it to dissimulate.
The following morning, October 7, at around 6: 30, some people from a nearby village invited the Bagani to their place to slaughter a pig. The invitation was just a ploy to take them to another place, so that we could leave. The Bagani went with them. When they left, we discovered that the group was composed of at least 16 men, with firearms (garrand, carbine, and locally-made shotgun) and bolos. The people who talked to them informed us that the Bagani said that they were under the jurisdiction of the 73rd IB, and were hired by a certain Lito Gawilan to “clear ” the area of
TIKULPA members and to create a “no man’s land”, and that they followed no laws. They also tagged me as a supporter of the NPA since according to them, I was planning to put up a plantation in that area and use the income to buy bullets for the said group.
When they were gone, we left the hut, avoiding places where the Bagani were camped. With the help of almost 300 people who facilitated our journey back, we were able to return to our parish in Arakan.
Having set foot in the Country in 1978, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME is celebrating his silver Jubilee this year. His near-death experience is certainly not an honourable way to celebrate a silver jubilee.