At the end of 1979, the Bishop of Zamboanga informed the PIME Missionaries that his clergy was ready to take over the parish of Ayala; thus they were free to take commitments in other dioceses.  PIME maintained a presence in Zamboanga with its Regional House and Procure, and those who were working in Ayala moved to the diocese of Kidapawan.  Kidapawan is in the heart of Mindanao, and considered by many to be the “Far West” of the Philippines: rich land, almost uninhabited, and vast untapped mineral resources. In the 80’s, however, (just as they had experienced in Siocon on the west coast of Mindanao), the people of its villages were living in terror, cougth in the middle of frequent battles between rebels and the Philippine Army. On the part of the goverment forces, and the groups supporting them, daily violence were perpetrated against people suspected to help muslim or communist rebels. Some english words became very familiar: “hamletting” (entire villages taken over by the military and held under strict control, with interrogations, murders, torture, and burned homes), “disappeared” (persons suspected by the armed groups, who disappeared without a trace, and it was most dangerous to go about asking questions as to their whereabouts), “salvaging” (summary executions of suspected persons or families).  Aside the insurgency and counter-insurgency there were also private vendettas of families or ethnic groups, land conflicts, and general violence spread by the different factions. Placing themselves at the service of the Jesuit Bishop of Kidapawan, Federico Escaler in 1980 (and after him Bishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI), the italian PIME priests were sent to Tulunan, Columbio and Arakan Valley. There, because the situation of violence, they tried to implement an apostolate in defense of justice and human rights.  In Tulunan they found a group called “The Ilaga”. ‘Ilaga’ means ‘rat’, and they were armed paramilitary groups formed to fight the Muslims who, it was said, were killing Christians like rats.  At the beginning the Ilaga seemed positive, because the Muslims were more numerous and better armed, and were terrorizing the Christians.  The Ilaga defended the villages and fields of the Christians, but then some groups (like that of the Manero brothers who killed Fr. Tullio Favali) began to commit atrocities thinking themselves to be invincible.  These groups, sustained by the military and the government, acted more like criminals then para-military and out of control. The people knew; they heard the cries of the torture victims, but they remained silent.  Whoever wanted to enter the Ilaga had to prove his courage by killing a muslim. These are facts that the people in Tulunan people today still remember.  The Muslims also had their fanatic groups, called ‘Barracuda.’

The Church in Kidapawan (which became a Diocese in 1982), born and grown in the midst of conflict, developed an Apostolate of Education toward Justice and Peace, especially through the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The PIME priests were among the first proponents of these small Christian communities of Bible sharing, common prayer, evangelization, charitable and social action. Out of these BECs emerged the pastoral agents and Christian leaders who changed the face of the local church with their commitment to the defense of human rights.  With hundreds of initiatives, too many to list here, they concretely brought about what had been spoken of many times in Church documents: the preferential option for the poor, the human person as the life of the Church, building a new world beginning with the least powerful. Tensions continued to mount.  In 1985 alone the Diocese of Kidapawan could count more than 70 people killed for doing nothing more than speaking and working for peace and justice, defending the people from all kinds of violence and seeking dialogue with the Muslims. Among these was Fr.Tullio Favali,PIME, Parish Priest of Tulunan, killed on April 11, 1985 by a paramilitary group led by the notorious Norberto Manero, alias Kumander Bucay.  The funeral of Fr. Tullio was a triumph, almost a national festival.  The atmosphere was one of life, and not death. More than 30,000 people came from all over the country, including 150 priests and hundreds of sisters.  Throughout the Philippines posters displayed a blood-covered Tullio and the words, “How many more?”  This quickly became the symbol and slogan of the nonviolent people’s resistance against the Marcos regime.  Less than a year later, on February 26, 1986, the “revolution of flowers and rosaries” would remove Marcos from power without bloodshed, a unique happening in recent history. On September 4, 1987 the two Manero brothers were convicted of murder (the very first time that paramilitary operatives had been convicted in a regular court process. Ironically on the same day the police issued a warrant of arrest for Frs. Luciano Ghezzi and Peter Geremia with the charge of rape committed against a non-identified girl. They were detained inside the ABC hall in Makilala (togheter with other accused) for few weeks and were visited by thousand of people. At the end of september the accusation was dropped as the crime was never commited (fabricated). (After more then 20 years most of the members who killed Favali have carried out their sentence in prison and Norberto Manero was pardoned in 2008. One of the principal accused, Arsenio Villamor, Jr., was subsequently captured. In January 1999 the trial against him opened in Kidapawan).
Aside Fr. Favali seven PIMEs were assigned in the Diocese of Kidapawan in the first 10 years: Frs. Peter Geremia, Alessandro Bauducci, Fausto Tentorio, Luciano Ghezzi, Bruno Vanin and Michele Carlone. After leaving the Parish of Tulunan (1990) PIMEs remained among the christians, indigenous people B’laans and muslims in Columbio Valley and 120 km far away in Arakan Valley mainly inhabitated by settlers coming from the islands of Panay and Negros and indigenous people called Manobos. For them these were difficult years. Violence was as naturally as water and it shaped the society in which they had to stay anyway. They did what it was right to do, to teach people how to resist and to stop being violent otherwise there is no future.

Advertisements