ARAKAN, North Cotabato – “I learned a lot from his experience here in his pastoral work Everyone knew him here — from grandparents to grandchildren,” Fr. Giovanni Vettoretto, assistant parish priest, said of Fr. Fausto “Tatay Pops” Tentorio, parish priest and director of the Indigenous Peoples Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan who was gunned down Monday morning in the convent’s garage, just as he was about to drive himself to a monthly Presbyterium in Kidapawan City.
Vettoretto, who has been assistant to Fr. Tentorio in the last eight years, said he learned much from his mentor, particularly in serving the Lumads (indigenous peoples).
Both priests belong to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). Vettoretto is 43; Fr. Tentorio, who arrived in the Philippines in 1978 and was assigned in Arakan starting 1985, would have celebrated his 60th birthday in January.
He said in the eight years he was assisting the priest, he had never seen Fr. Tentorio get mad at anyone. ”There were times when I would easily get mad, maybe because I was young and I didn’t know the people yet, but he would always tell me to let it pass,” referring to how one should deal with misunderstandings.
Vettoretto called on the parishioners to remain calm and united to be able to efficiently continue the programs of the church. “Maski kulang na isa, padayon lang gihapon” (Even if we’re less one, let’s continue working), he said.
“Even if this is very painful for us in the PIME, I hope the people will continue to stand by their principles and I hope that this would not ruin the relationships of the people here,” he said .
The priest also hopes the killers would be hounded by their conscience. The gunman fired ten bullets at Fr. Tentorio shortly before 8 a.m. in the garage of the convent, then ran towards the road where his accomplice was waiting on a motorbike.
The police have not established any lead in the case.
Vettorello said Fr. Tentorio was his mentor not only in his ministry but also in learning the local language when he arrived here in 2003.
Almost every night, he said, Fr Tentorio would teach him how to speak Ilonggo and Cebuano.
Fr. Tentorio established several day care centers in different parts of Arakan and in some villages in the neighboring town of Kitaotao, Bukidnon.
Wilfreo Yabe, a former churchworker, recalled the kindness of Fr. Tentorio towards the Lumads. He said the priest would ask him to cook and pack lunch for the Lumads attending meetings.
“After every meeting or training, he would not let the Lumads go home without their packed lunch because many of them had to walk hours to return home,” said the former cook of the parish. Yabe now works as a government employee in the municipality.
Fr. Tentorio also organized the tribal organization called the Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa or TIKULPA.
Tikulpa has been active in organizing the Lumad communities and frontrunner in campaigning against the entry of large-scale plantations, mining and, human rights violations in the area.