by Frank Nally, Columban

The Philippine Misereor Partnership Anti–Mining Campaign strongly condemns and shares in the deep bereavement for another great loss in the aspirations of peoples and communities for a more just, peaceful and sustainably developed society.

Fr. Fausto Tentorio, a 59–year old Italian priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), a Rome-based missionary group, was mercilessly shot to death by an unidentified assailant and motor cycle–riding accomplice earlier this morning, October 17, 2011, in the church compound of Arakan Valley, North Cotabato where he is parish priest of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish.

We profoundly express condolences and share in the grief of his family, his community and congregation, his diocese of Kidapawan  and  the peoples and communities he has shepherded for many years, in this senseless killing of a man of peace. We call on the authorities to conduct serious investigation on this most recent killing of human rights, indigenous peoples and environmental advocates and activists. We demand justice be served for his death and for the many others who have been killed before him.
Fr. Tenorio had been in Mindanao for more than 30 years. To the local folks and communities with whom he has shared his selfless life with, he was known for his missionary’s zeal for championing the rights of the indigenous people. As the coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan, he has tirelessly advocated and supported the tribal organizations in their struggles .
In the process of  fulfilling his missionary work among the poor and  the marginalized particularly the indigenous peoples communities, Fr. Tenorio was never unfazed by threats to his life believed to be resulting from his crossing paths with powerful interest groups and its armed cohorts . According to blog entries of a fellow missionary assigned in the town of Columbio,  last year the Community Based Special Operation Teams soldiers who set up their outposts among the civilians, threatened to paralize peoples organizations and even church activities. They organized the Barangay Defense System in an attempt to use civilians as counter insurgency agents and to protect the projects of Development Aggression like mining, plantations, etc.

The same blog also posted anti-mining sentiments and strong opposition to Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI )  by the Tribal Filipino Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan, of which Fr. Tenorio was Coordinator. It highlighted the immense threats mining poses to the ecological balance around Columbio and in several adjacent provinces. The blog also expressed dissatisfaction that last year, the public scoping hearings on the Environmental Assessment  conducted and presented by SMI  did not give a fair chance to the opposition to present their side.

The Dioceses of Marbel, Digos and Kidapawan  are currently coordinating efforts to stop SMI from getting its Environmental  Compliance Certificate (ECC) from DENR to operate its Tampakan Project.

Fr. Tenorio’s colleagues believe that his killing could have been related to his work defending the rights of indigenous people and helping them hold on to their ancestral land. “It was a delicate mission because when you deal with the marginalized and the poor, you are bound to step on the toes of some people and this could have been the source of the problem of why he was killed,” Fr Giulio Mariani, PIME, said  in an interview with the Associated Press .

Meanwhile, Atty. Mario E. Maderazo, PMPI-AMC Project Officer said:
“This senseless killing  should be a wake up call for the Aquino Administration to reconsider its recent decision of backing the  formation and  deployment of militias to beef up security for mining corporations. This move will only perpetuate the conditions which made the killing of Fr. Faustino possible. The rule of law will not spring from use of arms and armed militias. Only an empowered citizenry capable of combating poverty, inequality and injustice in their communities will bring genuine peace to our land and people.  Let not  the death of  Fr Tenorio  paralyze us. Let it be a lasting testimony to our resolve to pursue peace.”