by fr. Peter Geremia
Immediately after the killing of Fr. Fausto last October 17, large crowds of people who attended the vigils in Arakan and the funeral in Kidapawan expressed their shock and sadness and kept on shouting “justice for Fr. Pops and other victims like him!”. The authorities under order of Pres. Aquino organized the TASK FORCE FAUSTO with the mandate to identify the perpetrators and to file a legal case as soon as possible. The many groups who support the cause of Fr. Fausto formed a Justice for Fr. Pops Movement which organized Fact Finding and Dialogues in order to bring out the evidence related to the case.
Last December, there was an initial arrest of one suspect, then February 14, 2012 the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed charges against 4 suspects. A number of witnesses went into hiding for fear of being eliminated. Then on April 26, together with the Italian Ambassador we were able to meet inManilawith Hon. Leila De Lima, Secretary of the Department of Justice and the top officials of the NBI. We presented new evidence pointing to a paramilitary group along with a team of hired killers as the actual executioners. However, we are still looking for more evidence to identify the masterminds. There are also contradictory testimonies which show that some witnesses were forced to give false information in order to divert the investigation from the real planners and executioners.
We made the following requests to the Secretary of Justice:
- Please give instructions to the NBI to unify the conflicting testimonies and to include the new evidence.
- We requested that the investigations be extended to other suspects and that the masterminds be identified.
- In particular, the participation of the military should also be investigated to identify who had command responsibility on the group allegedly assigned to do the killing or who gave the go signal to the masterminds.
- We requested recommendation for the WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM for the key witnesses and their families for a total of 27 person who are hiding for fear of retaliation. They say that all members of the families including children and relatives, may be targets of retaliation.
- We presented a petition from people in Arakan requesting that the paramilitary group involved be disarmed and the Special Forces be pulled out because of many documented reports of threats and human rights violations which keep the population in state of fear and that’s the main cause why other witnesses are still afraid to come out in the open.
The case now is filed at the Provincial Fiscal Office in Kidapawan. We have a team of lawyers who provide free legal assistance. We had to provide sanctuary for several families of witnesses and of course this entails expenses for all involved in these activities.
The legal processes are very slow and tedious, we expect a long road to justice for Fr. Fausto at the legal level. We share the belief that this can give a strong signal to prevent other extra judicial killings and to reassure the communities where Fr. Fausto joined in solidarity with his people that justice is possible and it can pave the way to peace and reconciliation.
We thank one and all for prayers and moral support and for all generous contributions for this cause.
With gratitude, in the name of Fr. Pops who contributed so much for so many years and even added the final contribution of his life,
In the name of the PIME Fathers in the Diocese of Kidapawan, and of the Justice for Pops Movements,