Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – “Kung maaari, kayo po ang gumawa ng pamamaraan (If possible, find a way) to obtain information.”  This was the appeal made by Italian priest Peter Geremia, colleague of murdered missionary Father Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio, to the members of the Congressional Committee on Human Rights during its first day of onsite hearing Thursday in the city.

The Committee tackled 15 House Resolutions which called for justice to resolve reported various cases of human rights violations in the country.  Last month the committee held a hearing in Visayas. According to the Committee Vice-Chair Davao City First District Representative Karlo Nograles they found that there was “a certain pattern similar to what is happening in Mindanao.”

While there may be an international definition of extra-judicial killings, Nograles said, the country has yet to legislate a law to define “summary killings.” Frustrated with the slow wheels of justice, Geremia requested for the Task Force Tentorio, a multi-agency body created by the Department of Justice, to complete its report and findings.

Geremia said his group had already requested for the investigation of former Arakan Valley Police Chief Benjamin Rioflorido, the military’s Captain Mark Espiritu and members of the ‘Bagani’ paramilitary forces. Geremia said a witness in their custody narrated that Rioflorido was the one who accosted the paramilitary troops who were out to assassinate Tentorio on October 15, 2011.   The paramilitary troops were said to have a sack of firearms and the military’s Espiritu was allegedly the one who signed to release the firearms.

Geremia questioned why the Task Force has not probed the involvement of Rioflorido and Espiritu.  In particular, Geremia wants to know the connection between the accosted Bagani members and Espiritu. During Friday’s hearing, police officers said that the sack intercepted in Arakan last October 14, 2011 contained two M16 rifles, a Caliber 0.45 handgun and an amulet.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the guns were used for their civil-military operations.  They also denied any knowledge on the presence or nature of the Bagani. In a supplemental affidavit filed last April, Geremia’s witness said that he saw Jan Corbala or “Kumander Iring” (Cebuano for cat), a known Bagani leader, with alleged triggerman Jimmy Ato and Jimmy’s brother Robert. Another witness who claimed to be a Bagani member also testified before the Congressional hearing and said that six people, himself included, plotted to kill Tentorio. He added that Corbala was the one who planned the murder and was given PHP 50,000 (USD 1,213.62) by the military to kill the Italian missionary.  This witness added that the planning was done in a Bagani detachment in Danatan in Arakan town, Cotabato province.

Geremia asked the congressional body to seek the Department of National Defense (DND) on what information they have on the Bagani — who’s arming them and their whereabouts. Geremia added that the same group plotted to kill Tentorio in 2003 in the boundary of Bukidnon and Arakan.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares shared that they received “an official denial” from the State forces.  In a letter dated October 30, 2010, the DND through Undersecretary Pio Butino, said that the groups Bagani, Alamara and New Indigenous People’s Army for Reforms  are not affiliated with the AFP nor are they armed, trained or under its supervision. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/