KIDAPAWAN, February 8, 2019 by Fr. Peter Geremia
On March 31, 2017, a new state prosecutor, Peter L. Ong, was appointed and tasked to conduct an in-depth re-investigation on the Tentorio Case.
This new prosecutor reviewed all the previous testimonies and new testimonies were added. He came to Arakan and Kidapawan several times with his team for ocular verification and with great skill he confirmed the validity of their testimonies. On October 20, 2017 he signed his report with the following recommendations:
- To dismiss the charges against the two Muslim suspects, Jose and Dima Sampulna, who were included in the first complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on February 10, 2012;
- To file a new complaint for “Murder” against the following;
- Nene Durado (identified with the “ilaga” fanatic group of Settlers who fought against the Muslims and Tribals since 1970’s and even now continue to take over more and more lands of the Tribals).
- Jimmy and Robert Ato (suspected hired killers)
- Jan Corbala ( a commander of a group of tribal warriors called “BAGANI”) and 3 members of his group.
- Former Arakan Mayor Romulo Tapgos and 2 Arakan Businessmen.
- Col. Joven Gonzales and Major Mark Espiritu (2 military officers in command of the 57th IB and the Special Forces Units at the time of the killing of Fr. Fausto).
The report of Prosecutor Ong was published on November 2017 and the news caused reactions both in the Philippines and Abroad. Four key witnesses and their families were rushed into safe houses under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) constantly guarded like prisoners. Then there was another delay until May 2018 due to the change of the DOJ Secretary. Finally the new DOJ secretary Menardo Guevarra appointed a new team of Prosecutors who completed their preliminary investigation and on December 2018 they informed us that the case was submitted for resolution and the trial is expected to start soon, unless there are more delays…
Such a long process, more than seven years, so many investigations but no trial yet. What results can this long struggle “For Justice for Pops” have? What results for all the sacrifices of the witnesses who are risking their lives, especially the four families who have abandoned their homes and work and are hiding with their children in safe houses? They are tired of waiting, But they have become different persons, at first afraid, but gradually more determined. Then the efforts of our main lawyers, Atty. Gregorio Andolana who handled the Favali Case, and Atty. Manuel P. Quibod, the Dean of the Law Department in the Ateneo of Davao, plus other Lawyers who are providing free legal assistance to many human rights victims. Then the financial support, especially from the “Associazione Non Dimentichiamo Padre Fausto” from the Tentorio family and friends. Also the government has invested large budgets and lately they have received funds from the Asia Foundation which volunteered to support this case because they noticed great community support from Arakan, Kidapawan and even national and international concerned groups…
What results from all these efforts?
We were tempted to stop seeking justice in court, but the re-investigation of Prosecutor Ong and the latest testimonies have clarified that the main proponents of the killing were the Ilaga Group that have occupied the tribal lands in Barangay Dallag and surrounding areas at the boundary of Arakan and Davao. In fact, according to the testimonies, the main suspect who brought the plan to kill Fausto to the Bagani group was NENE DURADO who is widely known as the most notorious Ilaga “Killer” in that area. According to the Tribals in the 1970’s he personally tortured and killed 7 Datus or Tribal Leaders and burned their houses and forced their communities to abandon their lands. Thus Nene Durado and the Ilaga settlers have occupied and developed most of the Tribal lands in that area, and even recently Nene Durado was repeatedly involved in ambushes and threats against the Tribals.
ILAGA is an acronym for “Ilonggo Land Grabbing Association “, the same movement of the Manero group who killed Fr. Tullio Favali, PIME in Tulunan in 1985. The Ilaga enjoyed, and continue to enjoy immunity and the full support of the military because they are used as vigilantes in fighting both Muslim and leftist Rebels.
How can we abandon this case that has become a test case to show that justice is possible in court for Pops and many other similar Extra Judicial Killings (EJK)?
Now the trial can confirm the identity of the perpetrators and their main motive. Most Tribals say that the main motive or reason for killing Fr. Fausto was because Fausto was identified with the Tribals in Arakan as their protector since most of them asked for his help for all their needs. His solidarity and support to the Tribals, all his programs of education, organizing , sustainable agriculture and health etc. were resented by the Ilaga overlords as potential threats to their landgrabbing, especially when some Tribals began to reclaim their ancestral lands with the help of Fr. Fausto. The Ilaga also spread suspicions that both the Tribal leaders and Fausto have connection with the rebels. The trial can clarify who participated in the plan and the actual killing of Fr. Fausto. And finally the trial can bring some justice not only to Fr. Fausto, but also to many Tribal victims. It can be a warning to landgrabbers and it may contribute to restrain those who are accustomed to killing with impunity, to show that the practice of impunity may not last forever.
The trial can also provide some security to those who continue Pops’ programs. The legacy of Fr. Fausto can encourage and inspire more volunteers to serve the poor. In his “Last Will” Fausto quoted the Bible text “Oh man you know what is good and what God requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and he added in the local dialect “Your Dreams are my Dreams, Your Struggles are my Struggles; You and I are one as partners in building the Kingdom of God”.
Jesus was the one who proposed to build the Kingdom of God, that is the Kingdom or system of justice and peace, and that was also the reason why He was killed. Fausto wishes that all may understand that this was his motivation in serving the poor. And that is what the evidence in the trial can confirm.