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Southern Philippines indigenous peoples mourn death of an Italian priest missionary and hold Aquino accountable

It is a great tragedy and irony that during the indigenous peoples month of October, a great advocate of the Lumads has been ruthlessly shot and killed. Lumads are the largest indigenous peoples of Mindanao.

Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME, Italian priest and missionary to the lumad tribes of Arakan Valley, died of multiple gunshot wounds in the morning of Monday October 17, as he was preparing to go to a clergy meeting in Kidapawan City. Initial reports of his death said the assailant is a helmet-wearing, motorcycle-riding gunman, typical of the military death squads that tainted the Arroyo regime.

Tentorio is the third Italian PIME ( Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) priest gunned down in Mindanao and the second in the Diocese of Kidapawan. Fr. Tullio Favali was gunned down in 1985 , while Fr. Salvador Carzedda was gunned down in Zamboanga City in 1992.

Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad (KALUMARAN) or Lumad Peoples’ Strength a Mindanao based indigenous peoples organization in their press release holds responsible Oplan Bayanihan ( Operation Helping Together) the counter-insurgency program of President Aquino as the motivating force behind Fr. Tentorio’s death.

Fr. Pops, as he was fondly called, had criticized the military for its operations in the community he embraced, and pronounced the "peace and development" programs in Arakan Valley as contrary to the aspirations of the people.

Fr. Pops worked with local indigenous peoples organizations to build a school for Lumad youth in Arakan Valley and develop the local economy through sustainable agriculture. Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa (TIKULPA), a local organization which he and his staff have supported through capacity building programs, has stood firm against agri-business plantations and other corporate business interests in the area.

His work has brought ire among local tribal dealers and government officials who want to reap profits from the ancestral domain of the Manobo and other tribes in the area. In 2003, Fr. Pops was hunted down by Bagani paramilitaries in Kitaotao, Bukidnon, but he was shielded by the community and the threat was deterred.

The death of Fr. Pops is a continuation of the reign of terror in Lumad communities that began under the Marcos regime and has persisted through subsequent presidencies. President Aquino is pursuing a low-intensity conflict strategy against those individuals and communities that work for alternative, community-centered forms of development preventing the entrance of foreign capital and big business in ancestral domain areas and rural communities.

Fr. Pops death was preceded this year by the deaths of Lumad Higaonon leader Datu Lapugotan and his nephew Solte San-ogan in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, as well as the deaths of Jimmy Arion, Nicomedes de la Peña, Sr., Nicomedes de la Peña, Jr., and Ruben Gatong in San Fernando, Bukidnon. Lumad paramilitary groups formed and supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines are responsible for their deaths.

KALUMARAN condemned the killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio and held the Aquino regime accountable for this crime.

Archbishop Orlando B. Quivedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato who was in Bangkok for an Asian Bishop Conference felt so sad and condemned the killing. He called it as the crime that cries out from heaven.

“ If the perpetrators think that his murder would silence priests, religious sisters and brothers, and bishops from proclaiming the justice of God’s kingdom, they are wrong. The blood of martyrs like Fr. Fausto fans the daring and courage of those who care about peace and justice enough to sacrifice themselves while travelling the road of active non-violence. I strongly appeal to the authorities to search for the perpetrators and bring to justice”, said the bishop in his press release October 17.

Meanwhile , the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) also condemned in the strongest possible terms the killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME an RMP member and a foreign missionary priest of Cotabato Southern Mindanao.

“As an RMP member he was very active in his support, encourage, and push forward initiatives working for the promotion of the human rights of the poor farmers and indigenous people Arakan Valley. He took up the defense of the poor and the oppressed against every form of social injustice. What happened to him is a clear manifestation of silencing his prophetic voice in defending the rights of the rural poor in the countryside’, lamented Sr. Francis Anover, RSM, National Coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

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