Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Killing of Father Fausto Tentorio in North Cotabato Province, Business as Usual

Just yesterday I posted about the villagers in Valencia City's Barangay Guinoyuran marking the 20th Anniversary of Father Nerilito "Neri" Satur's brutal murder. Father Neri, the Assistant Parish Priest for Guinoyuran who had been concurrently serving his adopted community as a "Forest Guard," Filipino-speak for "forest ranger," died on October 14th, 1991. Neri had been appointed as one of five Catholic clergymen from the Diocese of Bukidnon, by its then-Bishop Gaudencio Rosales, to serve as Forest Guards. Bishop Rosales had done so in order to enforce Bukidnon Province's moratorium on logging, implemented by the DENR (Department of Energy and Natural Resources) in late-1986.

Opposing Father Neri's environmental partisanship were a group of Higaon-on Tribal CAAs, or Civilian Armed Auxiliaries, more commonly called "CAFGUS" in reference to the most common of the CAA entities, the Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit, though at the time it signified Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit. This detachment, the Guinoyuran Post, had gravitated towards organised criminal activity. Even today, 20 years later, that part of the island is still very remote and so the CAAs made money in the tablon-tablon, or illegal logging trade that fed three full time saw mills in just Valencia alone (which hadn't been made a city at that point in time.

By October of 1991 Father Neri had confiscated nearly 7,000 board feet of prime timber, an astounding amount and all the more so when one realises that the then-30 year old priest had but 11 months guarding the jungle around his adopted village. On the day in question, October 14th, 1991, Neri left the rectory where he lived in Valencia proper and picked up his friend and assistant, 20 year old Jacqueline for the long ride over the 18 kilometer dirt track leading uphill to Barangay Guinoyuran. The barangay was holding its patron saint fiesta at which Father Neri was scheduled to perfom a Mass. Finishing by the early afternoon Jacquelin and Neri gathered their few belongings and began their long ride down hill into the centre of Valencia. The sordid tale is told in its entierty in the post entitled, "Remembering Father Nerilito "Neri" Dazo Satur."

Ironically, while lamenting a time and place which relegates people who devote their lives towards helping others (or so the story goes) as mere game or a hunted quarry, I learned that yet another Catholic priest had lost his life to Mindanao's almost senseless violence just that very morning. Father Fausto Tentorio, known to his parishoners as "Tatay Pops" (Father Pops), an Italian priest who has lived and worked on Mindanao for well over three decades was shot to death as he was about to leave his parish on the Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, and North Cotabato Provincial borders for the long hard ride to North Cotabato's capital, Kidapawan City for the Diocesan Monthly Presbyterium at the Bishop's Residence.

A member of PIME, or the Pontificium Institutum Missionum Exterarum (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions from the original Latin), a Vatican-based Order devoted to missionary work, he arrived at PIME's Regional Headquarters in Mindanao's Zamboanga City fresh from Rome in 1978, just a year after his ordination. First assigned to Zamboanga City's Barangay Ayala in that same province of Zamboanga del Norte as an Assistant Parish Priest Father Fausto immersed himself in the local culture. Two years later, in 1980, as the Archdiocese of Zamboanga began preperations to launch the Prelature of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay Province, where most PIME priests were then serving in the municipality of Aurora, the Archbishop of Zamboanga felt that PIME had fufilled much of its mandate in developing new and/or struggling parishes and converting whatever Lumad (Animist Hilltribesmen) hadn't already been strong armed and shoved into the faith of "love and compassion." Needing new Lumads to ruin, Zamboanga's Bishop took the bulk of PIME's recruits, pointed them towards Kidapawan (not yet a city) in North Cotabato Province and screamed, "Go! ...Besides, the Bishop of the then-Prelature of Kidapawan was to become the Bishop in Ipil. As a Jesuit he naturally wanted to associate with Jesuits and so the Archbishop of Zamboanga obliged him by shuffling the deck. PIME, as foreigners with a negligible presence were organisationally expendable. PIME (most) moved to Kidapawan while Jesuits in Kidapawan moved to Zamboanga Sibugay Province (if Catholics cannot even get along amongst themselves how can they try to preach to the rest of us? Just a thought).

Father Fausto, with most other PIME missionary priests transferred to the Archdiocese of Cotabato and its Prelature of Kidapawan with its headquarters in the town of the same name. The Archbishop assigned Fausto to the municipality of Columbio in the neighbouring province of Sultan Kudarat where he was soon made its Mission Director. In 1985 Father Fausto was again transferred, this time to the municipality of Arakan in the province of North Cotabato, where he stayed until his death. Arakan sits in a deep valley in the foothills rising out of Maguindanao Province and leading into the bordering the aforementioned provinces of Bukidnon and Davao del Sur.

It was that same year, 1985, that another PIME missionary priest assigned to North Cotabato Province became a bizarre footnote in Philippine History. Father Tullio Favali was an Assistant Parish Priest in the municipality of Tulunan where he served beside yet another PIME missionary, the infamous Father Peter "Pads" Geremia. For the sake of brevity I will try to keep this short and sweet by only offering the scantest of outlines, though I am also composing a companion entry on the murders and kidnappings of other PIME missionary priests that have taken place on Mindanao; when people discuss Father Tullio they always talk about his having been killed by Ilaga paramilitary leader Norberto Manero Jr. The story goes that Manero killed Father Tullio and then, in line with his cultic religious beliefs he and his group ate Father Tullio's brain. The story has become iconic of the anarchy always associated with our fair isle, Mindanao. The problem though is that none of it is true. Norberto Manero Jr. did NOT kill Father Tullio. Norberto Manero Jr. did NOT cannabalise Father Tullio, let alone eat his brain. Again, that will be discussed in the companion entry I will post just after this one goes up. Likewise, the KFR, or Kidnapping for Ransom of PIME Fathers Giancarlo Bossi and Giuseppe Bendetti and the murder of Father Salvador Carzedda will also be discussed at length in that same entry.

Father Fausto himself had been no stranger to the wanton violence and two faced gross assaults that characterise life on Mindanao. On October 6th, 2003 Fausto and four lay assistants drove by motorcycle to the municipality of Kitaotao in Bukidnon Province to speak to a Barangay Captain about Fausto's then-nascent organisation, TIKULPA (Tinananon Kulamanon Lumadong Panaghiusa). Once in the town's Barangay Poblacion they switched to ponies for the ride up country to the town's Barangay Sagundanon. Arriving at the midway point in Barangay Kabalantian at 3PM he was told by villagers that Alamara paramilitary soldiers were waiting at their intended destination of Barangay Sagundanon to ambush and kill Fausto, the Barangay Captain being the father of two Alamara leaders and an uncle to the highest ranking Alamara in that municipality, Kumander Bansilan.

Alamara is one of several tribal-based force multipliers co-opted under the CAFGU programme though run under an entirely different protocol according to a sub-directory (OPlan Alsa Lumad) of the formerano COIN (Counterinsurgency) blueprint Bantay Laya II. Taking tribes existing in the hinterlands and using elements within them as a counterweight to the Maoists (NPA) sounds real good on paper and indeed, if properly managed it could be just that, the reality is quite different. Taking cultures that thrive on violence and giving them the means to create even more sophisticated violence must be micro-managed. In any event, I digress too much as usual, back to the show...

Villagers in Barangay Kabalantian saved Father Tentorio's life by warning him of what awaited him and his four layworkers. Too far up country to make it back to the town proper safely before nightfall the nervous missionary priest availed himself to the villagers' hospitality. Shacking up with the layworkers and more than a dozen villagers nervously excited to have a rare visitor amongst them, all the more so that it was a priest, a person of respect, they all catiously laid awake praying to survive the long night ahead. At nightfall the Bagani solders walked out of the jungle having skirted the rutted trail as they moved downhill from Father Tentorio's original destination in the hopes that they would be able to waylay the priest and his companions.

As the paramilitary soldiers began searching the villager's homes a quick thinking man suggested that the Bagani join him and other villagers who were heading to another barangay for a party. At first reluctant the soldiers stomachs did the final convincing when that same villager promised that "lechon baboy" (roast pig) was on the menu. In the end a yearning for pork saved Father Fausto and as soon as the Bagani had left guided by that same quick thinking villager, the group rushed headlong down the trail on their ponies and back into the town proper.

PIME, Father Fausto's Order is a product of the Church liberalisation that grew out of Vatican II where the Roman Catholic Church sought to engage non-Catholics with inter-faith encounters and a greater respect for other ways of life. Priests such as Father Fausto sought to "protect" indigenous cultures although, since they are also evangelising (as in "converting") they too are engaging in a large amount of hypocrisy. Moreover, wherever PIME goes division and anomosity follows. Though, like the majority of Catholic institutions in the Philippines PIME supports environmental causes, it often does so without respecting traditional practices like the typical slash and burn farming upon which most Lumad Tribes subsist. While PIME supports indigenous languages it does so by using these languages to try and change fundamental aspects of tribal culture.

There is a tendency amongst many Westerners to see indigenous groups as somehow more authentic, more in touch with their own environments, and somehow more wiser and noble than other more adaptative cultures and outlooks. Truth be told, every Lumad Tribe practiced slavery well into the 1960s and most practiced human sacrifice well into the 20th Century. Most continue to engage in child marriage, most disdain modern educational systems, and most continue to live in unhygienic environments where less than 10% have sufficient nutrition. So what do foreign priests like those of the PIME Order hope to accomplish? They don't concentrate on THOSE aspects...Of course they are no different than the Bible-thumping Protestant missionaries who rail against indigenous values. In the end both hope to bring the "poor" and "backwards" Lumad to Christ. In doing so the Lumad will lose the richest part of their culture, the spiritual aspect. In other words, PIME priests can learn five languages, dress the part (Father Germia is famous for wearing a B'laan turban) and even smile as shaman bless tribal festivities but in the end they are EXACTLY like their chauvenistic Protestant counterparts.

People wonder how someone could think to kill a priest. If one is aware of the dynamics involved the thought then becomes, "Who would anyone NOT want to kill a priest?" Before Father Fausto arrived in Arakan in 1985 the Manobo Lumad living there were fully united. There was no division. Yes, they suffered from periodic encroachment, from both Maguindanowans (Muslims) and Illongos (Christian lowlanders), but united they were able to retain their core values, those things that mattered most to them. Today? Even those organisations founded by Father Fausto himself have fractured into hate-filled factions. The change brought by PIME has irrevocably harmed the Manobo of Arakan AND IF we are to truly discuss the life of Father Fausto we must honestly consider that irrefutable truth.

By 1985, the year Father Fausto arrived in Arakan the Kidapawan Diocese had already had 70 members murdered for Church-related activities. Like most Dioceses in Mindanao Kidapawan was riddled with adherants of Liberation Theology, a creed that grew out of the social unrest of early-1960s Latin America and fixated upon Marxism as the proper orientation for social change. This is what led to the aforementioned murder of Father Tullio Favali in that same year. Ironically it was Father Peter "Pads" Geremia who had been the actual target. Safe to say that many within the Diocese had already made the short hop out of Liberation Theology and into bonafide armed "resistance." Many PIME missionary priests made it onto AFP Orders of Battle, lists of targets for neutralisation although one should not assume that this necessarily relegates neutralisation to violence. Revocation of one's Immigration status, as just one example, works just as well.

At the same time the hunger for land meant that such priests had become the walking targets for businessmen and politicians in both the Muslim and the Christian communities. How much more so when mining and timber concessions enter the mix? The list of those who would like to see such priests disappear, by any means possible, is long indeed.

On the day in question, Monday, October 17th, 2011, at 730AM Father Fausto Trentorio walked from the "convento," the rectory in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish compound to the building's carport and opened the door to his burgandy Suzuki Jimmy. As he opened the door he turned to face a man wearing a full motorcycle helmet who quickly raised his right arm and in quick succession fired ten rounds from his 9MM pistol. The first three rounds, conventional ball peen bullets all struck Father Fausto in his abdomen, causing him to collapse onto the SUV's front seat. The final seven, all hollow point, struck his neck and head killing him immediately. Running the 50 meters from the carport to the road the gunman hopped onto the back of an idling motorcycle which quickly drove out of Arakan's Barangay Poblacion and into nearby Davao City. Assistants rushed Father Fausto to the neighbouring municipality of Antipas and its small public hospital but of course he was declared DOA, probably having died just after falling from the first rounds.

There are at least two eyewitnesses now being "guarded," and I use that word very loosely, by the PNP, or Philippine National Police. Directly across the street from the church compound is an elementary school whose staff and students had been in the middle of a school function outside when the murder took place. Moreover, soldiers from the 3rd Special Forces Battalion (Airborne), the element now with Operational Control over Arakan, were on hand and yet nobody raised an eyebrow as ten rounds were fired. The shots were heard, as both students and staff had remarked about them but nevertheless, nothing. This of course has ignited a firestorm of rumor and innuendo in which the AFP, or the Armed Forces of the Philippines gets to wear the Guilty Hat as it so often does.

It is no secret that Father Fausto was a Leftist, and that his name WAS on past Orders of Battle for the 57IB (Infantry Battalion), the element with previous Operational Control over the municipality. However, that is a far cry from culpability. The 3rd SF (Special Forces) isn't going to dirty itself in such a localised objective. They aren't there for the long haul and couldn't actually care less about Father Fausto. SOCOM, or Special Operations Command operates in tactical mode. Killing someone who doesn't pull the trigger is not a tactical operation. Strategic Operations are an entirely different ball game. The 57IB? They definitely have strategic concerns but with that sector removed from their playing field the killing of a priest has a pis* poor cost benefit ratio. Of course that doesn't mean the 57IB still doesn't harbour some ill feelings but I don't think it is plausible. Not suprisingly Father Fausto's buddies in the NPA don't agree with me with the NEMRC, or Northeast Mindanao Regional Committee going so far as to accuse the 57IB outright. Of course Arkan lies within the SMRC (Southern Mindanao Regional Committee), NOT the NEMRC and the NEMRC seems to be unaware that Arakan is now outside the 57IB's Area of Responsibility. Propaganda, no matter the source, is usually geared towards such semi-retarded backfill.

In the interest of presenting all the facts however, I need to add the following: Just two days before the killing a PNP checkpoint in the municipality stopped a motorcycle whose driver had a rice sack with nine M16s in it. Taking him to the MPO, or Municipal Police Office as police stations are called, handed him and his "sack" to the town's Police Director received an SMS (text) from the CO, or Commanding Officer of the 3rd SF garrison informing him that the rifles were his. Why the AFP would transport a squad worth of rifles by a civilian carrying a rice sack is, I admit, questionable but one must remember that this IS Mindanao were both the AFP and the PNP regularly sell their weaponry, as well as rent it out.

Then, the evening before Father Fausto's killing two AFP trucks were slowly moving through Barangay Poblacion. When concerned residents questioned the PNP they were informed that it was simply SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for impending PDOs, or Peace and Development Operations.

Under the current ISP (Internal Security Plan), Oplan Bayanihan (Operational Plan Helping Each Other) the AFP has reversed the previous paradigm of 80:20 Tactical:CMO (Combat:Hearts and Minds type community service operations) to the inverse 80:20 (CMO:Tactical, with Tactical now predominantly being intelligence driven as opposed to the former manner which was almost entirely reactive). In other words, where as the AFP concentrated on winning insurgencies by force it now aims to do so by eliminating insurgency's root causes, things like poverty, poor hygeine, lack of infrastructure, etc. In doing this the Army is concentrating its deployments on PDTs, or Peace and Development Teams. The only problem with the answer offered to residents by the PNP is that PDTs do not work at night.

Still, I do not see this as an AFP-connected action. More likely than not it is simply a member of one of those opposing factions I mentioned. When Father Fausto arrived in Arakan in 1985 there was an organisation known as "LUMAD-Mindanao," then standing on its last legs. Like most such groups it was organised by multi-sectoral front organisations as a way in which to both recruit new members for the NPA as well as to serve as an above board arm of the movement and a way in which to funnel materiel support to the Left. Then Father Fausto helped found a successor organisation, "PANAGTAGBO," (Encounter), and finally its current incarnation, "MALUPA," (Manobo Lumadnong Panghiusa), the sister-organisation to the previously mentioned "TIKULPA" in Bukidnon Province. MALUPA, in 2004, began fracturing into its current two main factions, Father Fausto led one faction.

As for Father Fausto's environmental concerns, Arakan is not blessed with great mineral wealth nor is there much room for heavy logging with its virgin timber and most second growth being long gone, though he did lead re-forestation efforts but THAT isn't something that would generate high levels of anomosity. I am always saddened to see ignorance spread as when self described "Anti-Mining Advocates" start blaming incidents such as this murder on the victim's "opposition to mining." Not only does Arakan not have a single commercial mine, it doesn't even have small-scale, so called Artisinal Mining! In fact, in the entire province of North Cotabato there are merely two pending EXPLORATION applications, neither which come anywhere near the Arkan Valley, not to mention the town of Arkan!

With Father Fausto Tentorio now laid out in a blue coffin for his wake inside the parish church, Father Peter "Pads" Geremia who now serves as Diocesan Co-ordinator of Tribal Activities in addition to his recently re-shouldering parish responsibilities in Columbio, in Sultan Kudarat Province, convinced Father Fausto's parishoners that a more suitable coffin could be fashioned from one of the mahogany trees Father Fausto had planted within the compound. As the coffin is being fashioned the PNP has somehow convinced PIME, Father Fausto and Geremia's Order, to allow the PNP's PRO-12, or Police Regional Office for Region 12, to perform one of two autopsies planned for the priest's remains. His death has become not only a national matter but an international cause celebre as well. The Vatican says that each year 30 to 35 missionary priests are murdered or killed in war the world over. PIME has 80 fallen priests all on its own so that Father Fausto's death is neither a suprise nor even unusual and yet it seems to shock even Filipinos when a foreigner is killed.

No comments:

Post a Comment