Thursday, November 3, 2011

Those that Came Before: The PIME Missionary Priests Before Father Fausto Tentorio

As I noted in my recent entry on the murder of Father Fausto Tentorio, there have been two other killings of priests belonging to Father Tentorio's order, PIME. As if those losses haven't been enough, PIME has also had two kidnappings as well. I thought it prudent to discuss those incidents in addition to Father Tentorio's recent murder, BUT, in not wanting to steer the focus away from Father Tentorio I had promised that I would discuss the four previous cases in another post, a companion piece to Father Tentorio's entry, and so I will begin to do so in this first post in a three part series.

PIME, or Pontificium Institum Missionum Exterarum (Latin for "The Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions") is an order based in Rome and dedicated to missionising amongst non-Catholics and for the most part they centre their efforts in far flung corners of the globe. The order resulted from the merging of two Italian seminarys:

1) The Lombard Seminary for Foreign Missions, in Milan, founded in 1850

2) The Pontifical Seminary of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul for Foreign Missions, in Rome, founded in 1871

The two seminarys were joined in 1926 and given the present name. Interestingly, the older of the two institutions, Lombard Seminary, deployed its first three missionary priests to two tiny islands in Oceania, Woodlark and Rook. Marist priests had preceded them there but had abandoned their mission due to the danger posed by the islands' then cannibalistic tribes. When Lombard Seminary deployed three priests there, two of them were served as lunch- literaly- for the islanders (one was beatified), and so the third swam for his life after which the mission was abandoned. One can see that from its earliest beginnings PIME missionary priests dove headfirst into dangerous locales and often didn't live to tell about it.

With the coming of Vatican II- which began in 1962 and ended in 1965- the Catholic Church was turned inside out. All of a sudden, Latin, the Church's liturgical tongue since its founding nearly two millenia before fell by the wayside. Whereas before, if lucky, parishoners in very large cities were serenaded by ethereal Gregorian Chants that nobody could understand, now priests were allowed to sing folktunes or even modern pop music, and even the most isolated village now haf a choir singing in its everyday language. The hellfire and brimstone pathos gave way to eucemenical luncheons and touchy feely- interfaith encounters and retreats. With this new, more liberal outlook, the Catholic Church began attracting a different class of priests, clergymen with a social consciousness. PIME had always taken a much more gentler path with potential converts. Where as Catholic priests entering heretofore uncontacted villages would first build a church, PIME felt that schools should come first along with concrete improvements in villager's everyday lives. Otherwise, one might attract converts but the conversions are almost always insincere and with little impetus would backslide and throw off their newly accepted faith.

As Vatican II began in Rome in 1962, the Church was undergoing a parallel catharsis in Latin America.
Theologians like the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, and his contemporaries Juan Luis Segundo, Lucio Gerd, and many others had assimilated the thought provoking ideas that came out of Central Europe in the post-World War II Era. Men like Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar saw a Church that catered to the well to do but generally ignored the needy except when asking them to tithe, or else castigating them for "slovenly" habits. By 1964, at a conference in Brasil's Pertropolis, in Rio de Janeiro, Gustavo Gutierrez described his take on theology boldly as, "A critical reflection on praxis." Essentialy he was paraphrasing Karl Marx, albeit it very loosely. Marx had said, "Philosophers have explained the world; our task is to change it." Gutierrez was saying that theology wasn't a sterile ideology, it wasn't a theoretical construct. Rather, it was alive and vibrant. It was meant to be applied in everday life to correct institutional and systematic injustices that made the rich richer and kept the poor just as poor. Theologians should be active partners with the poor and disenfranchised in a struggle to transform the world for the betterment of all.

By 1968, three years after Vatican II ended, another, even bigger conference was held in Medellin, Colombia and months later, in 1969 the new theological variant had come into its own with a conference held in Cartigny, in Switzerland, that was entitled, "Toward a Theology of Liberation." As 1970 began a parallel movement within various Protestant Churches was developing along a very similar line with a convention held in Buenos Aries, Argentina. Christianity as a whole seemed to be moving in a general direction.

Although PIME pre-dated Vatican II by more than a century, the momentous changes within Christendom boosted the tiny order's cachet. The organisation began attracting many experienced clerics as well as the usual cannon fodder, freshly minted priests, just out of the PIME seminary. One of the more "experienced" priests was Father Tullio.

A native of Sacchetta di Sustinente, in Mantova, Italy in 1946, in an Italy wracked by the violence of the American Occupation at the close of World War II. Unable to properly support their son, Tullio's parents had him enter a seminary at age 9, in 1956. At age 15, in 1962, Tullio began studying fulltime for the priesthood and by 1965 had become a priest. Gaining his Ordination just as Vatican II finished, Father Tullio entered the priesthood and began his duties as an assistant parish priest in a non-descript farming village in his native Italy.

By the end of the 1960s Italy was suffering from political upheaval that effected every corner of society. Kidnapping was rampant and various armed groups capitalised on the anarchy. Groups like Brigate Rossi (Red Brigade), Lotta Continua (Contuious Struggle), Poetre Operaio Pisano, Poetre Operlo, and so on, made life in Northern Italy incredibly difficult but more than the threat to life and limb. Feeling unable to fufill the mandate of his new vocation he left the priesthood and spent the next several years on a journey of self discovery.

In 1978 he felt mature enough to consider re-committing his life to the priesthood, and so he spent a trial period in a PIME Formation House in the Italian town of Busto Arsizio. After long contemplation Tullio realised that he hadn't spent his formative years in the seminary and while he did pass his courses and gain ordination, he felt that the experience had been hollow. He resolved to re-enter the seminary, a PIME seminary, and re-learn all that he needed to in order to effectively minister to the poorest of the poor in isolated villages as opposed to overweight matrons in suburban Milan. On June 6th, 1981 Father Tullio Favali gained his second ordaination and became a PIME missioary priest.

Assigned to the town of Monza as an assistant parish priest in Christ the King parish. Though just getting his feet wet as a PIME cleric Tullio felt impatient and wanted to go abroad as soon as possible. The 35 year old priest badly wanted to be sent to Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately for Father Tullio however, Papua was then, as now, in conflict as the Papuans struggled for independence against Indonesia which had invaded it in 1969 and, eventually re-named it "Irin Jaya." More to the point, Indonesia, as a Muslim Nation, doesn't cotton to Christian missionaries, even when the target demographic is Animist. Instead his superiors deployed him to Chicago, in the United States. There Father Tullio attended a language school in order to learn English, seeing as how English is now seen as the lingua franca the world over.

Still unable to proceed to Papua Father Tullio was deployed back to Italy to teach at PIME's college and seminary in Sotto Il Monte where he remained until his first mission posting. Instead of Papua, New Guinea Father Tullio Favali was sent to Mindanao. On June 12th, 1984 Tullio arrived at PIME's Regional House in Zamboanga City. After a spell at a language school in Davao City Tullio was assigned to Kidapawan Prelature, where he in turn deployed to the municipality of Tulunan, in North Cotabato Province. At Tulunan Tullio became the assistant to its parish priest, another Italian PIME misionary, Father Peter Geremia.

Geremia was himself already quite notorius both within the Church and in Mindanao at large. Arriving in the Philippines just as Marcos declared Martial Law in the Autumn of 1972 he soon ran afoul of the authorities and found himself rounded up in a PC, or Philippine Constabulary camp. That incident typified Geremia's brand of "in your face - I don't care what you, yours, and all of you think" brand of advocacy. Though both Geremia and Father Tullio Favali were PIME missionary priests, and both were born and bred in Northern Italy, they never grew particularly close. Years later Father Geremia would publish his diary, "Dreams and Bloodstains: The Diary of a Missioner in the Philippines." In it he wrotes on April 12th, 1985, one day after Tullio was murdered,

"I saw Tullio on the road with his brains scattered around, his mouth eating dirt, his blood like a dark carpet...Tullio came into my life like a stranger. I did not know him before. We lived together but in separate worlds. I could never share with him my inner struggles and he was taken by his (own) struggle. We were running with all our strength, without looking much at the obstacles or each other."

The violence that served as the impetus behind Geremia's diary entry stemmed from three brothers from South Cotabato Province, the Maneros, and revolved around what was technically a unit of the CHDF, or Civilian Home Defense Force. Founded in 1976, it was meant as a way in which to consolidate what was then many dozens of disparate pro-Government paramilitaries, many of which had been fighting on Mindanao since 1969 when the early Islamic paramilitaries like the Itumans (Black Shirts) and Barakudas (Baraccudas) first began committing atrocities against non-Muslims in Central and Northwestern Mindanao. Some, like the Maneros' outfit, were operating as brigands, cattle rustleing, murder for hire, extortion, and all sorts of fun family type activities.

In the Maneros' case, the brothers had gotten their start as small time thugs in their hometown of Pomolok in what is today South Cotabato Province. Protected by their father, Norberto Sr., a barangay captain, the brothers built a stronghold in a compound at the foot of Mount Matatum, in Pomolok's Barangay Kinilis where they were well paid as they handled the bloody eviction of B'laan Tribesmen who stood in the way of Dole Phil., and its plans to turn the barangay into a giant pineapple plantation in 1971, having gained notiriety by the late-1960s.

One of the brothers, Norberto Manero Jr., took a bad break when the Mayor of Magsaysay, a municipality in Davao del Sur Province, had him arrested by PC. Captain Filipino "Fil" O.Amoguis who hunted Manero's group throughout the mountain range stretching from what is today Sarangani Province across to the outskirts of Davao City. Eventually cornered and sentenced to death, Manero was given a date of execution and it seemed that all hope had been lost. On the big day Manero was brought out to the PC shooting range for an execution by firing squad. As he stood next to the pole that he would be bound to before being shot, a guard began fiddling with his keys trying to find the handcuff key when the detachment commander received an unexpected radio transmission from District Headquarters in Davao City. The commander was ordered not only to halt the execution but to not return Manero to jail, he was pardoned. In the end Manero's life had been saved because his guard misplaced a key.

Later Manero would learn that he owed his life to attorney Cornelio Falgui, a once and future mayor in the municipality of Kiamba, in what is today Sarangani Province. Falgui, like other ambitious Ilonggo politicians had relied on Manero's group to settle political vendettas as well as to help consolidate land purchases in the upland environs of Kiamba and other nearby towns. Falgui realised that should he succeed in saving Manero's life the charasmatic and extremely violent Manero would be indebted to him ever after. Indeed, all these years later, long after Mayor Falgui's death, Manero continues to hold a close relationship with Falgui's son, General Santos City-based attorney Tomas C.Falgui.

The elder Falgui, Cornelio, after learning of the hastily set execution, began calling in chips and finally succeeded in gaining the assistance of the local infantry battalion commander. After discussing the matter with his superior at brigade headquarters the two officers quickly contacted Major General Fortunato "Tony" U.Abat, then serving as the commander of the now defunct CEMCOM, or Mindanao Central Command. The two lower ranked officers informed Abat that Manero was a Military Assett who had become ensnared in a political vendetta while undertaking a covert operation at the behest of the battalion and brigade commanders. In the end Fortunato agreed to intervene and after a subordinate failed in getting the execution scubbed grabbed the phone himself and angrily, neigh enraged, phoned the Philippine Constabulary and saved Manero's life...and in doing so allowed Manero and his merry band of degenerate miscreants to once again run through the mountains on Mindanao's southern coast. This time however, Manero did so as an official paramilitary leader holding mission orders personally signed by then Minister of National Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile. Manero had come within a milimeter of losing his life but had emerged not only a free man, but with a cloak of invincibility courtesy of the Marcos Dictatorship.

Having assumed the nom de guerre, "Kumander Bucay," Manero's merry men (and women, his first wife, Leonarda Lacson Manero, having assumed her own title, "Kumander Inday") the group was intact . In 1976 Manero's paramilitary was grandfathered into the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force, or ICHDF (which would later be shortened simply to CHDF). The ICHDF was a way in which to better control disparate right wing paramilitaries as well as a way in which to implement an effective force multiplier vis a vis the counterinsurgency programme, needing fresh meat to do battle with the MNLF and ever increasingly, with the NPA as well. Just a year later, in 1977, Manero's ICHDF was linked to a troubling incident in his hometown, Pomolok. Two brothers, Ali and Mamabawatan Mamalumpong, were abducted and horribly tortured before being killed.

Owing to Manero's powerful patrons in both the PC as well as the Central and Southern Mindanowan business and political arenas no body was charged in the case and Manero's reputation was now assured. Like Ghengis Khan, all most villages had to hear was that Manero's company would be undertaking an operation, or simply implementing a security protocol on behalf of the PC and that village would empty within hours, a stampede of refugees abandoning hearth and home.

By the beginning of the 1980s the biggest internal security threat on Mindanao, and indeed nationwide, had become the Maoist NPA. At nearly five times their current armed strength it is difficult to convey just how powerful this group was. This of course was well before even the first internal purge. The NPA was viewed as the champion of the downtrodden and oppressed and Marcos was almost universally reviled. On Mindanao the strongest sector for the NPA was the now defunct CMR, or Central Mindanao Region. With CMR's power steadily growing the PC shifted assets and began consolidation of its own forces, including the CHDF. Unlike the CAA programme (Civilian Active Auxiliary, of which CAFGU is the best known) the CHDF wasn't locked into a highly specific geographical area. Its companies could be deployed and operate anywhere it was needed.

By the Spring of 1985, Manero's company was deployed to the municipality of Tulunan in North Cotabato Province to ferret out a large NPA presence that had just begun exerting itself. The NPA first arrived on Mindanao just as Martial Law was being implemented in September of 1972. Centered in Davao City it would take five years before anyone in Government even realised that the Maoists had migrated south. Despite repeated attempts it would be 1980 before the NPA fully established itself outside of the immediate Davao Region. One of the first outward thrusts ended up on the nexus of Davao de Sur, North Contabato and Bukidnon Provinces in 1977. However, it wasn't until 1979 that parts of Central Mindanao first fell under control of the NPA.

Tulunan, a town in North Cotabato's Second Congressional District, aka the Ilonggo Belt, had remanied free from much of the strife seen in areas that had developed a strong NPA presence. That was, until Father Peter Geremia brought his personal brand of Catholicism to the towns outlying barangays. His incessant organising of peasants (when Lumads weren't available) into "progressive" organisations naturally earned him a high ranking slot on the Military's Order of Battle. Orders of Battle, or OBs, are a listing of individuals and organisations that prioritises their neutralisation. In other words, it serves as a list of targets ALTHOUGH the neutralisation need not be of a violent nature. Unfortunately for Father Tullio Favali he ended up living with and working side by side with Father Germia, and this would end up costing him his life.

The day before Father Geremia's aforementioned diary entry, on April 11th, 1985, Norberto and his two brothers, Elpidio and Edilberto, or "Edil," sat just outside a non-descript "carinderia" (eatery) at an unnamed crossroads at mile marker Kilometer 125 in Tulunan's Barangay La Esperanza. The brothers were meeting there with Arsenio Villamor Jr., the right hand man of Tulunan's Mayor, Josue Faustino, and himself the scion of a local politician. Villamor had been appointed the unofficial co-ordinator of local counterinsurgency efforts and it had been he who had invited the Manero CHDF to Tulunan to try and rid the outlying barangays of the NPA and its most ardent supporters. With Villamor were two bodyguards supplied by the 3rd Special Forces Battalion (Airborne), and with the three Manero brothers were Roger Bedano, Efren Plenayo, Rodrigo "Rudy" Espija, and the two Lineses brothers, Rudy and Severino, all members of the Manero-led CHDF detachment.

Brainstorming, a relative term in this case, the group decided that a prudent first course of action would be to affix placards at the crossroads upon which would be listed the names of known sympathisers in the immediate area. Meant to intimidate, one of the first names listed was Father Peter Geremia. They then got down to business since known killers like the Maneros and their outfit weren't brought into towns to hang posters. Although ostensibly Government employees as members of the CHDF, those that requested the group's help knew that it would come at a steep price...although it is fair to say that Arsenio Villamor Jr. never guessed how steep that price could be.

The group began discussing who should die and amongst those names, who should take the highest priority. Together they formulated a list:

1) Father Peter (Fr.Peter Geremia)

2) Domingo Gomez, a lay worker close to Fr.Peter

3) Fred Gapete, a local peasant organiser

4) Rufino "Bantil" Robles, a lay worker close to Fr.Peter

5) Rene Tabagac

6) a man known only by his surname, Villaning

Edilberto Manero suggested that if Father Peter proved difficult they might as well simply target the other PIME priest, Father Tullio Favali. Nobody responded but those words would ring heavy as those present recalled that meeting. At that point Villamor took his leave, having other pressing duties to attend to and left the Manero CHDF at the cafe, knowing that the number one target, Father Peter, was up country making the rounds of his followers in outlying barangays. When he returned to his rectory, 5 kilometers past that crossroads on the way into Tulunan proper, Villamor wanted to be far, faw away and preferably in a large crowd to serve as his alibi.

With time to kill the Maneros and their men drank away the morning at a cockpit on the opposite side of the road, betting on which rooster would kill the other. By 1PM Elpidio was bored and so he took two of their men and began nailing a placard with those six names to a telephone pole before ducking back into the cafe for some more beer. Now feeling no pain the group decided instead of simply waiting around for Father Peter they would simply go after another name on the list. As luck would have it, Rufino "Bantil" Robles lived within sight of the crossroads. Unfortunately, that happened to be the moment that Bantil chose to approach the men in front of the cafe and ask why his name was affixed to a placard since, in the drunken state of mind, the Maneros had neglected to affix any heading to the placard. Instead it merely consisted of six names, with no explanation. Edilberto asked the man if he had any problem having his name on the list. Confused, Bantil replied that he couldn't have a problem if he didn't know what the list signified and repeated his initial question, asking why it had been added to a list. Edilberto suddenly pulled a 38 caliber revolver and fired one round that just missed hiting Bantil square in the head but still managing to crease the right side of his head.

Dripping blood Bantil threw himself at Edilberto and began trying to wrestle the revolver away from him. Terrified, Bantil's wife then joined the fracas trying to separate the two men and screamed at her husband to run. Heeding his wife's advice Bantil ran for his life as Edilberto gave chase. Firing one last time as Bantil approached the door to the home of yet another of the targeted men, Domingo Gomez. Elpidio's second round just missed Bantil's leg, taking a bit of fabric as it went through his trousers. Bantil didn't want his luck to run out and so, after Gomez's wife opened the door he pushed his way inside the house and barricaded it to keep gis attacker from entering.

Bantil's wife had already begun the five kilometer walk to Father Peter's rectory and hadn't gone very far before a passing motorcyclist saved her from walking the entire way. With Father Peter still in the upland barangays only Father Tullio was there to receive her. As soon as he understood what she was saying he jogged to his motorcycle and told the woman to climb onto the back. Arriving at the Gomez home he saw that the attackers had surrounded it but knowing that he couldn't back down he slowly drove up to the house, parked his motorcycle and then entered to check on Bantil.

Edilberto meanwhile, had gone back to the cafe to enjoy a few more beers. As the cafe's owner, Reynaldo Deocades, nervously brought Edilberto his request Edilberto suddenly jumped up and pistol whipped the man in the face, laughingly calling him a "fuc*ing Communist." Deocades returned to the counter and set about slopping the two hogs he kept in a pen at the rear of his establishment. Edilberto decided that Deocades hadn't been sufficiently terrorised yet. Pocketing his 38 caliber revolver he picked up his M14, went to the pigsty and sprayed the ground around Deocade's feet with several rounds causing the latter to collapse in tears, apparently close to a nervous breakdown. Two men with Edilberto, brothers Rudy and Severino Lineses joined their drunken companion howling with laughter. Finished now that Deocades was crying, with head between his knees, they walked over to the Gomez home where Father Tullio has just joined Mrs.Gomez and Bantil. As they approached Norberto walked over to the priest's motorcycle and wheeled it out into the centre of the road. Loosening the gas cap Norberto purposefully emptied some of the fuel and then used it to set the motorcycle on fire.

Hearing the crowd scream Father Tullio nervously peered out a window and saw his motorcycle on fire. Exiting the house slowly, his arms raised upwards as if in surrender, he asked Norberto why he had set his motorcycle on fire, the last words Tullio Favali would ever say. As Tullio asked Norberto why he had set the motorcycle on fire Norberto stepped backwards, both thumbs pointing downward on outstretched hands, before finally saying, "Ano ang gusto month Padre? Gusto month Father bukon ko ang ulo mo?" (What do you want Father? Father you want me to crack your skull?). Edilberto stepped forward from the side, and then, without warning shot Father Tullio in the head from point blank range. The shot, from Edilberto's 38 caliber revolver, caused Tullio to spin 180 degrees and sink to his knees, as he did so hid arms reflexively crossed and as he fell onto his back his arms remained in that eerie position.

Thus concludes the first part of this three part entry.

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