Investigation sought following assassination of Catholic priest

Investigation sought following assassination of Catholic priest

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has called for ecumenical friends to take action to protest against the latest assassination of a church leader in the Philippines.

Fr Fausto Tentorio, an Italian Catholic missionary priest serving among remote indigenous tribes in Arakan, Northern Mindanao, was killed on October 16.

Fr Tentorio was shot inside the compound of the Mother of Perpetual Help Parish. He died a few hours later from multiple gunshot wounds. The assailant could not be identified.

Fr Tentorio was an Italian Catholic missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). Since 1983, he worked among the Manobo tribal people in Arakan Valley in Northern Mindanao. He set up schools, health and community development programs to address government neglect of peasants and tribal peoples in remote areas.

Based on the pattern of extrajudicial killings, leaders of the Manobo community and human rights organisations believe that forces of the State are responsible for his killing.

While providing basic services, Fr Tentorio raised awareness about the systemic economic and social neglect of tribal peoples and supported their struggle to assert their right to live in dignity. He opposed mining and other corporate development which led to displacement of tribal communities, severe environmental destruction and loss of people’s livelihoods.

He opposed the increased military presence in Arakan Valley because of abuses against tribal peoples by military and paramilitary groups.

Paramilitary groups, armed and trained by the military, are hired as private security by mining companies. (See Amnesty International’s comments on militias here.)

Because of his activities, state forces perceived Fr Tentorio as a “leftist”. In 2003 he survived an attack by a paramilitary group.

Fr Tentorio is only the latest extrajudicial killing of church leaders and human rights advocates. During the regime of past President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, close to 2,000 church workers, human rights advocates and members of progressive political and sectoral organisations were assassinated. The victims were labelled as “leftists” and “enemies of the State”, making them legitimate targets in the military’s counter-insurgency war.

Assassination of anti-mining activists has recently increased.

On September 5, Rabenio Sungit, a tribal leader, member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and an opponent of corporate mining in the province of Palawan, was killed.

Fr Tentorio is the 54th victim of extrajudicial killing under the administration of President Aquino, who won the May 2010 election promising to end human rights abuses.

The practice of targeting civilians and labelling activists as “enemies of the State” was sanctioned by the past Arroyo Government under its counter-insurgency plan, named Operation Plan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedom Watch). In his Fact Finding Mission (August 2004—July 2010), the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, concluded that Oplan Bantay Laya engendered the extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.

Despite the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to stop the implementation of OPLAN Bantay Laya, President Aquino is pursuing the same counter-insurgency program and renamed it, Operation Plan Bayanihan.

Take action

The NCCP is asking people to take action by writing to the Philippine Government

  • Condemning the killing of Fr Fausto Tentorio and calling for a thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice;
  • Urging the Philippine President to immediately order the authorities of the military to stop the extrajudicial killings and the labelling of activists and human rights advocates as “enemies of the State”, which make them vulnerable to human rights abuses;
  • Calling on the Philippine Government to immediately stop the implementation of its counter-insurgency program, Operation Plan Bayanihan.

Letters can be sent to:

President Benigno Aquino III
Malacanang Palace
Manila, Philippines
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph / opnet@ops.gov.ph

Secretary Leila De Lima
Department of Justice
Manila, Philippines
Fax: (+632) 521-1614/ 523 5548
Email: soj@doj.gov.ph/ doj.delime@gmail.com

Echoing cries for justice

Leaders and members of the clergy and church-based justice and peace advocacy programs in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand have expressed their shock and sadness over the news that Fr Tentorio was brutally shot dead.

They said, “We echo the cries for justice. We call for fast, full and fair investigation of this terrible crime.

“According to his co-workers, Fr Tentorio’s killing could have been related to his staunch opposition to large-scale mining in the province. He was gunned down just a week after the Philippine president reportedly approved a military proposal to allow mining firms to organise and fund militias to beef up their security.”

The Rev. Dr Bruce Gregersen, General Council Officer of the United Church of Canada, has written to President Aquino also expressing deep sadness about the murder of Fr Tentorio.

He said, “The United Church of Canada joins the churches in the Philippines, the tribal and peasant communities served by Fr Tentorio and human rights organisations worldwide in condemning the assassination of Fr Tentorio.

“We join them in mourning the loss of a faithful servant of the church who served peasant and tribal communities in Mindanao and fiercely defended their right to live with dignity.

“Fr Tentorio set up education and health care programs in the communities denied the services of government. He raised awareness about the systemic causes of the impoverishment and neglect of indigenous peoples and supported their struggle to defend their rights. He opposed mining and the increased military presence and abuses against tribal peoples.”

Dr Gregersen said the killing of Fr Tentorio showed that despite President Aquino’s denunciation of extrajudicial killings, the Philippine Government had sadly failed to take concrete actions to stop them.

“It is imperative for your Government to demonstrate its serious intent to end impunity by bringing those responsible for extrajudicial killings to justice.”

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