Father Fausto Tentorio was an Italian missionary serving indigenous communities in the hinterlands of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. His cold-blooded murder, allegedly by state forces, has drawn widespread indignation and tributes for the well-loved missionary.
A lone gunman shot Fr. Fausto, fondly called Fr. Pops by those who knew him, in broad daylight at the garage of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish Church Convent, Arakan Valley, North Cotabato on October 17, 2011.
Fr. Pops was the head of the said parish as well as a member of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME). He is the 54th victim of extrajudicial killing under the Noynoy Aquino regime.
As a rural missionary and as an anti-mining advocate, he helped and worked with the indigenous peoples in opposing the operation of large-scale plantations and mining which would harm them. As a human rights advocate, he joined in calling for justice for slain human rights workers and farmers in Central Mindanao in 2002.
Fr. Pops’ opposition to mining and support for indigenous peoples’ organizations has been cited by his colleagues as the reason for his killing:
The strong and visible presence of the 57th Infantry Battalion in Arakan was not able to prevent the threat on Fr. Fausto’s life and security. It has unmasked the hypocrisy of the Aquino soldiers’ claim as human rights defenders. Fr. Fausto’s assassin killed him in broad daylight in his parish grounds without fear.
Fr. Peter Geremia from PIME recalls the day Fr. Pops died:
October 17 as I was travelling from Columbio to Kidapawan a close friend called “Fr. Pops was shot!” I thought he was still alive but soon a nurse from the hospital texted” Fr.Pops is already dead, DOA, dead on arrival.” I rushed to the funeraria in Arakan and saw his body…
At the spot where he was shot, I saw the blood under the car. He was about to enter the car and he was holding his cellphone when suddenly
he met the executioner. Many shots, but soundless, nobody heard the shots. The executioner invisible, even though many people were nearby. He disappeared on a motorcycle…
Fr. Pops himself wrote of his narrow escape from death in 2003 at the hands of the Philippines Army-sponsored paramilitary Bagani Command. His account can be read online in the PIME Philippines blog:
“Will you kill him?” One of the Bagani replied “No, we will just arrest him and bring him to our superior!” Worried of the possible consequences, the people denied to them that I was there. They told me and my companions to stay quiet in the house and hide there because the Bagani were looking for me. We decided to listen to their advice because to try to run would have been too dangerous. We did not know how many of them were there, and where they were hiding.
The Philippine Army denies knowledge of the existence of the Bagani paramilitary group and instead accused the communist-led New People's Army of masterminding the assassination because of Fr. Tentorio's alleged betrayal of the rebel movement.
Fr. Pop's cold-blooded murder has drawn parallels with the killing of another Italian missionary, Fr. Tullio Favali 26 years ago. Fr. Pops is the third Italian PIME missionary killed in Mindanao.
In 1985 when the Marcos dictatorship was at its most desperate at clinging to power, an anticommunist paramilitary group called Tadtad led by Norberto Manero killed the Italian priest Fr. Tullio Favali, PIME, on April 15, 1985.
On October 24, more than 15,000 mourners came to Kidapawan City in Mindanao to pay their last respects to Fr. Pops. Photos of the funeral march, mass and burial, which has been transformed into a big protest are shared online at Arkibong Bayan.
The following video tributes to Fr. Pops show the appreciation and love of the masses of the hinterlands of Mindanao that he served, the masses whose thoughts and voices can seldom find their way to social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook: