Missionary Father Fausto Tentorio died in a hail of bullets on October 17, 2011. It is a despicable crime of murder; cowardly, senseless and it will not achieve its purpose to instill fear, terror and paralysis into the indigenous people and environmentalists in the Diocese of Kidapawan.
Father Fausto Tentorio, 59, an Italian Missionary priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) for 30 years and based in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, Mindanao, was climbing into his vehicle to go to a meeting last 17 October, 2011 when a single assailant walked up to him and shot him repeatedly. The assassin then calmly walked to his motor bike and sped away. It is the typical killing method of the paid assassin.
Father Tentorio had dedicated his life to upholding the human rights of the indigenous people of the Diocese of Kidapawan. He was the coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program and a fearless advocate of their rights to their ancestral domain. He received death threats but ignored them and got on with his mission defending human rights and inspiring the people.
This program stood in the way of powerful, moneyed mining interests out to exploit the land around Columbio and adjacent areas in nearby provinces. The program opposed irresponsible mining especially the plans of Sagittarius Mines Inc. to open pit mine the minerals on the lands of the indigenous people of the Dioceses. The on-going environmental protection and human rights defense campaign of the Dioceses of Marbel, Digos and Kidapawan has opposed the issuance by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (EEC) without which the huge Tampakan mining project of Sagittarius cannot legally go ahead. The project allegedly endangers huge areas of the environment crucial to agriculture and could cause devastation to the people's way of life.
During the Environmental Assessment last 2010, the voice of opposition was almost snuffed out. Sagittarius Mines Inc. was blamed for manipulating the process to favor its interests.
Father Tentorio was a peaceful and gently charismatic person who inspired the indigenous people and their supporters to continue to have hope, courage and resilience against the intrusions that threatened to takeover their lands.
The recent decision of government officials to support the establishment of village-based militias to back up the private security agencies employed by mining companies has been deplored. Atty. Mario E. Maderazo of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI-AMC Project Officer), an organization defending indigenous people, said that this support for militias does nothing to bring about the rule of law; "This move will only perpetuate the condition which made the killing of Father Fausto possible. The rule of law will not spring from the use of arms and armed militias. Only an empowered citizenry capable of combating poverty, inequality and injustice in their communities will bring genuine peace to our land and people. Let not the death of Father Tentorio paralyze us, let it be a lasting testimony to our resolve to pursue peace", he said.
Government support for militias may have encouraged some to deviate from the rule of law and deploy the death squads to end the opposition and protests to mining. It will only bring international condemnation. The death squads have persisted in shadow of Philippine political life, some city mayors allow them to kill with impunity. It is a big challenge to the Administration of President Noynoy Aquino, whose own father was assassinated by gunmen at the alleged behest of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Politicians and their cronies deny involvement but attempt to justify summary executions as in the interests of public good and safety. It is assassination as covert state policy.
Even street youth and children are targets for the death squads for many years in several cities. The street kids are branded pests, vermin, street rats and marked for extermination. Even some Senators, look down on the street children in this way and want to reverse the child protection law and treat children as young as 9 year-old as adult criminals.
The assassination of Father Fausto who gave his life for the Filipino people just shows how dangerous is this way of thinking. It belittles human dignity and leads to the death of innocents and the noblest and most upright among us.
Fr. Shay Cullen is a Catholic priest and founder of PREDA.org - a nonprofit dedicated to ending the exploitation of children. A Spero columnist, he is an internationally syndicated writer.