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DAVAO CITY, Philippines -- Nine months after Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio was gunned down just outside his convent in Arakan town, North Cotabato, his friends say justice remains elusive because the military is allegedly blocking the investigation into the murder.
At a forum at the Ateneo de Davao University to discuss the case on Tuesday, Tentorio’s fellow missionary, Fr. Peter Geremia, who chairs the Justice for Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio Movement, said the military has refused to allow investigators to enter its camps in North Cotabato even as a new witness claimed a leader of the paramilitary Bagani Tribal Force as responsible for the murder.
“The military have no intention to allow the investigation. The NBI (National Bureau of Investigations) investigators have not been allowed to enter military camps,” Geremia said.
Italian Ambassador to the Philippines Luca Fornari, in a letter addressed to the forum, said his country’s embassy has not stopped pressing the Philippine government to act swiftly to solve Tentorio’s murder, which activists and friends of the missionary say was most likely triggered by his outspoken opposition to large-scale mining and his defense of human rights.
Fornari assured the forum organizaers that “the pursuit for justice for father Pops’ murder -- despite the time passing without major headways in the investigation -- remains strong and determined, at all levels.”
“The Italian Embassy, in fact, for its part, keeps pressuring the Philippine political authorities at any useful occasion and at the highest level. I personally raised the issue to President Aquino, lastly during a meeting in Malacañang the 26th of April; that very same day I also had an encounter on the issue with Secretary (Leila) de Lima,” Fornari’s letter read.
The ambassador said he also sent a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs “asking again for quick, concrete results.”
“I am confident that this continuous pressure by all of us will eventually bring some results. We will keep standing firmly, we will keep seeking justice,” Fornari said.
At the same time, he railed against “the impunity of the perpetrators,” which he said “is simply intolerable,” and stressed that “only the light of truth can honor the sacrifice of a man who dedicated his entire life to the poorest and most marginalized of us.”
Geremia said there were “influential people blocking the investigation, diverting the investigation.”
He pointed out that the NBI has yet to file any charges against the alleged masterminds identified by witnesses.
On December 29, NBI agents arrested Jimmy Ato, the alleged gunman in the Tentorio murder, after a witness identified him.
In March, two other witnesses surfaced, and said Bagani leader Jan Corbala, also known as Commander Iring, had planned the killing.
Although the NBI had promised to investigate the Bagani militia and their military handlers, Geremia said, “as of now, we were not given any results or updates. It appears that they stopped their investigation.”
Geremia also noted that, notwithstanding the April 26 meeting with De Lima, which he attended with Forcari, at which they requested the Department of Justice to “unify the conflicting testimonies and expand the investigation to the Bagani Group and their military handlers,” the department has so far not replied.
He also noted what he called a “lack of coordination between the DOJ, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Department of National Defense. We were told that only the President can order these agencies, particularly the DND, to share their intelligence reports with the DOJ and to allow the investigation of their officers in charge of the Bagani force.”
However, “we noticed that as of July, the same Bagani group including the accused in the Fr. Fausto cases, are used as guides in their military operations.”
“All of the above are indicators that the investigation is not allowed to include a number of untouchables. I also believe that the killing of Fr. Fausto could not have happened without the go-signal of some very high-level officials,” Geremia said.
“And the above indicators point to a systematic blocking of the pursuit of the truth, which again can be explained only by instructions from high officials,” he added.
But the Eastern Mindanao Command denied Geremia’s claims.
“How did they arrive to that conclusion? Who is conducting the investigation?” Eastmincom spokesman Commodore Romeo Nebres asked.
“The military, as much as anybody else, would like to find out the truth behind the killing of Fr. Pops and bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
Pastor Jurie Jaime, spokesperson of Karapatan and one of the convenors of the JPM, maintained the murder of Tentorio was state-sponsored.
“The killing was well-planned and deliberate. Father Pops is a victim of the reigning stare of impunity in the country,” he said.