MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice will be filing murder charges against two military officers, a militia commander, and several others over the 2011 killing of an Italian priest in Arakan, Cotabato after the National Bureau of Investigation asked to withdraw the original case it filed before the provincial prosecutor.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong said the complaint filed by the NBI had to be withdrawn “kasi po merong (because there were) fall guys” named in it.
Once withdrawn, “the next step is to file a new complaint against the recommended people,” Ong said. These are:
Lt. Col. Joven Gonzales
Major Mark Espiritu
several “Richard Does,” soldiers operating near the Arakan Elementary School at the time of the murder
several “John Does” and “Jane Does”
Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions was shot dead inside the compound of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish on October 17, 2011 as he was about to leave for a meeting at the bishop’s palace in Kidapawan City.
A known lumad and environmental advocate who helped organize indigenous people’s communities campaigning against the entry of large-scale mining into their communities, Tentorio had earned the ire of local militias and the military, who suspected him of supporting communist rebels.
Despite this, Ong said the DOJ is ruling out any political angle in Tentorio’s murder.
“You have no reason to kill a person who is not a combatant. It is plain murder. No politics here. This has nothing to do with the NPA (New People’s Army). This is simple murder,” he said.
Ong, who said he finished in November the re-investigation he started in May, quoted witnesses as saying Tentorio’s killing was planned seven days before the hit.
“When I met 30 witnesses in July sa Arakan, very spontaneous pa rin ang kwento nila (in Arakan, they were very spontaneous in their accounts),” he said. “They aren’t worried. They are willing to testify.”
A key witness, Danilo Bayawan, told the DOJ he attended a meeting called by Corbala, a leader of the “Bagani Special Force,” to plan the hit on Tentorio.
At the meeting, Corbala allegedly said he had been ordered by the military to kill Tentorio and given money and a motorcycle to carry out the plot.
Bayawan backed out of the plot and later decided to tell authorities what he knew.