Murdered priest’s colleague welcomes developments in the case

MANILA, Philippines – A friend of murdered Italian priest Fausto Tentorio welcomed the recent arrest of suspects in his slay. This is even as another fellow priest expressed doubts over claims of witnesses who tagged arrested suspect Jimmy Ato as Tentorio’s killer.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier announced the arrest of suspected gunman Jimmy Atoon Thursday, December 29, at a remote village in Arakan, North Cotabato.

Ato was arrested at six in the morning of that day by a special investigative team consisting of agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the members of the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Fausto.

Father Peter Jeremiah, who now takes Tentorio’s place ministering to the indigenous people in the Diocese of Kidapawan, told Rappler he is glad that there are developments in the search for the dead priest’s killer.

Witnesses

In an Inquirer report, however, his colleague, Father Sebastiano D”Ambra, expressed doubts over claims that Ato was identified by witnesses as the same man who shot and killed Tentorio.

“As far as I know, there was no clear witness to the crime. Unlike Tulio (Favali), who was killed in front of many witnesses, Tentorio was killed with hardly a witness,” D’Ambra, who is based in Zamboanga City, said in the Inquirer report.

Ato had a standing warrant for Destructive Arson with Homicide in a criminal case issued by Regional Trial Court Branch 13 of Cotabato City.

Tentorio was the third Italian from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) priest murdered in Mindanao, and the second in the Diocese of Kidapawan.

In 1985, Father Tullio Favali was murdered at the age of 38 by the Manero brothers hoping to kill Geremia, whom they called “the rebel priest.” In 1992, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Father Salvatore Carzedda.

The AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command says the priest’s opposition to a large hydropower generator project along Pulangi River motivated the killing.

Sources from inside the investigating team disagree with the AFP statement, however, saying that the motive can either be Tentorio’s continued protection of the indigenous’ ancestral land, or internal conflicts within organizations Tentorio led.

No mastermind has been arrested.

AFP hand

Tentorio, called Father Pops by parishioners, was just about to enter his vehicle when he was shot several times. Forensic reports have concluded that highly sophisticated weaponry was used, including fragmentation bullets.

Police reported the gunman escaped from the parish compound to a public road where an accomplice waited on a motorbike.

The Ato arrest was initiated by the recent testimony of a local witness who claimed to have seen Tentorio’s assailants. The witness also pointed to Ato’s brother Robert, whom he named as the driver of the getaway motorbike.

While Jimmy Ato was taken into custody by the joint NBI and PNP team, his Robert escaped.

Before he died, Tentorio led the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate of the Diocese of Kidapawan. Its current chairman, Father Peter Geremia, says the group was once on the AFP’s Order of Battle. Indigenous residents also spoke of an initial attack against Tentorio, who was pursued by alleged paramilitary group Alamara Bagani in 2009.

After his death, militant groups accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the murder of Italian priest Fausto “Pops” Tentorio.

In a Mindanews report, Bishop Modesto Villasanta, of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, supported his claim by citing “a number of cases” the UCCP has filed in court against AFP personnel suspected to have murdered some of their church leaders and personnel.

The AFP has denied all responsibility for the killing, initially saying that Tentorio was probably killed by members of the New People’s Army in an internal purge.

This was immediately denied by the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Southern Regional Committee, who called Tentorio a communist, an internationalist, and “a beloved servant of the masses.”

They claimed the AFP was responsible for the killing. – Rappler.com