DAVAO CITY—“If you see Fr. Pops, kill him.”
This was the alleged order of Commander Iring, head of an anticommunist militia called Bagani Force, to his ragtag group of tribal warriors.
Human rights groups have identified John Corbala, alias Commander Iring and a member of the Manobo tribe, as one of the perpetrators of the murder of Italian priest Fausto “Pops” Tentorio inside the compound of his parish in Arakan, North Cotabato, on October 17 last year.
A witness, accompanied by Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan, surfaced to say that he was a member of the Bagani Force and was present at a meeting where the murder of Tentorio was planned.
The witness said Corbala announced during the meeting that the militia had received P50,000 from the military for the operation to hunt Tentorio down. The military denied having a hand in the killing.
“We were told that Fr. Tentorio must be killed because he is supporting the New People’s Army,” the witness said.
The witness added that he was reluctant to take part in the operation against Tentorio because he knew the priest to be helping tribal communities in Arakan.
“Commander Iring (Corbala) disarmed me and told me that he would kill me if I reportred to Fr. Tentorio,” the witness said.
The group of Corbala disappeared after the meeting. On October 20, or three days after the killing of Tentorio, Corbala came back and spread the news to his followers about Tentorio’s death, the witness said.
The witness said he was among those who were told by Corbala about the death of Tentorio.
The Bagani Force is a militia composed mostly of tribe members and trained as an auxiliary for the military in the counter-insurgency campaign.
“We were given military training inside our camp by military personnel,” the witness said.
The militia maintains a camp in Sitio (settlement) Kamanagan in Arakan, the witness said.
The military denied the allegations. Lieutenant Nasrula Sema, civil military operations chief of the 57th Infantry Battalion, said there was no truth to allegations that the military was the source of the funds for the operation to hunt Tentorio.
Sema also denied that the military organized the Bagani Forces.
Human rights groups pointed to the Bagani Force and the military as perpetrators of Tentorio’s murder.
The Eastern Mindanao Command repeatedly denied funding or training any tribal militia in Arakan.
Justice Undersecretary Baraan, who personally met the witness, said the justice department would conduct an investigation. “There will be no cover-ups,” said Baraan.
The witness has been placed under the Witness Protection Program, he said.