Case yet to be filed 2 years after priest’s slay

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FR. PETER Geremia Germelina Lacorte/INQUIRER MINDANAO

KIDAPAWAN CITY—Almost two years after the killing of Italian missionary priest Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, the group fighting for justice over his death is dismayed that no case has been filed in court despite overwhelming evidence linking some individuals to the killing.

Fr. Peter Geremia, convener of Justice for Father Pops Movement (JPM), said his group was appalled at the “seeming disinterest” of the Aquino administration to solve the Tentorio case, which has not yet been filed in court. The perpetrators are allowed to roam free, protected by prominent and influential politicians behind the priest’s killing, Geremia’s group said.

“We never failed in calling the attention of the Aquino government,” said Geremia, who earlier petitioned the government to disarm the paramilitary group Bagani, whose leader Jan Corbala, also known as “Kumander Iring,” was earlier linked to the priest’s killing.

“As early as Nov. 29, 2011, we wrote to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to ask for an independent investigation. We asked her, in the succeeding meetings, to come up with unified investigations and testimonies from the witnesses, and to investigate other suspects including the military. In July 2012, we petitioned the government to disarm the paramilitary group Bagani, particularly its leaders involved in the case,” Geremia said. “But until now, the suspects freely wield their arms and continue to sow terror around indigenous peoples’ communities in North Cotabato doing counterinsurgency operations upon orders by the military.”

He challenged President Aquino to deliver justice for Tentorio just as his mother, former President Cory Aquino, delivered justice to another Italian priest Fr. Tulio Favali, killed by the most notorious paramilitary group headed by Norberto Manero Jr.

Geremia said several individuals with links to people in the bureaucracy had been trying to protract the case at the prosecution level.

He added that influential politicians had been protecting the killers who remained at large despite pieces of evidence linking them to the killing. In July this year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) held clarificatory hearings that narrowed down the lead to the suspects.

“Our hopes are guarded as to the possible results of this investigation by the DOJ, but we see light in this case despite the elusiveness of the culprits we believe are protected by influential politicians,” Geremia said.

He also said the latest retraction of witness Dominador Damlayon and suspect Jimmy Ato from their sworn statement only destroyed the credibility of the investigators of the National Bureau of Investigation. Ato and Damlayon claimed they were forced by a certain “Loloy” to give false testimonies.

“But we have a strong hunch that ‘Loloy’ appears to be the link to the masterminds of the killing,” Geremia said.

He said Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III assured him that  President Aquino had approved the guidelines of Administrative Order No. 35, creating the interagency committee on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other rights violations.

“It is still a test case, but we believe that if it is genuinely implemented, it is possible to obtain justice for Father Pops and other cases of extrajudicial killings,” he said.  Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao

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