Respect rights of suspect in Fr. Pops’ killing—bishop
KIDAPAWAN CITY—Kidapawan Bishop Romulo de la Cruz has urged the authorities to respect the rights of the suspect arrested in connection with the October 17 killing of Italian priest Fausto Tentorio.
Although De la Cruz said he was happy the investigation into the killing of “Father Pops” was moving, he nonetheless denounced the alleged torture or mauling of suspect Jimmy Ato by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
De la Cruz issued the statement after a resident of Kulaman Valley village said he saw Ato being mauled by the arresting NBI agents.
“They mauled him before he was whisked off into their vehicle,” the villager who requested anonymity out of fear had told a local radio station.
The resident also belied claims by the authorities that Ato had engaged the arresting officers in a gunfight.
“No shot was heard,” the villager said.
The resident also said Ato was a farmer and he was surprised by his arrest.
De la Cruz said a suspect’s rights should be respected at all times.
“It’s up to the courts to determine his culpability,” he said.
“As the bishop of the diocese, I am very happy because finally we have seen a light in the very dim situation of Fr. Pops’ killing. Fr. Pops will surely rest in peace with this development,” De la Cruz said.
In the event the suspect is found guilty of murdering Tentorio, De la Cruz said the church would forgive him.
“In the end, maybe we give mercy but he must first confess and tell the truth,” he said.
Ato was arrested by NBI agents in Arakan, North Cotabato, last Thursday.
The NBI said he was positively identified by witnesses.
According to Col. Leopoldo Galon of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) based in Davao City, Ato said Tentorio was killed for his opposition to a proposed hydropower project in the Arakan part of the Pulangui River and that landowners who would financially benefit from the project gave the order to kill the priest.
Militant groups earlier aired their suspicion that the military may have been behind the murder because of Tentorio’s work with indigenous or lumad communities—particularly against perceived military abuses.
Lt. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero, Eastmincom commander, denied his men were involved in the killing and urged critics “to let the NBI finish its investigation and file charges against those behind the priest’s killing.”
The spokesperson of the Army unit in Arakan, Lt. Manuel Gatus of the 57th Infantry Battalion, said that with the arrest of the suspect, militant groups should apologize for wrongfully accusing soldiers of involvement in the killing.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), on the other hand, praised the NBI for Ato’s arrest and said it could lead to the identification of the mastermind.
“The road is getting narrower. This will give us a very detailed inside story of why this killing came up. It leads to who really masterminded it,” CHR Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag said in a phone interview. He said that if the case were cracked, it would make the climate of impunity “irrelevant.”
Ato and his brother Jimmy, who evaded arrest, are believed to be members of a gun-for-hire syndicate, he said.
The CHR has been looking at different angles in the killing of Tentorio—including the involvement of the military, paramilitary groups, local politicians and multinational companies.
Mamauag said it was the first time he heard of Tentorio’s opposition to the hydropower project as a reason for his killing.
“But once there is positive identification, motive is immaterial,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.