New witnesses to Italian priest’s murder appear
DAVAO CITY—New witnesses have surfaced in connection with the Oct. 17, 2011, murder of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio. The witnesses’ claims boost theories that the military was involved in the murder, private prosecutors said.
The military has repeatedly denied involvement in the Tentorio murder and blamed leftist propaganda behind efforts to drag soldiers into it. Lt. Col. Leopoldo Galon, speaking for the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command based here, had earlier said Tentorio was never a military target.
Galon then cited the confession of Jimmy Ato, who admitted to the murder, that Tentorio was killed on orders of some landowners in Arakan, North Cotabato, because of his opposition to a proposed hydropower project in the town. The landowners, Ato said in a statement he submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, were poised to make money out of their properties if the project pushed through.
But lawyer Manuel Quibod, one of the private prosecutors in the Tentorio murder case, said some witnesses had surfaced and pointed to a Jan Corbala, a paramilitary leader, as behind Tentorio’s murder.
Quibod said based on the witnesses’ account, Corbala had planned to kill Tentorio as early as Oct. 15.
The witness also claimed Corbala met them on the eve of Oct. 15, showing the P50,000 the military allegedly provided for “operational expenses” and the motorcycle to be used.
The witness, Quibod said, also claimed that Corbala told them Tentorio was to be killed because he was “supporting the communist New People’s Army.”
Lawyer Gregorio Andolana, another private prosecutor in the Tentorio case, said the new witnesses had told them Corbala and his men were to kill the priest in Barangay Dalag, also in Arakan, where he had celebrated Mass on Oct. 15.
But the first attempt, he said, was foiled because the firearms intended to carry out the plan were intercepted and confiscated by the police.
“They were not successful on Oct. 15, but they were successful on Oct. 17,” Andolana said.
He said the prosecutors had secured a copy of the police blotter about the confiscation of the firearms, which showed that Corbala was indeed among those the firearms had been seized from.
The private prosecutors said based on these testimonies, they have asked the Department of Justice to include Corbala among the list of suspects in the Tentorio murder.
But the response was snail-paced, they said.
What went before
Tentorio—fondly known as “Father Pops”—was gunned down in broad daylight at Mother of Perpetual Help church compound in Arakan, North Cotabato, on Oct. 17, 2011.
Witnesses said the lone assassin, wielding a gun with a silencer, shot the priest eight times as he was getting into his pickup truck outside a convent.
The gunman, who wore a crash helmet, then casually walked to a motorcycle near the church compound and sped away with a companion.
Tentorio, 59, a staunch antimining advocate, was declared dead at the hospital, ending his years of service in Mindanao that spanned over three decades.
He was first assigned to the Archdiocese of Zamboanga in 1978. He was transferred to the Diocese of Kidapawan in 1980 and assigned as mission administrator to the parish of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat province. In 1985, he was transferred to the mission station of Arakan.
Following Tentorio’s death, President Aquino vowed that the government would get his killers even if they belonged to groups linked with the military, which is among the angles being considered.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also urged authorities to “investigate thoroughly every angle” in the murder.
Tentorio was the third Italian priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in the Philippines killed in Mindanao in the last 26 years.
The first was Tulio Favali, who was killed on April 11, 1985, by cult leader Norberto Manero in Tulunan, North Cotabato. Seven years after, Salvatore Carzedda, was killed in an ambush by an unknown assailant in Zamboanga City. Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao and Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives, PIME Missionaries: www.pime.org
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