North Cotabato lawmaker denies coddling suspects in Italian priest’s slay
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco categorically denied, on Tuesday, that she was coddling and protecting any of the suspected killers of Italian missionary priest Fausto Tentorio.
“There is no single shred of evidence that I coddle criminals,” Catamco said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“It is ridiculously absurd that I have been falsely accused of coddling criminals,” Catamco said, referring to a testimony made by Fr. Peter Geremia during a hearing conducted by the House committee on human rights here last week.
Geremia had said under oath during the hearing that Catamco took custody of, and has been protecting some of the suspects in the 2011 murder of Tentorio. Geremia, who did not identify any of the suspects allegedly taken under Catamco’s custody, represented the Tentorio family and the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) during the hearing.
He said some Tentorio murder suspects have been roaming freely and have been getting protection in Catamco’s custody while witnesses to the priest’s killing felt “imprisoned” under the government’s witness protection program.
“Our witnesses are like prisoners in the safe house of the Witness Protection Program (WPP),” he said.
“They are so tired of waiting like prisoners, while the accused are roaming around free with the protection of Congresswoman Nancy Catamco,” Geremia said.
Geremia said another suspect, Jan Corbala, whom witnesses earlier pointed to as among those behind Tentorio’s murder, has also been roaming around unchecked by authorities.
Corbala was an alleged leader of the paramilitary group, Bagani, that has remained active in Arakan and Bukidnon areas, he said.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, an Army commander, said Corbala was once a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) but was terminated in 2006.
Madrigal said the military was also hunting down Corbala for committing some crimes, which he did not specify.
Catamco said allegations such as those made by Geremia were understandable because “election is forthcoming and this kind of black op or propaganda normally sells in the news.”
“The statement of Fr. Jeremiah is plainly so, so wrong on so many levels. He should understand that the burden to prove his allegations is incumbent upon him. In the proper forum, I shall make my answer,” she said.
Catamco said there was apparently a “seemingly relentless and deliberate attempt of my detractors to spread inaccurate and dishonest allegations against me.”
“This issue was already hurled against me in the 2013 elections and the same group staged a rally few days before the day of elections. I suspect that this group was prodded to rehearse their failed attempt to unseat me as 2nd District Representative,” she said.
Catamco hinted that militant groups were behind the “issues” against her when she mentioned the incident at Haran House here, where some 700 Manobo lumads have been staying since May. Last month, militant groups lambasted Catamco for allegedly instigating a police raid at Haran, a facility run by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, that left 18 people injured.
She also said the hearing conducted by the House committee on human rights became a venue for “our misguided colleagues in Congress” to veer “wildly off-course the official proceedings of the committee on human rights to make a character assassination against me and to muddle the real issues in UCCP Haran — the anomalous establishment of evacuation for Indigenous Peoples and the vicious disinformation that created debilitating fear to my fellow lumads.”
Catamco also declined to comment on Geremia’s claim that Tentorio’s murder could have been instigated by some politicians.
“It is not appropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation. The DOJ created a special task force and a panel of investigators to investigate the alleged crime. I do not want to speculate or preempt their findings,” she said.
Catamco said like Geremia and militant groups, she also wanted to know who killed Tentorio and wanted them prosecuted as well.
“Thus, I continuously join in the call to bring the perpetrators in the court of law. I respect the due process and I will always abide by it. Truth will prevail no matter how my detractors want it to be told or heard,” she said. (Allan Nawal and Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao)