Cops zero in on priest’s antimining stand
Church and religious leaders on Tuesdau urged President Benigno Aquino III to make clear a stand against mining as police investigators zeroed in on the antimining crusade of Fr. Fausto Tentorio as a motive for his assassination.
“My advice to the government is not to allow mining activities anymore, especially in areas where there is strong opposition to it,” Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
Gutierrez said Tentorio, 59, an Italian member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, was a strong defender of indigenous peoples imperiled by mining activities in Arakan Valley in Mindanao.
“Maybe because of that he was killed,” said the Catholic bishop of Marbel in Cotabato.
Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr., spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, said a special task force formed to investigate Tentorio’s killing on Monday was gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.
“Yes,” Cruz said when asked if the investigators were looking at the mining angle. “Part of that is we are validating the threats allegedly received by Father Tentorio before he was killed.”
But he added, “It’s too early to remove other angles from our list.”
A lone assassin, wearing a crash helmet and wielding a gun equipped with a silencer, shot Tentorio 10 times as he was about to board his vehicle, a Suzuki Jimny, not a pickup truck as earlier reported, at the Mother of Perpetual Help church compound in Arakan, North Cotabato. The gunman then casually walked to a motorcycle waiting nearby and sped away with a companion, witnesses said.
The bearded Tentorio, who had been in the Philippines for 32 years, was the third Italian priest to be killed in Mindanao in the past 26 years.
Gutierrez said mining activities were denuding forested mountains rich in biodiversity in Mindanao, including South Cotabato, Saranggani, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat province, sparking protests among indigenous groups and environmentalists.
“The government should no longer allow mining like this because we will also continue to [oppose it] and I don’t know if they (mining firms) are hiring killers or whatever, but I am worried that one of us would get killed again,” he said.
“So I think the government should take a very clear stand already,” he said.
Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, media director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said a former staff member in Tentorio’s parish had called him during his program at Radio Veritas and told him the missionary’s death was related to his antimining campaign.
Quitorio told reporters that Tentorio had strongly opposed the operation of two mining companies in Arakan.
Culture of impunity
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, chair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, also said that Tentorio’s death should prompt President Aquino to halt all mining operations in the country.
She said Mr. Aquino was just ordering investigations that had not produced any results, pointing to the case of broadcast journalist and environmentalist Gerry Ortega who was killed in Palawan province on January 24.
“The killing of Father Tentorio should signal him to declare a stop on foreign mining operations in the country,” Mananzan said over Radio Veritas. “I am personally disappointed with President Aquino.”
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo challenged the government to break a “culture of impunity” in the country.
“These killers are getting bolder everyday because they know they can get away with it,” Pabillo said.
“The government has failed to put a stop to impunity and to make those behind extrajudicial killings liable,” he added.
The antimining advocacy has left a trail of blood across the country, with at least seven people killed in the last four years, including Ortega and Samson Rivera, a member of the evangelical group United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
In a statement, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, a coalition of Protestant and non-Roman Catholic denominations and service-oriented organizations in the country, yesterday condemned the killing of Tentorio.
“His ministry offered an alternative to the economic and social neglect of the Manobos, long denied the basic services of education and economic livelihood. He taught the Lumads to live out their human rights and claim for themselves the right to live with dignity,” the council stated.
“It is not unknown that Father Tentorio spoke against the military presence in the villages of these indigenous people. He spoke loudly that the state’s security force has become the tool for the people’s insecurity,” it said.
“As Church people are harassed and killed, we are deeply concerned that we are not learning the values of preserving our national resources and sense of community as a country, long treasured by the indigenous peoples,” the council added.
“Instead, our leaders have succumbed to the intent of trading our resources for a ‘pair of shoes’ and people who speak the truth about being responsible for the future must be eliminated.”
The council also lamented that Tentorio’s murder was carried out during Indigenous People’s week, which was a “time to learn and appropriate for ourselves indigenous peoples’ values for the care of the earth.” With a report from Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao