Fr. Pops picked tree for coffin, burial site
ARAKAN, North Cotabato—At the back of the convent where Fr. Fausto Tentorio was killed, a mahogany tree, at least 6 meters (20 feet) long, lies on the ground, the lower portion of its trunk cut in half.
Percinita Sanchez, executive director of Mindanao Interfaith Services Inc., still remembers a day in 2005 when Tentorio, fondly called “Father Pops,” had once called her and showed her proudly the three mahogany trees he planted there.
“I planted those trees when I first arrived here,” Sanchez quoted Tentorio as telling her. “When I die ahead of you, please use those trees for my coffin.”
Sanchez protested this morbid suggestion, but on Tuesday afternoon, hours after the priest was gunned down by a still unknown assassin right inside the church compound, just a few steps from the convent, she remembered what the priest had told her.
So one of the trees was cut down.
But Fr. Peter Geremia, parish priest of Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat and a fellow member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, found that the fallen tree could not be used because it was still fresh.
So a coffin was purchased from Somo Funeral Homes to be used temporarily.
Later, when the fallen tree is dry enough and a coffin is crafted from it, the remains of the priest will be transferred there, as the priest had requested when he was still alive, Geremia said.
But it was not only the coffin that Tentorio mentioned.
Three years after he told this to Sanchez, while in an evaluation workshop in Bagtok sub village, Tentorio also pointed to a place nestled along the slope of Mt. Sinaka, where he said he wanted to be buried.
“Promise to bury me there?” Sanchez quoted the priest as saying in the local dialect.
“This is the second time you’re talking like this, Father Pops,” Sanchez protested.
Tentorio smiled and reminded her about the towering mahogany trees.
“But you’re not going to die, yet. You’re still strong,” Sanchez said.
“But I won’t die of sickness,” Father Pops said. “I’m going to die from bullets.”
Tentorio had maintained a training center in Bagtok, a sub village in Arakan’s Tumanding village. It’s also a place where the Lumad group Tikulpa he helped organize is currently based.
On the day that Father Pops was killed, Sanchez was supposed to meet him in Bagtok to discuss the setting up of a consortium that would strengthen a Lumad education program by including environmental concerns.
Father Pops did not make it to the meeting. He was gunned down while he was opening the door of his car and pupils in a school in front of the Mother of Perpetual Help church were saying their “Pledge to the Flag.”