DAVAO CITY, Philippines – October 17 is the ninth death anniversary of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio PIME. While the quest for justice has dragged on this long, the young people, the Lumad and scholars he had supported will honor his legacy with a tribute for his being “a true servant of the people”.
Tentorio spent 34 years of his priesthood in Arakan Valley of North Cotabato and later to Kitaotao, Bukidnon, where people remembered his ministry of establishing health and livelihood projects, and providing scholarships to hundreds of Lumad and farmers’ children.
But for Lumad leader Ellen Manlilibas, Fr. Pops taught her the most important thing, which is to stand up for her tribe and their ancestral domain.
“He said that we have to stand up and revive our culture for our ancestral domain so that it would not be taken away from us. This is our life as Lumad and being uneducated, we still protect our home,” Manlilibas said.
Manlilibas said it was more challenging being a woman leading her community in Kitaotao, which lies adjacent to Arakan. But she remembers Tentorio advising her, saying women have an important voice in the community.
Tentorio has been supportive of the Manobo Lumad who organized and resisted mining and plantations from encroaching their ancestral land, while pushing for sustainable farms and livelihood.
The Italian missionary was never silent on their issues, his parishioners said. And he would challenge his fellow priests and bishop in Kidapawan on these matters.
It was this kind of presence that many believe was the reason for his assassination on the morning of October 17, 2011 right inside his parish compound. The killing was condemned by the community and the Catholic Church.
Father of the community
His death was an unbearable loss, especially to Gary Paron, his scholar whom Fr. Pops stood as his “Tatay” who supported his college education.
Being active in church since he was young, Paron said he remembered “Tatay Pops” advising him to take a course in agriculture which would help his community of Arakan, which eventually happened.
But Paron remembers Fr. Tentorio acting as his “tatay” in his courtship and marriage to his wife.
“Fr. Fausto stood as my father for no reason, so the other party could not disagree, for it is Fr. Fausto who arranged it and they agreed right away,” Paron said with amusement.
Another scholar, Grace Maquilling, is now a high school teacher in the past six years. She is thankful for the support Tentorio gave her and hundreds of others in their schooling.
“I was so thankful that they provided everything from bags, shoes, uniforms, and to all our needs. I remember him as being so fatherly to us even in a short encounter with him. I can feel how big his heart is in helping me in my studies and I was able to finish it with all the support and allowances,” she said.
Maquilling said Fr. Pops has always told them to serve back to the community after they finish their studies, to do good deeds, and become an inspiration in helping the underprivileged.
Building heaven on earth
But Paron said what he cannot forget from Fr. Pops is what he taught of the deeper meaning of his faith.
“One thing that I cannot forget about him is that when he said that the heaven that is written in the Bible cannot be found up in the moon, or in some planet or anywhere, but Fr. Fausto said heaven is here on earth, we have to work for it, we have to build it” he said.
Paron remembered Tentorio explained the concept of heaven “means no hunger, no injustice, and no conflict with one another,” he added.
Tentorio lived with this principle, by joining peace advocacy groups or activities they hold all over Mindanao. He was also board member of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines Davao, both institutions that have built Lumad schools in Davao and Cotabato regions that he help support.
The schools and scholarships for the Lumad continued after his death, but recently the Duterte government and military has labeled the schools as “rebel schools” and has forced its closures in its counter-insurgency campaign.
Tentorio’s fellow PIME priests and advocates continue to call for justice for the past nine years. Two presidents and several justice secretaries have served through these years, as investigators have already identified paramilitary members Jimmy and Robert Ato, Jan Corbala, alias Kumander Iring, and four members of his Bagani group as suspects for the murder of Tentorio, yet had failed to arrest and prosecute them. (davaotoday.com)activism, Advocacy, arakan, Development Work, environment, Environmental work, farmers, fausto pops tentorio, Fr. Pops, Fr. Pops Tentorio, Fr. Pops. Fausto Tentorio, Human Rights, indigenous people, italian priest, justice, Kidapawan City, Killings, lumad, Mindanao, mindanao news, missionary, north cotabato, Peasant, philippines, pops tentorio