April Grace Mirasol observes that justice for Fr. Pops seems elusive, but she cannot understand why the investigators are yet unable to find all the perpetrators that she believes are not unknown to the authorities.
By RG PALUA GUMANAO
KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato — Justice grinds slow for the slain Italian missionary Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio whose death over a year ago remains a puzzle to the authorities. This is what April Grace Mirasol observes. She agrees that justice for Fr. Pops seems elusive, but she cannot understand why the investigators are yet unable to find all the perpetrators that she believes are not unknown to the authorities.
“Mas papaspason ko pa ang pag-imbestiga sa mga nagpatay sa iyaha ug iduso sa husgado nga hukman ang mga nagpatay (I will help expedite the investigation of the killers and will ask the court to prosecute them),” answered April Grace when asked what she would do if given the chance to stand as one of Fr. Pops’s lawyers. April Grace, a fifteen year-old Tinananon Manobo and a fourth year high school student of Notre Dame of Arakan, knows very little about judicial proceedings. But she dreams of becoming a lawyer.
April Grace is one of the over 1,500 scholars of Fr. Pops. She is a scholar since Grade 3. Without the assistance of Fr. Pops, her dream to become a lawyer would be more difficult to achieve because her parents are just poor farmers. She recalls her Tatay Pops as a benevolent priest and a firm defender of the Lumads’ rights and ancestral land.
“Kadtong naa pa si Tatay Pops, naa jud mi maduolan kung may hinanali kami nga kinahanglan, wala na gaduha-duha. Karon, naa pa man pero lahi na jud (When Tatay Pops was still alive, we have someone to go to whenever we have urgent needs and he never hesitated. Now, we can still seek help, but it’s not the same as before),” shared another scholar Isabel Indao, fifteen, a Matigsalog from Barangay White Kulaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon.
The programs of Fr. Pops for the poor, especially the Lumads, serve not only the province of North Cotabato but also the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley and some other communities in the Southern Mindanao Region. Despite Fr. Pops’s death, his programs remain active.
Isabel declared, “Wala man mi nahuyang sa pagpatay kay Tatay Pops. Mas nakigbisog pa hinoon mig samot… Ipadayon gyud nako ang akong pag-eskwela hangtod mahimo na kong maestra. Gusto nako makatabang sa akong mga katribu nga Lumad nga makatuon sila (We are never discouraged by the killing of Tatay Pops. We even driven to fight more… I will pursue my studies until I become a teacher. I want to help my fellow Lumads to learn).”
Fr. Pops believed that by helping the Lumads with their education, they would be able to learn how to read, write and count. In this way, they will less likely to be fooled by merchants and other businessmen who take advantage of the Lumads’ illiteracy.
Like April Grace and Isabel, another scholar Angel Binaton, sixteen years old and a second year high school student of Notre Dame of Arakan, hopes to pay forward to the kindness extended to her by her beloved Tatay Pops.
“Isip balos nako kay Tatay Pops, magtarong jud kog eskwela. Gusto nako mahimong nars kay daghan mga Lumad ang naay mga sakit ug kinahanglan nilag tabang (I will study well to repay Tatay Pops’s help. I want to become a nurse because many Lumads suffer from diseases and they need help),” said Angel.
It is a reality in the Philippines that the indigenous people in the hinterlands seldom see a nurse or a doctor who would extend medical assistance. Some die without even seeing one.
Continuing Pops’s legacies against all odds
April Grace, Isabel and Angel all said that they are never afraid to continue the advocacies of their Tatay Pops.
Isabel said some critics discouraged them in their pursuit of justice. “Naay nagaingon nga undang na mo ana kay wala na man si Fr. Pops, dili gihapon ninyo makuha ang hustisya. Pero magpadayon jud mi ug mas nagadaghan pa hinoon mi ang magpadayon sa nasugdan ni Fr. Pops kay tama man ang ginapaglaban niya (Some told us to stop our cause because Fr. Pops is already dead and justice is impossible. But we will continue and even expand to pursue what was started by Fr. Pops).”
On October 16, 2012, the day before the first death anniversary of Fr. Pops, April Grace, Isabel and Angel, together with over 400 students and faculty of the clergy-run Notre Dame of Arakan in North Cotabato, held a prayer parade. As they passed by the detachment of the 3rd Special Forces of the Philippine Army while praying the rosary, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) increased the volume of their sound system welcoming with loud noise those who joined the prayer parade.
“Kabastosan gyud to sa amo nga nag-ampo lang nga malinawon (It was a disrespect to us who just prayed peacefully),” exclaimed April Grace.
For the people who were helped by Fr. Pops, it is the AFP-backed paramilitary group Bagani under the Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino administration that killed the missionary priest. The AFP accused Fr. Pops as a supporter of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
April Grace disagreed saying it is still not a valid reason to kill the priest. She said, “Kung magtabang ka diay sa mga kabus, kung manalipod ka sa yutang kabilin ug sa katungod sa mga Lumad sama sa gihimo ni Fr. Pops, NPA supporter ka na diay dayon? Pwede ka na diay dayon patyon? (When you help the poor and defend the land and the rights of the Lumads like what Fr. Pops did, are you now an NPA supporter? Can they now kill you?)”
The killing of Fr. Pops will not stop these three young girls to chase their dreams and to pursue the missions of their Tatay Pops. They have so much to thank for because with Fr. Pops, it will not be surprising that one day, the Lumads in Southern Mindanao will have fellow Lumads as their lawyer, teacher and nurse who will commit to serve their communities.
For April Grace, to commit herself to service means to be ready to die for it. “Wala ko gibati og kahadlok bisag patyon ko kay si Tatay Pops gani, wala man nahadlok! Siya among inspirasyon (I am never scared even if they kill me because Tatay Pops himself was never afraid! He is our inspiration).” (RG Palua Gumanao, davaotoday.com)Extrajudicial Killings