DAVAO CITY – Patience is running thin for a colleague of slain Italian missionary Fr. Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio after learning that the special investigative body is asking for an extension of their probe beyond the April 30 deadline.
Fr. Peter Geremiah of the Pontificio Istituto Missioni Estere (PIME) said he was informed that the special investigative team (SITU) had sought the extension as it has not gathered enough evidences to find the perpetrators to Tentorio’s death.
Tentorio was shot dead last October 17, 2011 inside his parish in the mountainous Arakan town in North Cotabato. He was a beloved priest to indigenous peoples since the 1980s for his livelihood projects, education and support to campaigns against militarization.
Four suspects had been arrested on the killing but Geremiah and parish workers believed a paramilitary leader and a military offical who were involved in the killing should have been investigated.
The SITU was formed last year in October taking off from Pres. Aquino’s Administrative Order 35 issued on November 22, 2012, which created the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons.
Geremiah said the military’ 57th IB was a no-show when the SITU invited them to an inquiry on May 27, 2013 and did not show up again recently on April 22.
The 75-year old priest, who spoke to Davao Today in his visit to Manobo evacuees in Davao City, said his patience has been stretched to a point that he calls this “one last chance” for justice for his colleague.
Geremiah said in the last three years, he and other members of the Justice for Pops Movement had spend time and effort to help investigators by producing witnesses and statements.
“We perservered and made sure that the witnesses and their families are kept safe while in hiding. Our lawyers spent a lot of time for this,” he said.
But he said with three years of fruitless search, “there might be a time we could say this is our last chance.”
Geremiah said that aside from the suspects who were the brothers Ato and Sampulan, they want to probe the involvement of Jan Corbala, head of the paramilitary group Bagani and who was seen talking to the Ato brothers on the day of Tentorio’s killing.
The priest also wanted authorities to investigate Special Forces Colonel Mark Espiritu, who was reportedly linked in the delivery of a sack full of firearms two days before Tentorio’s death. Geremiah said witnesses had pointed to Espiritu’s possible link to financing and providing a motorcycle to the paramilitary group Bagani.
The Commission on Human Rights Region 12 admitted that the probe was not moving because of “weak” leads.
“The first investigation had no conclusion. In this probe, we doubt if it could bring anything. I and the lawyers observed the procedures are not clear. We just pray for a miracle something might happen,” Geremiah said.
He said he wanted former 57th IB commanding officer General Sedillo to cooperate.
“He kept saying that he is friendly with Pops. But I think if he wanted to stop these accusations that they are “berdugo” (butchers), they should surrender the suspects to clear their name. If they had intelligence assets who have reports on this case, let them show it to the public,” Geremiah said.
He likened Tentorio’s case to many other cases in the Philippines where human rights defenders were extrajudicially killed and no suspects had been brought to court.
More than 1,000 cases of extrajudicial killings were reported by Karapatan since 2001, with most linked to suspected state security forces.
“If justice is impossible in court, then the people will continue to ask for justice elsewhere. And we condemn as well this administration for failure to bring justice,” Geremiah said. (davaotoday.com)