“Some of our witnesses are reluctant. They don’t like to be included in the program.”– Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, chairperson of the Justice for Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio Movement.
By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The death of the witnesses in the Maguindanao massacre who were supposedly under the government’s Witness Protection Program have discouraged the legal team and colleagues of murdered Italian priest Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME.
“Some of our witnesses are reluctant. They don’t like to be included in the program,” said Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, chairperson of the Justice for Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio Movement (JPM).
Tentorio, the parish priest of Arakan, North Cotabato, was killed last October 17, 2011 inside the church compound by armed men believed to be connected to the military and paramilitary forces.
Even Geremia hesitated to come-out with new testimonies regarding the case. “We waited so long before coming-out with this statement. We never brought these testimonies and evidences to the media until now because we don’t want to endanger the witnesses and we don’t want to provoke more reaction,” he said.
To date, 6 government witnesses in Maguindanao massacre have been mysteriously gunned down over the last three years.
New cases filed
Private prosecutors filed new charges last April 12 as witnesses surfaced implicating previous suspects Jimmy Ato and his brother Robert and Jun Corbala alias “Kumander Iring” to Fr. Tentorio’s killing.
Jimmy Ato is currently in NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) custody not due to Tentorio’s killing but because of a previous case of arson and homicide while Robert was involved in the conspiracy and under protective custody of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Cotamco.
Atty. Gregorio Andolana, one of the private prosecutors in the case, said the AFP is further implicated due to an account of a new witness, tagging them as behind the Bagani Special Force and Kumander Iring.
He added that, “We have a law that says that the indigenous peoples should not be armed, but to our knowledge, the Bagani group of Kumander Iring is still in Brgy. Ganatan, Arakan and may be now composed of 100 members fully-armed by the military. When these arms were confiscated last year, they were retrieved by military officers belonging to the Special Forces and the 57th Infantry Battalion.”
Fr. Geremiah said “a full-scale investigation is being prevented to protect a number of untouchables.”
“I have reasons to believe that influential people are blocking and diverting the investigations. The NBI has stopped investigating the Bagani group and their military handlers.”
Fr. Geremia scoffed that the justice, local government and defense departments have not coordinated and shared intelligence reports.
Despite requests, the NBI “has stopped communicating” with them, he added.
He also scored Robredo when the latter categorically denied in a letter to Italian Ambassador Luca Formari quoting: “It must be stressed, however, that the armed group “Bagani” does not officially exist as a unit of AFP, hence, it could not be officially associated with the said institution.”
For her part, Gabriela representative Luz Ilagan said the government’s neglect in handling Tentorio’s case was “unfortunate” considering that progressive partylists had passed a resolution for the speedy investigation of the case last year.
“That resolution was not taken-up in any of the committees where we submitted this, despite the privilege I myself made. Thus, it is important that interest groups continue to remind the President and government agencies in pursuing justice for Fr. Tentorio,” said Ilagan. (John Rizle Saligumba/davaotoday.com)Extrajudicial Killings