DAVAO CITY – October 17 is the 10th death anniversary of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio, PIME, who served in Arakan, North Cotabato for nearly 30 years when he was felled by gunman inside his parish.
While his case continues to be under investigation in two administrations, the Arakan community, fellow priests, parish workers and peace advocates have continued one legacy that Tentorio held dear, education.
In his missionary work, Tentorio supported the schooling of the children of the Lumad and farmers in his parish, and later extended this service to other provinces. He solicited support from his congregation the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) based in Italy and from other donors.
After his death, parish workers and local organizations established the Fr. Pops Tentorio Foundation, which provided scholarship for Lumad and farmer children from grade school to college, and this is headed by fellow priest and friend, Fr. Peter Geremia, who was with Tentorio from the very start of his assignment in North Cotabato.
First medical-allied scholarship
The foundation commemorated Tentorio’s tenth death anniversary with a program carrying the theme: Edukasyon alang sa Hustisya ug Kalinaw (Education for Justice and Peace).
They presented the achievement of five scholars who are completing their college course in midwifery this December through the step ladder program of the University of the Philippines.
Four of these scholars are Lumad, two are of the Mansaka and Mandaya tribes in Davao de Oro; one is from Arakan; one Ata Manobo from Paquibato, and a farmer student from Kidapawan.
These scholars said they will pursue medicine in hopes of being the first doctors in their community.
Health service is also one of the programs that Fr. Tentorio established for Arakan, where he gathered medical volunteers all over Mindanao who helped provide medical check ups, dental services, trainings and inputs on community health practices for barangay health workers.
Defending the Lumad and the environment
Tentorio and Geremia arrived together in Mindanao in the early 1980s and were assigned to Arakan and Colombio parishes respectively. They led the parishes’ Tribal Filipino program.
Later, Tentorio supported the formation of the Tikulpa or Tinananun Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa (Unity of Kulamanon Lumad) in North Cotabato which spearheaded education service and campaigns to protect the Lumad ancestral land from agribusiness and mining expansions.
A GKK church worker, Nancy B. Goles, remembers Tentorio was very involved in the affairs of the Lumad, especially on environment and social justice.
“Sa GKK namugna ang tanang programa apil na ang programa sa Indigenous Peoples (IP) nga mao jud ang gitutukan ni Fr. Pops. Dira ko nakita kung ano siya ka isog, ano siya ka sinsero sa pagdepensa sa aton kinaiyahan. Isa kana sa akong pamalandong karon nga kung wala si Fr. Pops, siguro uhaw kita karon, wala kita sang tubig, ang ulahi naton nga mga generasyon. Hangtod karon padayon ang selebrasyon sa Mt. Sinaka pinaagi sa paningkamot ni Fr. Pops,” Goles recounts.
(It was in the GKK that all programs especially with the indigenous peoples that Fr. Pops gave his attention. Here I saw how brave, how sincere he was to defend our ecology. That’s what I remember of him now that Fr. Pops is gone. Perhaps, we could have been thirsty now, we could have lost our rivers and our next generation. Until now we celebrate Mount Sinaka because of the efforts of Fr. Pops.)
Keeping the memory alive
Fr. Geremia wrote on his Facebook post about the challenge of finding justice for his long-time colleague, saying they have “face many obstacles and even threats” and are “tempted to stop” with these circumstances.
But he believes the services for the people keep his memory alive.
“Pops has become a sign of hope, a sign of liberation from oppression and despair, a sign that we can change the killing of a servant of the poor into a challenge to follow his example so that more “Pops” can continue his mission.
Pops started as a missionary following the examples of Christ who continues to be with us as we continue His mission.”
Pops had supported Lumad schools as board member the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and reached out to schools such as Salugpongan Community Learning Center and MISFI Academy. These schools had been forcibly closed by the military’s red-tagging campaign under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Educators in the North Cotabato province also shared memories of Fr. Pops’ concern for the education of the Lumad and farmers.
“Pops is like a kindergarten teacher,” said Chona Suello, a school teacher who has worked with Tentorio. “He would explain it well to the Lumad, to the parents the importance of education.”
“He used concrete materials for his visuals (in teaching): leaves, branches, stones, flowers. I saw how he patiently taught the parents and the elderly,” Suello added.
“He’s an example of pushing for equality. He planted in our lives and in our minds that we need to protect, to promote and recognize the rights of the Lumad, that we don’t have to wait for others to work for us,” said Rodelio Ambangan, Vice President of the Southern Christian College of Midsayap, North Cotabato.
For educators and many more people who had experienced Pops’ missionary work, they believe he will never be forgotten.
“Si Pops para sa akoa, wala siya namatay. Ang kamatayon niya nagaagad sa akoa kung kalimtan nako tong tanan murag namatay na jud si Pops. Pero never kay diri sa akong kasing-kasing forever siyang manatiling buhi (For me, Pops never left. His death will come if I forget about him, but it will never happen, because he is always alive in my heart),” said Suello.
Further reading: No case resolution 4 years after killing of Italian priest in Arakan