3,000-strong group marks Fr. Pops’ first death anniversary, demand justice for fallen priest

Oct. 17, 2012

“After a year, justice still eludes for Fr. Pops.  His murder is emblematic of the continuing state of impunity under the PNoy administration” — Atty. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Second Nominee, Bayan Muna

Davao Today

KIDAPAWAN CITY,  Cotabato, Philippines — A total of 3,000 angry and disgruntled farmers, lumads (indigenous peoples) and church people trooped to the 57th Infantry Battalion (IB) Philippine Army headquarters in nearby Makilala town and to the city’s Hall of Justice to mark Father Fausto “Fr. Pops” Tentorio’s  first death anniversary.

The caravan rally to the 57th IB headquarters and the protest at the Provincial Prosecutors Office (PPO) took place after a liturgical mass in Fr. Pops’ graveyard in the morning.  At the Army headquarters, the group of mostly lumads and farmers staged an hour-long rally and lambasted the military for coddling the suspects.  The group was led by the Arakan Progressive Farmers Organization (Apo) and the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC) — two peoples organizations supported by the fallen Italian priest.

Meanwhile, another group of mostly church members led by Justice for Fr. Pops Movement (JPM) convenor Fr. Peter Geremia staged a liturgical rally outside the Hall of Justice.  The group handed an appeal statement to the PPO.  The statement, signed by Geremia himself, blamed the non-coordination of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of National Defense (DND) for the delay of the investigation process on Fr. Pops’ murder.

“Only President (Aquino) can order these agencies, particularly the DND, to share their intelligence reports with the DOJ and to allow the officers handling the armed Bagani group be investigated,” Geremia said in the statement.

The statement also called on the government to protect the witnesses and cease the harassment against Fr. Pops’ supporters and the organizations he supported.  The statement also denounced “the prevailing state of impunity that kills without remorse, contemptuous of people like Fr. Pops.”

In a media forum last Monday, the JPM reported that Fr. Pops’ case is still pending at the DOJ level.   Geremia earlier raised suspicion that somebody is blocking the filing of appropriate cases against the suspects, allowing them to go unpunished of their crime.

JPM counsel lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate told davaotoday.com that Fr. Pops’ case receives only a “token attention” from the government through its turtle-paced investigation.  He added that the delay posed more threats to the lives of the witnesses.

“After a year, justice still eludes for Fr. Pops.  His murder is emblematic of the continuing state of impunity under the PNoy administration,” Zarate said.

In the same press conference, Reverend Jurie Jaime, spokesperson of rights group Karapatan, said that the delay only proves that our justice system is not for the poor and the poor’s defenders like Fr. Pops.

Lawyer Gregorio Andolana, one of the private lawyers tapped by the JPM and the Dioscese of Kidapawan, also raised discontentment on how the government handled the investigation.  He echoed Geremia’s suspicion that the government is hesitant in pushing for the investigation of officers of the 57th IB and the Special Forces, who are reportedly coddling the suspects.

Pedro Arnado of the militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also lambasted the government over the non-filing of cases against the suspects of Fr. Pops murder.  KMP also scored the government’s apparent indifference to afford justice to Ramon Batoy, a farmer-leader from Kabalantian village in Arakan town, who was shot-to-death by members of the military forces a few days after Fr. Pops was murdered.

A theatrical concert depicting the life and works of Fr. Pops culminated the fallen priest’s first death anniversary.  (With reports from Paul Randy P. Gumanao/davaotoday.com)

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