KIDAPAWAN CITY , Mindanao , Philippines – An Italian priest shot dead by a lone gunman inside a Catholic church compound in North Cotabato yesterday morning.
Fr. Faustino Tentorio, 59, of the Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME), was rushed to the Arakan Medical Specialist Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival by attending physicians.
Senior Police Officer 4 Joel Reyes, officer-on-case, said the priest was about to board his car parked inside the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish at the town of Arakan when the unidentified suspect, armed with a 9 mm pistol, approached him and shot him twice in the head.
With the priest already sprawled on the ground, the suspect fired one more shot at Tentorio to finish him off before escaping toward Barangay Anapolon in Arakan near the
According to witnesses, the gunman, who wore a helmet, casually walked away from the crime scene and fled on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice.
Town police commander Chief Inspector Benjamin Rioflorido said Tentorio had been a longtime parish priest of Arakan, spoke the dialect fluently and had good ties with the people there.
Municipal councilor Leonardo Reovoca, who is also a church worker, said witnesses saw the gunman standing near the church minutes before shots were heard.
The Italian priest was a known environmentalist and had a strong advocacy against mining operations in Arakan and nearby towns.
“He was very protective of the rights of indigenous people in his parish,” Reovoca said.
Police said Tentorio was recently named as titular head of the municipality’s anti-crime Task Force Arakan, a multi-sectoral group helping the police maintain peace and order in the area.
He was the second Italian missionary killed in North Cotabato.
Militiamen, led by siblings Edilberto and Norberto Manero, gunned down Fr. Tulio Favali in Tulunan town in 1985.
hree Italian priests – Guiassepi Piarantoni, Luciano Benedetti and Giancarlo Bossi – were kidnapped by rouge Moro rebels in separate attacks in Zamboanga del Sur from 2003 to 2008. They were freed by their captors through the intercession of local leaders and the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
North Cotabato Gov. Lala Taliño-Mendoza, chair of the provincial peace and order council, ordered the provincial police to investigate the slaying of Tentorio and identify his killer.
Muslim and Christian religious communities condemned the killing of the Italian missionary, who had various peace-building and humanitarian projects in his parish.
“For a fellow missionary who selflessly worked to help the indigenous peoples
and poor farmers of Arakan Valley in North Cotabato to die in such a manner, we are saddened by the fact that there are sectors in our society who are against our work to help bring about peace in Mindanao,” said Fr. Lauro de Guia, superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
“We appeal to the peace-loving people to help in giving light to the death of Fr. Fausto and bring the perpetrators before the bar of justice,” De Guia said.
Ustadz Esmael Ibrahim, a member of the local Darul Iftah (House of Opinions), urged the police to immediately resolve the killing.
Kidapawan Bishop Romulo de la Cruz denounced the killing of another foreign priest, saying it would put the country’s image in a bad light in the international community.
De la Cruz told CBCPNews that the killing of Tentorio was “a very sad incident, very painful for us because all the while we thought Kidapawan is already a peaceful place.”
He said he and the clergy, along with the PIME missionaries, thought that Favali’s death would be the last fatal incident involving foreign missionaries in Kidapawan.
The military has also expressed its condolences over the death of the priest.
By next year, Tentorio would have marked his 30th year as director of the Diocesan of Indigenous Peoples.
His remains will lie in state at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish for two nights for the people to pay their respects and will be brought to the Bishop’s Residence in Kidapawan City.
Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo also condemned the murder of the Italian priest.
“We condemn the murder of Fr. Tentorio. We cry for justice. The church is steadfast in its work for justice and liberation,” said Bagaforo.
Fr. Nevio Vigano, parish priest of the Transfiguration in Sinunuc, Zamboanga City, said he sometimes fears for his life but he believes it is part of their mission.
Fr. Peter Geremia said they are still clueless over the death of Tentorio.
Fr. Giovanni Re, regional supervisor of the Zamboanga City-based PIME, told CBCPNews that his confrere was preparing to attend the regular clergy meeting at the Bishop’s Residence in Kidapawan City when the incident took place.
Sources at the PIME said that Tentorio had received death threats from unknown groups or individuals two years ago.
Various armed groups are known to operate near the area, including Muslim separatist rebels waging a decades-old insurgency and former guerrillas who have branched out into crime, including kidnapping and robbery.
PNP creates SITG Faustino
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome yesterday ordered the creation of a special investigation task group (SITG) to track down the gunman of the Italian priest.
Bartolome designated Region 12 deputy regional police director Chief Superintendent Lester Camba as head of “SITG Faustino.”
He said investigators have yet to determine the motive behind the killing of the Italian missionary. – With Evelyn Macairan, Mike Frialde from Phistar.com