The life and death of Father Fausto Tentorio (59) is not going to be forgotten. Filipinos and many others will continue to recall and celebrate his steadfast solidarity, commitment and dedication to the downtrodden indigenous people. The Lumad people of Mindanao are victims of exploitation, discrimination and man made poverty for the past 50 years. The onslaught of mining in the area of North Cotobato, Mindanao brought a response from the church, and Father Tentorio took a stand with the indigenous people to help them protect their ancestral domain and human rights from the loggers, land grabbers and mining corporations.
His fellow Italian missionary Tuilo Favali was also murdered by assassins in 1985, for his heroic efforts to stand with the people to protect the environment from the insatiable appetites of the rich and wealthy logging corporations and big business interests backed by the dynastic families that still rule the Philippines with private armies (from the congress to the countryside). In the case of Fr Favali the killers were found and arrested and sentenced to 20 years, but the masterminds that steered them to their target and paid them were known but never named.
In the murder of Father “Pops”, as he was fondly called, the mining interests in the area that desire the ancestral lands of the tribal Filipinos in order to exploit the mineral wealth will not be blamed. While fingers may be pointed at Philippine military it is more likely that the hired killer that parked his motor bike outside the house of Father “Pops” on the morning of October 17, that walked up to him and shot him point blank as he was getting into his car, had the mark of an experienced trained assassin.
These killers are known to be former members of the military or police, fired out for one reason or another, or charged with a crime and then either work for private security companies founded by retired military or police officers, or are killers for hire. The Sagittarius Mining company has a huge controversial project that the people and the diocese of Kidapawan vigorously oppose. The Company stated in a half page newspaper advertisement recently that they respect the rights of the people, the environment and had nothing whatsoever to do with the killing of Father Tentorio. But what about their private security company?
Hundreds of people marched with the funeral cortege carrying flags and banners, one read: Justice for Fr Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME. A Missionary Martyr for the Poor and the Landless.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez in a radio broadcast advised President Aquino not to allow mining in areas where there is opposition to it. The parish of Fr Pops in the beautiful scenic Arakan Valley was the target of the mining corporation and he helped organize and empower the people to be unafraid to object to the threatened takeover of their lands. The Bishop of Marabel in Cotobato, said “Maybe because of that he was killed”. He had received death threats but did not take them seriously, parish workers said. Despite the danger and the threats he stood his ground with the people and lived on with them working for justice.
So too have many others of different faiths taken their stand in the streets against tyrants and tyranny and have risked their lives and lost them in protesting against evil regimes and injustice and working for a just society.
Thousands of committed Christians, missionaries – lay and ordained, men and women around the world have taken on the true mission of the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth and they stand up for the poor and serve them as “washers of feet”, as good shepherds who lay down their lives for their people. They call them friends as did Jesus giving us an example as to what love and friendship really is, asking no reward and working for justice to the end even if it comes by an assassin’s bullet or crucifixion.
When Jesus had that last meal of friendship with his disciples he knew what would happen to him and so he left that simple meal as a reminder of his friendship and his mission, “Do this in memory of me”. So too we remember Fr Tentorio. He has joined that band of brothers and sisters who gave their lives, bravely and courageously, as an example for the rest of us.