ANTIPOLO City, Nov. 1, 2011—Member-organizations of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE) had made a pledge to continue the mission the slain Italian missionary, Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME had begun, and that is, to defend the environment from plunder and to campaign more against military occupation in the indigenous communities’ territory.
KPNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista Jr. said that while Fr. Pops had been laid into his final rest last October 25, he had left a legacy that would never end—the “principled” struggle against mining TNCs [transnational corporations] that continuously bring danger to the indigenous people’s ancestral lands, the communities and the environment as a whole.
“Fr. Pops’ example will always be emulated by environmental activists for his principled stand against destructive large-scale mining, even as it threatened his life. We will continue his struggle against destructive large-scale mining operations threatening the people of Arakan Valley and various other mining-affected areas,” he said in a press statement.
Gunned down by an unknown assassin inside the Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish compound in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, at around 8:30 a.m. on October 17, he is the seventh on the list of victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under the Benigno C. Aquino III presidency.
Blame it to Oplan Bayanihan
KPNE and other groups, including the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno and the human rights’ watchdog, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region (SMR), blamed the Oplan Bayanihan—the newly established anti-insurgency campaign by the Department of National Defense, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the key implementer.
“The counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which is being disguised as a development campaign of the Aquino government, is a program of human rights violations and the killing of progressive leaders, activists, church-people and civilians,” said Soluta in a statement published in KMU’s official website, http://www.kilusangmayouno.org/, days after the killing incident.
The labor leader said, there is reason to believe that the killing is related to the government and military’s intensifying counter-insurgency program in Mindanao, especially in mining areas, following the punitive action undertaken by the New People’s Army against destructive mining firms in Surigao del Sur. Soluta is referring to the burning of Nickel Asia Corporation last October 4.
Hanimay I. Suazo, Karapatan-SMR secretary general, in an email said, they have a strong evidence that would link the military to the killing of Fr. Pops, as another priest had feed them an information about a list of people under surveillance by the military. They have learned about the “order of battle” (OOB) list, just like what the military has during the Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 of the former Arroyo administration, after they had conducted an independent investigation about the incident.
“Based on fact-finding mission report, the killing of Fr. Pops Tentorio happened during the time when the military under the 57th Infantry Battalion was conducting their Oplan Bayanihan activities,” the lady human rights’ advocate told this reporter, in an email.
Suazo said that another missionary priest, who is also very vocal on his opposition against mining and other ecology-destructive activities in Mindanao, is also included in the said OOB list. Suazo was referring to Rev. Fr. Peter Geremia, Fr. Pops’ colleague, who revealed that he, himself, is included in the alleged OOB list.
Suazo also revealed that prior to the slaying of the Italian priest, the late Fr. Pops had been receiving death threats in the past.
“Surveillance activities on known leaders and supporters of legitimate organizations who are critical to anti-people and anti-environment policies, projects and programs is one of the activities of the government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan other than psychological warfare, deception and villification of legitimate and progressive organizations as ‘enemies of the State’,” she added.
NZ religious community mourns Fr. Pops’ death
Meanwhile, even the religious leaders and communities in New Zealand had condemened—and mourned—the death of Fr. Pops.
The Solidarity from People of Faith in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, a group of religious leaders, including two Roman Catholic bishops, high ranking Protestant officials, and religious women, in an open letter said, they “echo the cries for justice” and call for “fast, full and fair investigation of this terrible crime.”
They also said that they were “further disturbed by other reported incidents of anti-mining indigenous community leaders and church workers, including Rabenio Sungit, indigenous leader of the Pelaw’an tribe and active lay leader of the Taguao Outreach Congregation of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) who was gunned down on 5th September.”
“We therefore support the Filipino people’s appeals for President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to: 1. Dismantle the militias that have threatened the life of Fr. Tentorio since 2003 and claimed lives of several anti-mining indigenous peoples and human rights advocates since the Marcos dictatorship. [And] 2. Scrap the Mining Act of 1995 and immediately cancel mining permits for big foreign mining firms that have been encroaching on indigenous people’s ancestral domain, destroying the environment and livelihood sources, displacing hundreds of families and disregarding their basic human rights.”
“In his 30 years of mission among indigenous people, poor peasants and other disadvantaged sectors in Mindanao, Fr. Tentorio lived out true Christian discipleship. Witnessing injustice, poverty and rampant government neglect, he joined them in their fight to defend ancestral domain while setting up education and health programmes for the poor,” read the letter of solidarity.
“We fervently pray for courage and blessings for our sisters and brothers in the Philippine churches who commit to carry on Fr. Tentorio’s advocacy against destructive mining and his various ministries for the poor despite the threats of persecution,” ended the letter signed by Most Rev. Patrick Dunn, the Bishop of Auckland; Most Rev. Peter J. Cullinane, the Bishop of Palmerston North; Rev. Desmond Cooper, the president of the United Methodist Church of New Zealand; Rev. John H. Roberts, the president-elect of the UMC-NZ; Fr. Claude Mostowik, MSC, the director of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre (Australian Province) and president of Pax Christi Australia; Rev. Stuart Vogel of the Asian Ministries Committee, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ); Marion Harper, the Honorable Secretary, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church, Australia; Fr. Chris Sullivan, coordinator, St Marks / Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Justice & Peace Group, NZ; Gillian Southey, Campaigns Coordinator, Christian World Service, New Zealand; Rev. Brian Turner of the Methodist Church of New Zealand; Mr. Michael Yore, Director Mission and Justice, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (GSANZ); and several nuns from the Religious of the Good Shepherd, and other religious. (Noel Sales Barcelona)