The Department of Justice is set to reopen the murder case of Reverend Fausto Tentorio, an Italian priest killed in in North Cotabato province in 2011.
The case involved 12 people, including members of the military.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong told reporters today (Wednesday, December 27) that the case had failed to progress despite already available findings and pieces of evidence on Tentorio’s death.
Ong said a resolution was already filed with the Administrative Order 35 Special Oversight Team, but the team found the findings insufficient and recommended “further investigation”.
“I can’t fathom why they can’t come up with a similar resolution. We were able to check how Tentorio was killed,” Ong said, who headed the DOJ team that conducted a reinvestigation earlier this year.
He said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had filed a motion to withdraw, asking to pull out its complaint that it filed before the North Cotabato Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.
“We have to withdraw that because there were fall guys. Something is wrong with that complaint filed by the previous set of NBI investigators,” Ong said. “After the motion is granted, the next step is to file a new complaint against the recommended people.”
Fr. Tentorio, a member of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, was gunned down inside the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Arakan, North Cotabato, on October 17, 2011.
In the report signed by Ong, named as respondents are Jimmy Ato, Robert Ato, Jan Corbala, Nene Durado, Kaing Labi, Joseph Basol, Edgar Enoc, Romulo Tapgos, William Buenaflor, and one alias “Katong.”
Also named as respondents are Lieutenant Colonel Joven Gonzales and Major Mark Espiritu of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Witnesses bared that Tentorio’s killing was planned seven days before the execution, he said.
The state prosecutor added he conducted a re-investigation back in May and finished it in November after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II gave the order based on the request of the Italian Embassy.
“When I met 30 witnesses in July in Arakan, very spontaneous pa rin ang kwento nila. They aren’t worried. They are willing to testify,” said Ong, who then personally went to North Cotabato.
Despite Tentorio’s close ties with the Lumad tribe, the DOJ report ruled out any political angle in the Italian priest’s death, Ong said.
“You have no reason to kill a person who is not a combatant. It is plain murder. No politics here. This has nothing to do with the New People’s Army. This is simple murder,” he said.
Ong assured the family of the Italian priest that they would get justice.
“We hope that we have somehow given justice, though still partially, to Fr. Tentorio, to the family of Fr. Tentorio in Italy, and to the Catholic Church. Justice may be slow, but one thing we promise is that we will give justice to Fr. Tentorio. How long will it take? We can’t control it,” Ong told reporters.
The latest report stated that several witnesses, including students and teachers attending a morning flag ceremony at a nearby Arakan school, heard gunshots and later saw the suspected gunman walking away from the church compound, where Tentorio was found sprawled beside his car.
The assassin then fled with companions on board two motorcycles, the report said.
A key witness, Danilo Bayawan, told the team that he attended a meeting called by Jan Corbala, a local leader of a militia force, to discuss the planned killing of Tentorio about a week before the attack. Corbala allegedly stated that he was ordered by military officials to kill Tentorio and was given money and a motorcycle to carry out the attack, the report said, adding that Bayawan backed out of the plot and later decided to tell authorities what he knew.
Tentorio was killed while about to board his vehicle in North Cotabato’s Arakan town. He was on his way to a meeting of priests at the Bishop’s Palace in Kidapawan City.
The missionary was a known leader in a campaign against mining operations in the town, which environmental activists feared could displace impoverished villagers and tribal communities.