A Future Not Our Own

by Juan L. Mercado

That full page paid ad, on page  14-A in the Inquirer of Oct. 26, startled many. It bore the title: “Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio: Beloved Servant of the Masses”— referring to the 59-year Italian priest, gunned down in North Cotabato mid-October.

The advertiser claimed to be : “Southern Mindanao Regional Party committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines”. Siegfred M. Red, “secretary” signed the ad. This is the first time ever the CCP deployed paid ads.

The Party, for instance,  confirmed the death of spokesman, “Ka Roger” in a statement emailed to Inquirer October 10. CPP’s  website  carried a black and white portrait of the 64-year old  Batangueno, who used laptops for “people’s” war.  A one line caption read: “Gregorio ‘Ka Roger’ Rosal, 1947-2011.” That was all.

This full page ad shatters the last half century’s pattern. Is this an exception?  Will this continue? What’s going on here?

Look at “Father Pops” and his 33 years of service.  “For many years, (Fr. Tentorio) served the people of the Philippines in a courageous and indefatigable way”, wrote Pope Benedict XVI.  “He was “a good priest, a fervent believer.“

Tentorio shepherded his flock with the sacraments and cobbled programs, from child immunization to adult literacy. Thousands of those he had cared for trudged alongside his coffin to Balindong cemetery.

“Your dream is my dream”, Tentorio wrote in his last will and testament, made public by his PIME confreres. Scribbled in in the Visayan dialect he was fluent in, Fr. Pops added: ”Your struggle is my struggle. Therefore, you and I are one: companions in building the Kingdom of God”.

As pastor, he “sought justice for lumads or indigenous people, dispossessed of their land, harassed by armed men, when government seemed to abandon them”, Kidapawan bishop Romulo  de La Cruz recalled at the funeral.  Siding with the oppressed, “can earn you enemies who go after even the kindest of men.”

AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command denies it had any hand in Tentorio’s rubout.  But it did tag the priest as  “friendly” to  the NPA, admits Lt. Col. Leopoldo  Galon, EastMindcom spokesperson.  “He welcomes sinners and tax collectors”. Wasn’t that also the  tag slapped on Fr. Pops’ Master?

Catholic Bishops Conference and PIME are pressing government to nail the killer and mastermind. “What makes us so indignant is the injustice, the impunity of the perpetrators,” Italian ambassador Luca Fornari fumed.

Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan has started what seems a hard-nosed professional enquiry.  Baraan is hamstrung by mistrust of the military  among  potential  witnesses.  Like it or not, government’s probers find themselves in a race. The Reds dumped  this “blood  debt”  at doors of the  6th Infantry  Division  “Revolutionary forces vow to bring revolutionary justice for Father Pops,” their ad pledges.

“CCP-NPA is the longest-running Maoist insurgency in the world”, Diana Rodriguez and Soliman M. Santos, Jr. write in the  new book “Primed and Purposeful”.  Armed clashes, across four troubled decades left  4,745 killed and injured 1,534, incomplete tallies claim. Most were civilians.  And  1.2 million became refugees.

Military victory eluded both security forces and rebels. “Nor is it is likely in the future”. Communists are bogged down in strategic defense of it’s ‘protracted people’s war.’ They’ve never achieved a “great leap forward” of mass adherents, Rodriguez and Soliman add.

Indeed, from it’s peak in the 1980s, the CCP ‘withered and splintered”, Australian National University’s Benedict J.Tria  Kerkvliet writes in Philippine Human Development Report. Weakened by internal pogroms, a CCP evaluation confirms  “ideological superficiality.”

“Mindanao’s communism party building was notably weak. Communist ideology is part of leaders’ vocabulary. (The paid ad, for example, is studded with jargon: “bureaucrat capitalism”, ”commandism” our-time-imperialism”, etc.)

“But for most ordinary members, that is not the case.” It is abuse and injustice. In Abra, Kalinga and Mountain Province, the  movement has morphed  “into a struggle for Cordillera identify.”…Some NPAs evolved a “kind of business enterprise that sells protection in exchange for money and other compensation.

Fr. Tentorio was selfless, not because of his priestly vocation but “because he learned from the masses,” the ad claims.   ”The masses alone are the creators of history.”  This is, of course, Mao Ze Dong 101. “Party members should take their cue from the masses, and reinterpret policy with respect to the benefit of the masses”, the Great Helmsman wrote.

Sundays, Tatay Pops would give “brief but sound homilies that affected people’s lives”, the paid ad says. “In his sermons, he guided peasants and the masses to embrace the national democratic struggle. That’s communist shorthand for conflict.

The military, meanwhile,insists they did not tar Fr. Tentorio as “communist” — and thereby become a target for hitmen. “The ad is a deceptive attempt to insinuate that the military is behind his murder”,  Col. Galon  protested.

Remember Archbishop  Oscar Romero of El  Salvador?  He became the strongest voice against government lawlessness, after the  murder of Jesuit Father Rutilo Grande who defended the poor.  Romero was shot while saying mass in March 1980.  A UN Commission later established that death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson ordered the  killing.

Romero wrote what Tentorio lived: ”The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We merely plant seeds that will one day grow. We are ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. “

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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