Embedded Impunity

by Juan L. Mercado

The immediate often blurs the significant. Pope Francis’ press conference, aboard the plane returning from his South Korea visit is an example.

He made “a chopping gesture and a whistling sound as if to say death comes sooner or later for everyone”.  Headlines cascaded on Francis saying he probably had two, at most three more years to serve. Then,”it’s off to the Father’s house,” he smiled.

What if health faltered to where he could not discharge his duties? He’d resign “even if such a step does not appeal to some theologians.”

That smudged Francis statement that there were no more problems blocking the beatification process for Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero who had been murdered by a sniper from para-military “esquadrones de la muerte”.

That resonates here. Fr. Fausto Tenorio, 59, served indigent tribal people in North Cotabato for 39 years. He was gunned down on October 17, 2011 at his parish in Arakan.

“Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command denies it had any hand in Tentorio’s rubout. But it did tag the priest as “friendly” to the NPA, admits the EastMindcom spokesperson.  Did the military remember that “Father Pops” Master “welcomed  sinners and tax collectors”?

In El Salvador, the conservative Romero had been had been jolted by death squad murders. He evolved into an outspoken critic against brutal suppression of leftist rebels, by the right wing government in the 1980-1992 civil strife.   Romero was shot as he lifted the Host during consecration.

Romero’s cause is now before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It oversees the complex process that leads to canonization after screening for, declaration of “heroic virtues” and beatification. The pope has the final say.

Tentorio shepherded his flock and cobbled programs, from child immunization to adult literacy. Thousands he cared for trudged alongside his coffin.  “For many years, Fr. Tentorio served the people… in a courageous and indefatigable way”, wrote then Pope Benedict XVI. “He was “a good priest, a fervent believer…”

He  belonged to The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. PIME members work in Africa like Algeria, to Mexico in Latin America and Papua New Guinea, Thailand and the Philippines. The Vatican recognized PIME in 1926. Today, it supports more than 500 missionaries in 18 countries.

As pastor, Tenorio “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. Siding with the oppressed “can earn you enemies who go after even the kindest of men.”

A UN Commission later established that death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson ordered the killing of Romero. Here, AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command continues to deny it had any hand in Tenorio’s rubout.

Up to now, the murderers of Fr. Tenorio have not been pinned down, reports Asia Philippines from Kidapawan in North Cotabato.

The  investigation is snarled by contradictory and false leads. Jimmy and Robert Ato were arrested in December 2011. So were five, members of the paramilitary group “Bagan”, led by Jan Corbala, also known as “Commander Iring”. Two witnesses have retracted.

“Someone is trying to block or deflect investigations”, suspects Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME.  Look at the paramilitary groups that patrol the area. “They seem untouchable….We are locked into a system of impunity and a system of corruption”. He stresses “there are also other victims of extrajudicial executions”.

It is a measure of Fr. Tenorio’s integrity that even Mindanao communists tried to hijack his name. In a full-page Inquirer ad, on 26 October last year, the Southern Mindanao Regional Party committee hailed Tenorio as “Beloved Servant of the Masses. Siegfred M Red, “secretary” signed the ad. This is  unprecedented.

Fr. Tentorio was selfless, not because of his priestly vocation but “because he learned from the masses,” the ad’s spin . ”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, 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”, the spokesman protested.

Assassins have not been brought to justice. The Catholic Bishops Conference and PIME are pressing government to nail the killer and mastermind. “What makes us so indignant is the, the impunity of the perpetrators,” the Italian ambassador fumed. What will we tell Pope Francis when he visits in January 2015?

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

That resonates in Romero’s note: “Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us…We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

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