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Philippine soldiers charged with priest’s murder

MANILA (UCAN): The Philippines’ Department of Justice has ordered the filing of charges against two ranking military personnel and several members of a militia group for the 2011 murder of Father Fausto Tentorio Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Mindanao (Sunday Examiner, 30 October 2011).
The Italian priest, who had dedicated himself to the literacy and development of the Lumad people since 1978, was shot dead inside his church compound in Arakan in the hinterlands of North Cotabato on 17 October 2011.
State prosecutors announced that murder charges would be filed against a lieutenant colonel, Joven Gonzales, a major, Mark Espiritu, and several members of a paramilitary group, Bagani, in North Cotabato.
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo , from Kidapawan, welcomed the news saying that the people of his diocese have “prayed and waited for this time of retribution.”
However, the bishop said that the “men who are now being charged could just be pawns” even as he expressed hope that the new development will “hopefully bring the truth out.”  
He added, “We would like to know who is behind the killing, who gave the order.” 
State prosecutor, Peter Ong, said that at least 30 witnesses, “who are very spontaneous in their accounts,” have already expressed willingness to testify.
“They are not afraid, they are willing to testify,” he said.
Ong said that Father Tentorio was “shot 10 times” by members of the paramilitary group.
“The murder was planned seven days before the execution,” he told a media briefing. He said investigators had ruled out a political angle in the killing of the priest.
“You have no reason to kill a person who is not a combatant,” Ong said, adding that the attack on the priest was “plain murder.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan, however, said Father Tentorio was a victim of an extrajudicial killing and “was targeted in line with the state’s counter-insurgency programme.”
The killing was “an act to silence progressive groups and individuals who work for comprehensive and meaningful societal change,” she said.
“The government’s denial of political motive behind Father Tentorio’s death is meant to evade accountability,” Palabay said.
The priest was a known environmental advocate and had spoken out against mining operations in Arakan town and nearby areas.
Nardy Sabino of the Promotion of Church People’s Response said the development in the Tentorio case “strengthens claims that the military is behind the killings of other churchmen.”
The secretary-general of the ecumenical church group said, “It reveals a pattern of how they silence activist-priests,” adding, “What they did to Father Tentorio was the same thing they did to Father Marcelito Paez.” 
Father Paez, known for his human rights and social justice advocacies, was shot dead by gunmen on 4 December 2017.

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