‘Idol ko si Pops’
“Ang imong pangandoy, akong pangandoy, ang imong pakigbisog akong pakigbisog, ikaw ug ako usa ra kauban sa pagpanday sa Gingharian sa Dios.” (Your dreams are my dreams, your struggles are my struggles, you and I are only partners in building God’s Kingdom.) This was the last message written by the martyred Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, PIME, in his last will. And, if not for a coward’s 10 bullets that smashed all his vital organs a week ago, he could have celebrated his life as an Italian missionary with his parishioners in yesterday’s celebration of the World Mission Sunday at his now troubled parish in Arakan, Cotabato.
Quoting the Prophet Micah, Father Pops also wrote in his last will: “O mortals, you were told what is good, what God requires of you: Do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly with your God.” And, indeed, for three decades, as a missionary in the far-flung areas of Cotabato, particularly in the picturesque and resource-rich Arakan Valley, the soft-spoken and gentle Father Pops did what his God desires: he worked for justice for the victims of human rights violations and gave his parishioners, particularly the poor and the lumad, unconditional love—to the point of losing his very own life.
I have also “partnered” with Father Pops in several occasions. He was one of our witnesses in a case we filed against some soldiers and Cafgu members accused of murdering campus journalist and human rights defender Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez (who was killed, along with three others also in Arakan, Cotabato, on April 5, 2002). In several instances, too, we were together in several forums on issues relating to environment, human rights, the peace process and other issues and concerns affecting Mindanao. In all these, he consistently showed his deep understanding of his role as a missionary: living, working, immersing with, and even fighting the struggles of, the people he vowed to serve.
But he was not unaware of the “thorns” that littered his path. In a recent forum on the peace talks involving the two rebel fronts—the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the National Democratic Front—and the government, he ominously stated that the “future does not look bright.”
“It is clear that it is the military that rules the country. They have been empowered by martial law. For me, as long as the military will not bow to civilian supremacy, no peace will come to the communities. Even if we discuss the substantive agenda (in the peace talks), the military will find ways to subvert it… The future does not look bright,” Father Pops said.
For 30 years, he lived, worked, immersed and struggled with his people. And so, the “wicked” felled and silenced Father Pops, a “martyr for justice and peace.” Yet, judging from the outrage and condemnation that followed his martyrdom, his assassins clearly made a mistake.
“He is a worthy member of that noble line of martyrs in the Church in Mindanao, who, in their lives, advocated causes that would help create a more just, a more peaceful, a more loving society…. If the perpetrators think that his murder would silence priests, religious sisters and brothers, and bishops from proclaiming the justice of God’s kingdom, they are wrong. The blood of martyrs like Fr. Fausto’s fans the daring and courage of those who care about peace and justice enough to sacrifice themselves while traveling the road of active non-violence.”—Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, of the Archdiocese of Cotabato. (The archbishop was the bishop of Kidapawan when Fr. Tulio Favali was gunned down by a group of paramilitary elements on April 11, 1985 in Tulunan, North Cotabato.)
“We are greatly disturbed that killings happen and continuously happen with impunity under the current administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino. The pattern of killing of our beloved priests reminds us how the activists, rights defenders, and church peoples were killed under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The killing of Fr. Tentorio ushers in a very alarming situation…. His death preceded the killing Rabenio Sungit of United Church of Christ in the Philippines, a staunch advocate and supporter of justice, peace and integrity of creation… Stop Killing Our Prophets!”—Promotion of Church People’s Response.
“I only met him a handful of times, but as a foreigner new to the Philippines, his integrity and dedication were unmistakable. He was a white man who spoke the local and indigenous dialects. He resisted the privileges that easily accrue to white people living in the Philippines. He resisted standing out from the group. He focused instead on standing up for justice. Which is what he was doing when he was shot several times at close range.”—Lindsey Kerr, a former intern of InPeace Mindanao.
“Fr. Pops represents the dreams of our common people in the Arakan area, all over the Diocese of Kidapawan, and all over Mindanao, what we call the PDOMES, Poor- Deprived- Oppressed- Marginalized- Exploited- Struggling masses. They tried to kill our dreams but they only added life to Pops. They expanded his presence and influence, now he is a much larger figure, and his death touched the heart of many more people…. He has become now a new sign of the times, the bearer of the dreams of many victims and many dreamers who continue serving the people in their struggles.”—Fr. Peter Geremia, a confrere and compatriot of Father Pops.
Tomorrow, Father Pops will be buried in Kidapawan City, at the Bishop’s Palace compound, beside the burial site of Father Favali. Yet, one message will continue to live after him: “They have not silenced a just man, just because they have killed him.”
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