A MISSIONARY priest has accused a member of the House of Representatives of obstructing justice by coddling persons involved in the killing of another Italian priest.
The accusation was made under oath, in a hearing of the House human rights committee; the accuser is a missionary of long standing and good reputation. Because of the gravity of the charge, and the credibility of the man who made it, the leadership of the House should move immediately to investigate the issue, rather than merely ignore it.
The victim is Fr. Fausto Tentorio, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and a parish priest in North Cotabato, who was killed outside the parish house on Oct. 17, 2011, by a lone assassin acting in conspiracy with several others. He had been active in providing help to displaced or harassed lumad or indigenous peoples, and was a leader in antimining campaigns in the region.
The representative is second-termer Nancy Catamco of the second district of North Cotabato, now in the news because of her controversial behavior toward lumad who had fled to Davao City to escape increasing militarization in their area.
And the accuser is Fr. Peter Geremia, also a PIME missionary, who arrived in the Philippines in 1972 and marked his 50th year as a priest two years ago. He was the intended target of the Manero assassins in 1985; they ended up killing yet another gallant Italian missionary, Fr. Tulio Favali. Geremia started the Tribal Filipino Program in 1984 and served as its director for 25 years.
Last Thursday, in Davao City, Geremia told the House committee that justice remained elusive in the Tentorio case, in part because the witnesses to the murder were suffering under the constraints of the government’s witness protection program while some of the suspects in the killing were being coddled by Catamco.
“Our witnesses are like prisoners in the safe house of the witness protection program,” Geremia said.
“They are so tired of waiting like prisoners, while the accused are roaming around free with the protection of Rep. Nancy Catamco.”
This is truly a serious accusation—but it is not the first time that Catamco’s support for some of those allegedly involved in Tentorio’s murder has been reported. In late 2011, after a principal suspect, Jimmy Ato, was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation, the suspect’s brother Roberto sought Catamco’s help. Catamco obliged, defended her actions before the press, and even asked her lawyer to serve as Roberto’s legal counsel.
Fast forward to August 2015. Now that a witness of good standing, duly sworn under oath, has brought the accusation of killer-coddling to the attention of the House, it is incumbent upon the House leadership and its ethics committee, under chair Joaquin Chipeco Jr. of the second district of Laguna, to conduct an immediate, credible, and transparent investigation. Has Catamco in fact continued to help provide protection to at least one suspect in the Tentorio case, despite standing warrants of arrest?
It is not possible to consider Geremia’s statement in isolation from the other controversy Catamco is currently entangled in. The Liberal Party member has been roundly criticized for her reportedly demeaning treatment of hundreds of lumad who have fled to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines compound in Davao City. And yet—irony of ironies—Catamco serves as chair of the House committee on indigenous peoples. The line connecting her alleged coddling of the assassins of a champion of lumad rights and the Davao City controversy is as direct as it gets.
Even Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, not exactly a slouch in the peace and order department, attacked Catamco’s heavy-handedness in intervening in the UCCP compound. The controversial “rescue” of the lumad was “an order from an incompetent authority,” he told reporters, and then addressed Catamco: “Congresswoman ka lang, hindi ka mayor [You’re just a congresswoman, not the mayor]!”
Yet more reason for the House ethics committee to begin an investigation. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Representative Chipeco: Your move.
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