Shared lives, shared deaths

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

This week I was in Kidapawan City to attend the wake and funeral of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, the now-famous martyred Italian missionary about whom I wrote last week. I stayed a day longer to visit another wake in Arakan town, Fr. Tentorio’s parish, where he was shot dead by a lone gunman in the early morning of Oct. 17.

The wake in Arakan was for Ramon Batoy, 35, a poor peasant in Sitio Upper Lumbo, Barangay Kabalantian. He was killed by soldiers of the 10th Special Forces Company in front of his house early morning of Oct. 20 — three days after Fr. Tentorio’s slaying.

(The military claims that Badoy was a member of the NPA. His wife Gina and his parents vehemently deny such claim. They attest, in sworn statements given to the Public Attorney’s Office in Kidapawan, that Ramon was a tenant-farmer of the mayor of nearby Antipas town and an active member of Bantay Katubigan and Bantay Kalikasan of Mt. Sinaka in Arakan.

(Batoy had refused to allow the soldiers to search his house; he demanded a search warrant. Thereupon a soldier pummeled him with his rifle’s butt. Instinctively, Batoy drew his bolo and hacked the soldier’s neck. Firing rapidly, three other soldiers shot Batoy dead, then strafed his house and seven adjacent dwellings.)

I wish to share my impressions on these two wakes. Also I’ll try to show the relationship between the two men, and the conditions that most probably link these two killings in Arakan — both crying out for justice.

Fr. Tentorio’s body was first laid in state inside the modestly-built Arakan parish church. Later moved to the Our Lady Mediatrix Cathedral in Kidapawan, the wake was brightly illuminated, floral offerings abounded. The tri-media covered it. People from all walks of life came in droves to pay their respects. Many wept openly.

Tributes to Fr. Tentorio also came in cascades: from Pope Benedict XVI, from various religious associations (Catholic and Protestant), newspaper editorials and columns, people’s organizations and NGOs, the MILF, and the CPP-NPA/NDFP’s Southern Mindanao Region.

In contrast, Ramon Batoy’s wake at a small wooden shed beside the highway was pitiful. The place could hardly pass for a funeral parlor. Coffins in various stages of completion were piled up against the walls. A lone electric bulb provided light. No flowers, just candles. Only his family and other relatives stood vigil. They were joined later by members of people’s organizations from all over Mindanao, who had come for Fr. Tentorio’s wake and burial.

But Fr. Peter Geremia, also from Italy’s Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, devoted equal attention to the two wakes. At both, he led prayers for the departed and blessed the remains with holy water. He also looked after Batoy’s family, temporarily housed at the Arakan parish office.

Fr. Geremia knew that Fr. Tentorio had closely associated and worked with Batoy and other poor peasants in Arakan, members of the Lumad and peasant organizations the slain priest had helped organize and maintain: the Tikulpa (Tinananon-Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghuisa) and the APPO (Association of Progressive Peasant Organizations).

Through the Tribal Filipino Program Center for Development, Inc., Fr. Tentorio helped provide education, livelihood, health programs and agricultural development in the upland communities. Two of Badoy’s four children (a fifth is expected in March) were his scholars.

In his last will, read by Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz at the Mass before the funeral, Fr. Tentorio immortalized his bond with the Lumads and other people he served and worked with in these words (translated from the original in Bisaya): “Your dreams are my dreams, your struggles are my struggles, you and I are partners in building God’s kingdom.”

Thus, it can be said that the Italian priest and the dirt-poor Filipino farmer shared their dreams and struggles. They shared a life fired by such dreams and struggles.

Both actively opposed the militarization of Cotabato’s beautiful Arakan Valley. For a long time, Fr. Tentorio had been most critical of how the AFP conducted their counterinsurgency campaigns, arguing passionately that these were “against the people’s aspirations.”

This is one angle that an impartial investigation of the Tentorio killing must look into. There was a very plausible motive: silence the priest who protested too much — and he was credible.

Moreover, the military’s actions against Batoy, which led to his killing, may have had to do with their plan to “neutralize” Tikulpa and APPO as effective organizations which they accuse of having links with the NPA.

Thus, it can be said that Fr. Tentorio and Batoy also shared death by the gun, although the latter’s killing might not have been as carefully planned.

The convenors of the Justice for Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio Movement — a Catholic archbishop, three Protestant bishops, two priests, four nuns, a lawyer, and a parish leader — think so too.

In its declaration of objectives, the movement is demanding the following: 1) accountability from the Aquino government; and 2) end to “Oplan Bayanihan,” P-Noy’s counterinsurgency plan which it regards as merely the continuation of Gloria Arroyo’s “Oplan Bantay Laya.”

Fr. Tentorio was already the 54th victim of extrajudicial killing under this administration.

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