By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME, shocked the nation. While the impunity in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations still prevails, nobody expected that it would victimize a Catholic priest, not since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship. The killing of Fr. Tentorio does not only show that impunity still prevails; it declares that impunity of the most brazen kind is already here.
In this country, which is predominantly Catholic, the church, in general, and the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, are relatively spared from human rights violations. When martial law was declared and raids and arrests were being done on a massive scale, the Marcos dictatorship immediately formed a Church-Military Liaison Committee to placate the Catholic Church, which was alarmed at the raids of its convents and the arrests of priests and nuns. Thus, the Catholic Church became the only institution then that was able to continue conducting pastoral work among the poor. It was instrumental in organizing the basic sectors – workers, peasants and the urban poor – especially during the early years of martial law. Because of this, priests and nuns were still subjected to arrests but were spared from the most brutal forms of human rights violations.
Why? because of the political repercussions of attacking the religious in a predominantly Catholic country.
Based on this author’s experience in human rights work during the Marcos dictatorship, there appears to be an unwritten pecking order in the victimization of different groups of people. First to be hit by human rights violations are the masses – workers, peasants, urban poor, indigenous peoples – and the youth and students. Second are the professionals: lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists (Although during the dictatorship, the dominant media were apologists of martial law so those being hit were from the alternative press such as press freedom icon Joe Burgos). The last to be victimized are the religious. And among the religious, Protestants, being the minority church, are being victimized first before their Catholic counterparts. Thus, the United Church of Christ of the Philippines had the most number of pastors killed while the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento was also killed under Oplan Bantay Laya of the previous Arroyo administration.
The military would always aim to achieve the strongest political impact – the creation of a climate of fear – with the least possible political repercussion.
The last time that two priests from the Roman Catholic Church were victimized in such a brazen manner, one after the other was in 1985: Fr. Tulio Favali, PIME, was killed in broad daylight by Norberto Manero, leader of a paramilitary unit of the AFP the Civilian Home Defense Force on April 11, and exactly three months later, on July 11, Fr. Rudy Romano of the Redemptorist congregation was forcibly abducted and was never seen again. But that was in 1985, during the peak of the anti-dictatorship movement and also the year when the most number of human rights violations were committed by the Marcos dictatorship. It is the year when the Marcos dictatorship was desperately clinging to power.
What message do the killers of Fr. Fausto Tentorio want to send to us by killing a Roman Catholic priest, and a foreign missionary at that? The timing of the killing is also most revealing coming as it is after the NPA attacks on three big mining companies in Mindanao, the military’s announcement that it would form, train, and arm paramlitary units, which it calls as Special Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit Armed Auxiliary (SCAA), that would be maintained by mining companies, and President Aquino’s declaration of support to its formation. It is no mere coincidence that Fr. Tentorio was campaigning against the operations of big mining companies and was assisting indigenous peoples in their fight to defend their ancestral domain when he was killed. Perhaps it is the reason behind it.
It doesn’t really matter what message the killers wanted to send to the Filipino people, what the people must do is clear: We must intensify the fight against impunity and must hold the Aquino administration accountable for its continued prevalence because of its rehashed, but essentially the same, counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.