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Member of the congress accused of sheltering priest’s murderers

DAVAO (UCAN) : A compatriot of Father Fausto Tentorio, who was murdered in the compound of his church in Akran, Cotabato province, on 17 October 2011, is accusing a member of the congress, Nancy Catamco, of sheltering those guilty of the killing.

In testifying before a Congressional Human Rights Committee on August 13, Father Peter Geremia said, “The suspects are under the care of Congresswoman Nancy Catamco,” a member of the House of Representatives and the chairperson of the Committee on Indigenous Cultural Communities and Indigenous Peoples.

Father Germenia, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (pime) and former colleague of Father Tentorio, told the committee that those suspected of the murder of Father Tentorio continue to be under the protective care of Catamco.

“From my questions to people close to Congresswoman Catamco, yes, they are still in her custody,” Father Germenia said, explaining that they are employed as caretakers at a property that is owned by Catamco.

He added that two suspects, Jimmy and Robert Ato, were arrested by the police in December 2011, but they were later released into the custody of Catamco after several witnesses retracted their testimony.

Father Geremia told UCAN that he was frustrated by the slow pace of the investigation. He also lamented the freedom being enjoyed by the suspects while those who are witnesses to the crime are living like prisoners under the witness protection programme of the government.

“The witnesses are fearful for their safety, scared for their lives. In contrast, the suspects are under the care of Congresswoman Nancy Catamco,” the pime priest said.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights group, Karapatan, said the case of Father Tentorio is “emblematic of the gross human rights violations in The Philippines.”

She added, “(It) is made even worse by the shameless coddling and continuing operations of paramilitaries, under the command and control of the Philippine army and of political patrons such as Catamco.”

Father Tentorio was well known in the area for his advocacy work on behalf of the indigenous people, the environment and human rights. He was shot dead by a lone gunman.

Catamco has to date refused to comment on the accusation made by Father Geremia.

“I choose to exercise restraint to comment,” she said. “I will answer at the right forum.”

But she is also on record as telling Interaksyon, “There is no single shred of evidence that I coddle criminals. I continuously join in the call to bring the perpetrators to a court of law. I will respect due process and I will abide by it.”

Delivering a petition to the president of The Philippines requesting an investigation of the murder of the 59-year-old priest at the Philippine Consulate General to Hong Kong on 3 November 2011, Reverend Joran Calimutan said that Father Tentorio had been assassinated by a professional killer, whom he described as being either from the military or a paramilitary group.

He said that the Italian missionary had given his life for his people and that while Christ gave his life for his people on the cross, Father Tentorio gave his in a hail of bullets from an assassin’s gun.

In her role as the chairperson of the Committee on Indigenous Cultural Communities and Indigenous Peoples, Catamco is believed to have given the command to the military to attack a group of indigenous people, who were sheltering in a church compound in Davao on July 23.

 

The people had fled their homes in the mountains when the army began bombing their land from the air, supposedly to flush out members of the New People’s Army.