NBI files murder raps vs. 12 suspects in killing of Italian priest

MANILA — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed murder charges against 12 persons including some military personnel before the Department of Justice (DOJ) in connection with the killing of Italian priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio in North Cotabato on October 2011.

“The complaint is for murder but instead of filing the complaint in Kidapawan City, they (NBI-Central Mindanao) opted to file the complaint here at the DOJ so we would recommend for the constitution of a panel of state prosecutors, prosecution attorney to handle this case,” Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong, head the fact finding committee who revisited the case, told reporters on Monday.

In December last year, the NBI withdrew the complaint it filed before the North Cotabato Provincial Prosecutor’s Office against brothers Jose Sultan and Dima Sampulna over the killing of the Italian priest, citing statements from witnesses pointing to lack of evidence of complicity of the two in the crime.

Facing a complaint for murder are Lt. Col. Joven Gonzales and Major Mark Espiritu, and alleged members of the Bagani Special Force, a paramilitary group.

Also recommended for prosecution were Jimmy Ato alias “Ian Mateo” and “Jimmy Intar”; Robert Ato alias “Roberto Ato” and “Roberto Intar”; Jan Corbala alias “Johnny Corbala,” “Jhon Corbala,” “Jun Karbala,” and “Kumander Iring”: Nene Durado alias “Nene Dorado”; “Kaing Labi, Joseph Basol, Edgar Enoc, Romulo Tapgos, William Buenaflor alias “WB”, alias “Katong” and several unidentified individuals including 20 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines conducting a “bayanihan” activity near the Arakan Central Elementary School on the day Tentorio was killed.

The complaint will undergo preliminary investigation by state prosecutors who will determine if there is probable cause to press charges against the respondents in court.

Ong said he conducted the re-investigation back in May and finished in November after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II gave the order based on the request of the Italian Embassy.

Ong said the priest was fatally shot 10 times by hit men of a paramilitary group called “Bagani.” Witnesses bared that Tentorio’s killing was planned seven days before execution, he said.

“When I met 30 witnesses in July sa Arakan, very spontaneous pa rin ang kwento nila. They aren’t worried. They are willing to testify,” Ong, who went in North Cotabato personally, said.

Despite Tentorio’s close ties with the Lumad tribe, the DOJ report ruled out any political angle in the Italian priest’s death.

Ong assured the family of Italian priest that he will be given a justice on this incident.

“We hope that we have somehow, simula pa lang ito, given justice partly to Fr. Tentorio, to the family of Fr. Tentorio in Italy, and to the Catholic church. Justice may be slow, but one thing we promise is that we will give justice to Father Tentorio. How long will it take? We can’t control it,” Ong told reporters.

Tentorio, who belonged to the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Mission, was gunned down Oct. 17, 2011 while about to board his vehicle in North Cotabato’s Arakan town. He was on his way to a meeting of priests at the Bishop’s Palace in Kidapawan City.

The missionary was known leader of a campaign against mining operations in the town, which environmental activists feared could displace impoverished villagers and tribal communities.

Previously, the Administrative Order 35 Special Oversight Team formed during the Aquino administration recommended further investigation, citing lack of sufficient evidence necessary for conviction. PNA-northboundasia.com