MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The main suspect in the killing of an Italian missionary priest who had campaigned for indigenous people's rights was arrested Thursday in the restive southern Philippines, the Philippine justice secretary said.
The alleged gunman, Jimmy Ato, was captured in the same Arakan township in Cotabato province where the Rev. Fausto Tentorio had served as a parish priest when he was killed outside his church Oct. 17, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
The suspect's brother and alleged accomplice fired upon arresting officers and was able to escape, de Lima said, adding that no one was wounded. Ato's brother is suspected of driving the motorcycle they used to escape after Ato allegedly shot Tentorio.
Police said the 59-year-old Tentorio was shot 10 times from about a yard (meter) away inside his church compound as he prepared to leave for a meeting. He was a beloved, longtime parish priest who was fluent in the local dialect and had close ties with the townspeople, said Arakan police chief Benjamin Rioflorido.
A native of Santa Maria Hoe town in Italy's Lecco province, Tentorio had lived in the Philippines for the past 32 years and was an outspoken advocate for the rights of marginalized indigenous people. The tribes are often victimized by armed gangs sometimes working for the military or mining, logging and agricultural companies that are blamed for exploiting their lands.
He was the third missionary from the Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions to be killed on southern Mindanao Island, a resource-rich but impoverished region wracked by decades of political and ethnic unrest.
His predecessor, the Rev. Tulio Favali, was gunned down in 1985 by a notorious paramilitary group.
De Lima said Ato was also wanted in a separate case of arson and homicide. She gave no motive for Tentorio's killing or other information on Ato or his brother.
Thousands of Filipinos joined a funeral march for Tentorio in October that also became a protest rally demanding justice for the priest they fondly called Father Pops.
Tentorio was buried at the Roman Catholic bishop's compound in southern Kidapawan city, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Arakan. According to his wish, he was laid in a coffin made of wood from a mahogany tree he himself planted many years ago, said the Rev. Gianni Re, head of the missionaries in the Philippines.