An artist, a student, a human rights worker, a lumad leader, these are some of the people who are sharing their stories about the love and influence Fr. Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio PIME gave to them.
A troubled artist marked by Pops
“I want to believe there is a heaven,” said the young, tattooed and hulking artist somberly. “Because I want to see that Pops is not only getting his well-deserved rest, but also enjoying all that he loves doing.”
He was once a troubled and socially-challenged teen. Everybody saw his misbehavior, cussing, and the problem child in him, except for Pops.
Pops saw the sensitive artist repressing his art and expressing his sadness and confusion through cussing and rebelling. Pops talked to him one time and asked him to illustrate a book on lumad stories. After he finished his work, Pops gave him a pair of sneakers, the one that he long wanted.
After that, the artist has taken over the troubled youngster. He is building his name in graphic design work as his art expresses feelings and thoughts of people struggling for change. But once in a while, this artist still lets off a few bad words.
“I’ll do something real bad,” he said. “So that I will go to hell, beat Palparan and the Alamara minions to a pulp when I see them there.”
He is one of many, like thousands, of young people whose lives were marked by Fr. Pops.
Marked, beyond being simply touched, because Pops did not simply met them, but knew how to get to the bottom of things, knew how to tell them what their problems were and knew how to motivate them to get over these. Most of all, he knew how to make them see beyond their own problems and see others need more help than
Finding courage in Pops’ words
This serious-faced teacher could match Pops’ penchant for comedy. He narrated with matching actions his encounter with the Alamara paramilitary right at the doorstep of his school.
He would described how the Alamara’s eyes were red and wide, with a knife in arm, as he threatened to go after his lumad students.
All he could do then was to stand by the door, because he was so frightened he couldn’t move anymore!
After the Alamara went away, he swore he would return to his home, but instead he picked up his book and went on to his next class.
This young teacher came to this lumad school in Davao del Norte after finishing his course in education through the help of Fr. Pops. He had been Pops’ scholar all his life, and so was his father.
He came to this community, a place that takes two days to arrive, because he thought this was paying forward his scholarship, and because he thought staying in the lumad school for two years could serve well for a better teaching position later.
But the two years has stretched to four. By now he feels he understands what Pops has been doing all his life. It was what was written on the beaded bracelet worn by Pops on his wrist that said “STP” or serve the people.
He remembered that when he stood by the door of his classroom, his thoughts were all about the students he is serving. Then he swore he was not going to lose any one of them and that the Alamara will only get to them literally over his body.
“Pops was one of us in the tribe”
It’s been five years yet this lumad lady still cries when Pops’ name comes in the conversation.
She had just been released from jail. She and other lumads were spirited off in a helicopter from their community, as their barangay chief falsely accused them as New People’s Army members.
She thought she was never coming home, but the charges against her and the others were dismissed in court and now they are fighting back by charging the soldiers on court.
She strokes the hair of her youngest daughter as she talks of Pops, and her tears fell instantly.
The lumad lady remembers 2003 in Bukidnon, when the paramilitary Alamara-Bagani found out Fr. Pops was in their community doing his mission work. The Alamara stormed to their village just as Pops was staying inside her house.
The next thing they did was to try to hide a tall Italian missionary at 5’11” inside a rice storage container. How they made him stooped inside, and covered his bald head that stuck out with blankets and clothes, and how she made one of her child lie beside the pile and pretended to be sick.
She and her husband quickly made up a story of needing a pig to be slaughtered in the neighboring community that made the Alamara-Bagani distracted.
After that, she and a hundred other lumads in her community decided to walk with Pops for several hours all the way back to his convent in Arakan. Risking everything, they walked with Pops and were ready to lay down their lives for the priest who was their friend and help.
The lumad lady remembers the time Pops was the first to get to their community when cholera struck, and Pops brought a team of medical staff as the government aid never came to them. Pops also helped when her community was struck with measles.
She also remembered how Pops helped when a big plantation came and enticed them with jobs. It was Pops who helped them see that this was the quickest way their tribe would disappear. Pops would later helped them in how to deliver their speeches and messages to the negotiators of the plantations to reject the latter’s offer.
There would be many more companies and negotiators later on who want to take their land away, but they found the strength to say no and even fight back.
Pops would teach them ways to make good use of their land for production. Later, Pops also helped set up a school and a health service in their community.
She remembers with tears how Pops touched her community, and even her personal life. Now, her son is a teacher in one of the lumad schools set up by Pops.
She said Pops was not a detached benefactor or hero, but someone who lived with them. Pops would be like one of them, wearing beads and putting all such things given to him that it will fill up his neck, his wrists and knees. He would wear a tubao or hankerchief, that the community would call him “tribal”.
He made the lumads forget his whiteness and remembered his generosity.
The trails started by Pops
“Kung di lang dahil kay Pops!”
In a lifting, delicate, Ilonggo accent, this young teacher and scholar of Fr. Pops rants of how far the communities she was sent to teach, because she is still single and energetic and how she will never have a love life because of this.
In her trek, her long straight hair would stick to her face and neck covered in sweat, her clothes stained with mud and wet grass. Yet she would still look pretty.
No wonder even the military who will encamp on their schools would take a second-look on her. They told her she had a future in the city, where she could easily find work because of her beauty and charm.
But her roots go back to how she grew up with Fr. Pops supporting her schooling, and the many weekends staying together with fellow scholars as they shared stories about family, schooling, and heeding the Gospel’s call as they were given an advantage in life to go to school.
She said she once thought she would give herself a year to teach in the lumad schools in the far-flung area she’s been assigned to. But that now has been stretched to five years.
She remembers that she was once a young carefree person, but after teaching 300 pupils in a lumad school that was the first in the community, she never looked for anything else.
She is still single, and she said she is still carefree. When she gets assigned to another difficult trek to a far-flung school, she would never turn it down.
And when she goes to that path made more muddier and steeper, she gets to that Ilonggo rant, which actually is a prayer for strength from her “Tatay Pops” who sent her out to the mountains to be a teacher to the least of her people.
A shared love
The health staff had just finished setting up the new clinic, one that was complete with facilities from donors coming from Pops’ family and friends. It was even given a blessing and inaugurated by the barangay chair of the village.
But a week later, the same barangay chair threatened to burn the clinic down, along with the school that was named after Fr. Pops. His contention was the school and the clinic were built for the New People’s Army. This was a complete turnaround from the captain who during the opening ceremony was thankful that both the clinic and school came to this very remote barangay.
One of the staff, a young nurse from Davao City, could have just gone home after seeing this. If he gets killed, he would be lucky to have a text message sent to his loved ones before he died.
But he stayed on. Perhaps it was because of his affection for another health worker, whom he cannot leave behind or bring her to the city. But most of all, it was because of Pops bringing them together.
He recalled with laughter how a year before this, Pops was already teasing about both of them being a couple. In the short time that he knew Pops, he was amazed by how the staff was enthusiastic and concerned about the people, which reflected Pops’ own enthusiasm and dedication to service. They faced danger doing this because of the dreaded Alamara.
This love, however, shone brightest from the lady he admired. Sadly, Pops was already gone when the lady started to reciprocate her feelings to him. That was their regret, that he could have been their ninong.
They knew Fr. Pops always loved a love story, and he had the uncanny way of playing matchmaker as he did with his teasing about them since day one when they were under his wing. Theirs was a love shown by Pops, who made their relationship grounded on a shared love to serve the community.
Nurturing back a defender
Tired of her work physically and emotionally, she bade goodbye to the staff and to Fr. Pops one day. But Pops was adamant.
“In this work, no one is indispensable but everyone is important,” Pops told her. Those words, the paradox that one is dispensable yet all are important was puzzling for her, but it made her stop thinking of her problem.
Then Pops told her, even God needed a rest on the seventh day. How much more for us mere mortals?
Pops told her to go take a break and gain a few pounds. Rest your heart, she told her, but come back for the people.
She gave it a month to rest, and she did return, with Pops waiting for her with a list of work to do.
Pops was a good mentor. He knew that to nurture people, there are times when you need to hold on by letting go. Such is the wisdom of Pops in knowing when to do such things.
He may never thought the children he fostered would become “workers and ministers” like him, or the scholars would now be the teachers in the lumad schools he helped built.
If only he could hear the words from the people he nurtured, how they said Pops shaped their lives and the lives they are now serving. How serving, living and dying for the people is not an abstract emotion or idea, but a challenge and fulfilling reality. How recollecting his ministry and his words inspired them through challenges they faced. Or how they would find comfort by whispering or calling his name and feel the spirit of his strength.
Those who put out Fr. Pops‘ life away never thought about this. But the blood that poured out of him was like the rain that nourished the soil.
The people we cited here are but a few of the many who have sprung from his garden and bloomed.
From one lumad school he built to several hundred schools in elementary and high school. From the children he supported, they’ve grown to lead their communities. From a few staff before now it has grown to hundreds of volunteers carrying out his work among the people. To the thousands all over the world who may have never met him but were inspired by his work to reach out and serve.
Fr. Pops, the faithful gardener, has done well. He may not live to see the ending but he built a garden, a foundation for those he nurtured to continue his journey.