Favali was a native of the northern Italian city of Mantora (or Mantua), and was ordained a priest in June 1981. He belonged to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), an international society of priests and brothers exclusively dedicated to the evangelization of predominantly non-Christian nations and underdeveloped countries. In the Philippines, they are assigned in the Zamboanga provinces, North Cotabato and in Metro Manila.
Arriving in the Philippines in November 1983, Tullio Favali was named parish priest of La Esperanza in Tulunan, North Cotabato, in June 1984. At the time of his murder he was just beginning to adjust to a different culture, but his parishioners loved him for his gentleness, simplicity and humble ways. He was always ready to serve.
Large areas of Mindanao, including the North Cotabato area, were then in the grip of armed pseudo-religious cults who roamed around sowing terror among the people. These groups, of Bisayan origin, and which came about in the late 1960s, originally acted in defense of Bisayan settler communities against Moro attackers, who in turn accused them of grabbing lands belonging to the Moros.
Under the dictatorship, with the growing strength of the revolutionary guerrilla movement, the fanatical cults were turned into useful pawns for the government’s anti-insurgency campaign. They were accorded recognition as paramilitary units and allowed to freely operate as Barrio Self-Defense Units or BSDU, later renamed Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force or ICHDF.
“The pacification drive to counter the growth and influence of the dissidents has assumed the character of a sordid war which does not spare any civilian who nurtures discontent with the present political, social and economic system,” observed a fact-finding mission that investigated Favali’s killing. “Entire communities have often been labelled ‘hostile territory’….”
The Manero brothers, including the wife of one of them, led the Ilaga group in Cotabato; they even garnered citations and medals from the AFP. Notorious for their killing sprees, which included cannibalism, they enjoyed the protection of the military and powerful local civilians. (Their father was barangay captain of La Esperanza.)
On April 11, 1985, Norberto, Edelberto and Elpidio Manero along with other members of their ICHDF band had already been drinking in public all morning and brandishing their high-powered weapons. Elpidio Manero brought out a placard showing a list of people they suspected to be siding with the rebels. When asked by one of these persons (the local tailor) to explain why he was on their list, the group got angry and Edelberto fired his gun, hitting the man.
The tailor and his wife fled into a house nearby, and others in the neighborhood also took cover. Some ran to find the priest and ask for his help. Mounting his motorcycle, Favali rushed to the house where the people had sought cover. Outside, the militiamen set his motorcycle on fire causing Favali to hurry out, asking, “What have you done to my motorcycle?” Edelberto then replied, “Father, do you want your head blown off?” He proceeded to do exactly that, shooting the priest pointblank in the head; he further desecrated the dead body by kicking it in the head, shooting it again in the face, and stamping his feet on the corpse.
The killing provoked a huge outcry from the public and from the Vatican and the Italian government. It called international attention to the Marcos dictatorship’s human rights violations, including the rampant and uncurbed abuses of the paramilitary forces, the continuing recruitment and arming of civilians for military uses, and the military’s encouragement of fanatical pseudo-religious cults in counter-insurgency.
Because of the outcry, the martial law authorities arrested the Manero brothers in 1985 after several months of dilly-dallying. That same year, seven individuals were convicted for Tullio Favali’s murder, including Norberto Manero. However, they continued to be seen in public even if they were supposed to be in prison. In 1999, President Joseph Estrada granted Norberto pardon and let him out of jail. But Estrada had to withdraw the pardon because of the overwhelming negative reaction from the public. Norberto Manero was rearrested in 2000 and remains in prison.