This article was written in culmination of the Campus Press Freedom week.
In such a polarizing power struggle, to feel weak is the most natural response.
It was April 5, 2002 and the sun shone brightly in Sitio Bukatol, Arakan Valley. Seated in a nipa hut beneath the noon light was Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez, 22. A dedicated student journalist and human rights advocate, Beng was in the area to gather information on the peasant situation and to do follow-up fact-finding on the Tababa massacre which occurred in the area the previous year.
Beng was about to have lunch with lumad farmers when six CAFGU members came and strafed the hut. One of the lumad ran from the hut but was fatally shot. Beng and two others jumped off the hut, yet the men rounded them up and threw them to the ground. Beng pleaded for their lives, but still the armed men fired at her at close range. Only one of the lumad farmers, having been able to hide, survived the incident. Beng’s body was found with arms raised, as if begging for mercy.
The crippling pace for justice for Beng Hernandez seemed tired and hopeless. Beng was prey to a “legitimate NPA encounter”.
Sgt. Antonio Torilla, the main suspect, was allowed to bail. He and his men continue to walk free on busy streets besides us. All of this was allowed to happen despite the United Nations releasing a resolution holding the Philippine government liable for the incident.
Who are we against the power of the few capable of sweeping giants under the rug, of armed men capable of gunning us down point blank and claiming otherwise? Have Ate Beng and countless other martyrs died meaningless deaths?
But to be hopeless is wrong. Only in their efforts to silence people like Ate Beng and the lumad did the people become firmer and more vigilant in the fight against injustice and oppression.
Ate Beng’s spirit lives to see another day.
The death of Ate Beng and the lagging progress for her justice may hint to us that those who gunned them down and the people behind them are next to untouchable. This only proves why many of us, from the immediate family of Ate Beng, to her colleagues in Atenews and in CEGP, to progressive groups and youth, have joined forces in the fight against injustice.
We are called by Ate Beng to continue her legacy. We are called to uncover the truth. We need to protect the oppressed. We need to serve the people. And most importantly, we need to take a stand and fight the greater evils.
For in no way could her death truly have meaning but for us to continue her goals. Ate Beng reminds us all to return to our roots. She herself discovered that we are all equal in our roots of humanity. No matter what fear or struggle we must have, we must heed the call to fight for equality, for justice, and for truth.
Benjaline Hernandez will always be remembered.
. . .
Instead of being a symbol of fear and weakness, Ate Beng became a monument of zeal.
Instead of her life ending, her goals and her dreams continue to live in us.
Instead of being a success for the ones who killed her, she has become a success of the people.
If there is one thing to feel from Ate Beng’s story, it is fervent hope.
Let us join hands in stopping human rights violations.
. . .
Atenews calls for justice for the death of Beng Hernandez, and invites all Ateneans in the fight against impunity.