DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Evangeline Hernandez, fondly recollects some memories of her daughter Beng, describing her as bright, easy to talk to, and especially have lots of stories to tell. A mother would never forget her child.
Hernandez would hear stories of her daughter’s grasp on the inequality of the society, realizing why other people did not have the same opportunities and resources as what she had.
Beng could have opted to remain in a comfortable and less dangerous life, “but being a human rights advocate was truly her first love,” Hernandez said.
April 5 marks the 17th death anniversary of Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez, the 22-year-old student-journalist from Davao City.
Back in 2002, Beng was the editor of Atenews, the student publication of Ateneo de Davao University. She also served as the vice president for Mindanao of the College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
She was the deputy secretary-general of Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region when she conducted follow-up documentation on the cases of killings of the Indigenous People (IPs) in Arakan Valley.
Members of Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) led by Master Sergeant Antonio Torilla of the 7th Airborne Battalion of Philippine Army’s 12th Special Forces Company opened fire at the hut where Beng and her four companions were staying in at Sitio Bukatol, Barangay Kinawayan, Arakan Valley, North Cotabato.
“Have pity, sir, we are civilians,” Beng and her companions pleaded. But the soldiers ignored Beng’s plea and was shot at close range, according to the sole survivor of the incident.
“I would seek answers to questions on why Beng had to be on that kind of work and why they had to be killed,” Hernandez said.
It took four years for Hernandez to follow the path chosen by her daughter. Eventually, she too became a human rights advocate.
Hernandez then chaired the Hustisya, an organization of the victims of human rights violations and their relatives established in 2006 at the height of “political repression” of the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, where abuses were rampant, and the culture of impunity remained unabated.
Now at the age 59, Hernandez admitted she now has limitations, but she still finds the strength to attend to protest rallies and organize the families of other victims of human rights abuses.
”I took inspiration from Beng,” she pointed out.
Serving as comfort for the loss of her child is seeing more “Beng Hernandez” rising in different places.
“Her life was not wasted.”
She found solace on the fate of her daughter, but her fight is not yet over.
“This time, on my part, I’m not just seeking justice for Beng and her companions, but to many others who were also killed or have suffered in any forms of human rights violations,” Hernandez said.
Today, Beng also continues to serve as an icon to campus journalists called on to deliver and stand on truth amid the perpetuation of fake news and growing oppression, even among journalists.
Meanwhile, Atenews continues to remember the contribution of Beng as its former editor.
The publication, in a statement released, has made a call to stop the killings in the country.
“Atenews will always condemn any act of atrocity and injustice done by those in power because the publication firmly believes that defending human life is what Ate Beng would do”
Here is a poem that was written by Beng Hernandez on Banaag Diwa, Atenews Literary Folio. Her former colleague in Atenews retrieved the poem.
Scoffed at, mocked
Laughed at, pitied
When at a crossroad,
An ant chose left
No more easy work
Instead rugged terrains to conquer
Since there is
no more food,
the ant will wage a battle
for the black worker ant
understood it all.
The ant needs to be
a red soldier.