When they killed Ate Beng, it was not only her body that they were trying to destroy; they were after her ideals. By thinking that a bullet could pierce through an established principle, a member of the CAFGU shot Benjaline Hernadez near the head when her hands were clearly raised. It was one of the most inhumane and revolting act a member of a government force could do to a completely innocent citizen. This was sixteen years ago, on the fifth of April, when Benjaline Hernadez, who we call Ate Beng, was conducting a fact-finding mission in Arakan Valley. She was just 22 years old.
I first learned about Ate Beng when I became a feature writer at Atenews, the official student publication of Ateneo de Davao University where Ate Beng was once an editor of. In our office hangs her large portrait to remind us of her bravery, and to tell us to continue serving the people like what she did.
When I learned about her death, I made a quick Google search only to find a photo of her slain body. It was something I could not stomach. What could prompt someone to kill a completely harmless young woman like that? She did not have anything but her pen. I stared at the body again and even though I haven’t met Ate Beng in person and I did not know about her before, my heart raced both in fear and in anger.
I was alarmed by how risky it was to be a journalist and a human rights defender in the Philippines. In 2016, Philippines was considered the second most dangerous country for journalists according to the International Federation of Journalists (FJI). Today, considering this country’s political climate, the media and several human rights groups are censured, with some being tagged as communist supporters and terrorists. To be as courageous as Ate Beng at this time would mean embracing not only discomfort but threats and harassments.
Even more alarming is how the country, and even Ateneo itself, seems hesitant to talk about the controversial death of Ate Beng. To some extent, it was as though they want us to forget about it altogether. Perhaps because it would destroy the government’s reputation. Or perhaps because it could bring about agitation among the principled youth. Acting upon one’s principles has now become a harmful act. It entails risks – from threats to intimidations, from harassments to deaths. As a solution, schools and other institutions seem to discourage activism, freedom of expression, and those which could put their lives at risk. They do not want another Ate Beng.
There is of course nothing wrong with fighting for one’s principles. There is, however, something wrong with the government’s use of violence as a response to this act. If this is the case, then, the problem lies not with the youth who are critical of the government, the problem lies with government’s intolerance and resistance to change. We should then not discourage the youth to be like Ate Beng, but do something about the way the government treats people like her.
Ate Beng had dreams not only for herself but for her country to which she dedicated most of her time. But while her flesh and bones were shattered by bullets, her dreams and principles were too firm to be destroyed. The sadness and the grief brought about by Ate Beng’s death turned into anger and soon enough, a movement is formed – a movement among youth that aims to protect journalists and activists. This proves that while one can annihilate the body, no one can really kill a principle. Ate Beng’s love for the masses would vanish only if we forget about how she was slain. Every year, Atenews remembers her death as a way of remembering her courage to fight. Every year, through articles, slogans and calls for actions, several groups hope that more and more students will be touched and inspired by Ate Beng. Every year, we continue the fight that Ate Beng has started because it is only when we fight like her that we can truly deliver justice to her death. (davaotoday.com)
Reil graduated from Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) with the degree BS-Education in Mathematics. A former editor-in-chief of Atenews, the university’s official student publication, he now teaches mathematics to Grade 11 AdDU Senior High School students as he continues writing short fiction.