Lunch was about to be served in a humble nipa hut in Sitio Bucatol, Arakan Valley, North Cotabato. The feisty kolehiyala and her two other companions, Crisanto Amora and Vivian Andrade, HR advocates like my sister, prepared to partake of rice and guyabano.
Shots were fired and before they realize it, the nipa hut was already strafed with bullets. Oh no, it’s not straight from a movie scene. It’s not a re-enactment of a heinous crime on TV. Beng and Vivian knelt before these armed men and begged to be brought to the hospital as they were already wounded. But they got fired at instead. When they were found by villagers, Beng’s arms were raised in a sign of non-resistance. A track of her tears partly visible even after her body became cold.
Our well-loved kikay Beng, brutally murdered in cold daylight. They thought they have silenced her. Only to find out that her name has never resonated this loudly, after they put 2 bullets in her face.
That was the scene witnessed by a 16-year old Tikboy, who hid behind trees as elements of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit led by M/Sgt. Antonio Torilla wreaked fear in that remote town. That was later known as “The Arakan Massacre”.
Beng was shot twice at close range, shattering her face, and leaving gun powder burns on her hands and chest. Townspeople helped bring her remains using an improvised stretcher, made of bamboo, torn rice sack, and rope. Beng studied in prominent universities in Davao City but ended up being carried in that wretched stretcher.
3 nuns and Beng’s boyfriend aka Kim, came knocking at my parents’ house to deliver the saddest, most tragic news our family has ever known. My youngest sister Alec was only10 years old, and Jami, turning 15.
I got a phone call a day after she died. I was in Manila and the moment I found out what happened, my knees turned jellos. I screamed, but I couldn’t hear anything. I cried, but my heart was pounding with anger. I had so many questions, regrets, fear. I stare at the nothingness as I imagine to be listening to her countless, winding stories about the struggle, the masses, and the cause she’s lived to die for.
My parents collected her remains from a faraway place, her remains inside what seemed to be a box made of plywood. The wood was fresh, it was cut out solely for the purpose of attempting to preserve what remained of our beautiful, bubbly, very loved Beng.
Cases were filed. My parents, with the help of Karapatan, flew to Manila to file the case and petition that the multiple murder case be tried at a safer place. We were not heard.
Adding insult to the injury, the defendants were able to pose bail on a multiple murder case, a very unheard of precedent in the backward judicial system of the Philippines. The case went on to last more than 7 years, to the point where Karapatan and our family had to resort to filing the case in the United Nations Human Rights Committee in New York.
In August 2010, the UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS 99TH SESSION, 12-30 JULY 2010 issued the resolution that said:
“The Committee notes that it is UNDISPUTED that the victim died as the consequence of her being shot by members of the paramilitaries from the CAFGU, led by the 7th Battalion (Airborne) M/Sgt. Torilla…
…The Committee, based on the material before it, finds that the STATE PARTY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF BENJALINE Beng Hernandez , AND CONCLUDES THAT THERE HAS BEEN A VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6, PARAGRAPH 1, OF THE COVENANT.”
That resolution was utterly ignored by the ruling state.
More than a month after, as if on cue, the regional trial court that handled Beng’s case, released their verdict on the case.’
NOT F*****G GUILTY!
The insult continues. Well, even before they released the decision, Torilla was already somewhere enjoying his full benefits, could have already been promoted, and now probably enjoying his retirement.
And so every 5th of April, Beng’s family and friends relive her life, her struggles, her death, and ultimately, her LEGACY.
As that little b***h celebrates her birthday today, we look back at the life and works of a young poet, staunch human rights defender, and student journalist.
Beng Hernandez has gone a long, long time ago. More than a decade has passed since we laid her to rest. But her voice resounds louder than a running senator’s irritating jingle.
We look back and ask ourselves, what could it have been? Sometimes we think we’ve lived our life after her, but in truth, we always bring her wherever we go.
She’s fought for her causes, until her last breath.
She deserves nothing less than that, in our demand for justice.
So if this government has any decency left in its midst, it will uphold the United Nations resolutions. And it shouldn’t take this as a cyber crime, but as a challenge.
There are countless others who have been displaced, tortured, illegally detained, forcibly disappeared and extra-judicially executed. And we remember them all, on this fateful day of April 5.
Justice for Beng Hernandez! Justice for ALL VICTIMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS!