Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 10 April 14 - 20, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Beng Hernandez: A Life No Less Ordinary
this moment on, every time I slink back to the comfort of the myths that we
Filipinos have grown accustomed to – myths that make it amazingly easier for
us to just conform and thus help keep this status quo of inequity – I am
certain that Beng’s legacy will remind me that it shouldn’t be that way. We
have, I can almost hear her say, a choice.
Carlos H. Conde
As it turned out, Beng, who was 22 when she died last week, was for real. Beneath that youthful veneer was a passion so strong that to call it just a rebellious phase in the life of a young woman would be an injustice to the things she stood for.
The abominations that journalists like myself find in the worst places are nothing compared to what Beng discovered in the course of her short-lived human-rights work. Her tasks at the CEGP and as a student writer, which entailed exposing the rot in this system of ours, must have prepared her for the more horrific realities of human-rights work, which she eventually took on. It apparently did, because Beng had been unstoppable ever since.
At about this time last year, Beng was in the hinterlands of Davao Oriental investigating the military’s torture of villagers. (She amused us during a media interview on the investigation when, the kolehiyala that she was, she pronounced Spur Dos, a village where the residents had been tortured by soldiers, as “Spur Two.”)
Ever since she started working with Karapatan, she had participated in about half a dozen fact-finding missions on human-rights violations reportedly perpetrated by members of the military on ordinary citizens and suspected revolutionaries. Notwithstanding the perilous nature of her work, Beng just kept pressing on.
Harassed by drunken soldiers
Sometime last year, while working for the release of political detainees somewhere in Agusan, she was harassed by drunken soldiers there. Her friends recalled how she sometimes would grumble about going alone to this and that far-flung place to follow-up on cases but she would end up getting there nonetheless. Her courage was boundless.
Going to dangerous places, however, was not the only test of her courage. Because she also had to deal with the media in the course of exposing human-rights violations, Beng had to endure every day the ignorance by some local journalists, many of whom, owing their very cozy relationship with the military, could not seem to realize that there is a world outside of what the military establishment says.
Even after her death in the hands of soldiers and paramilitary men last April 5, a nincompoop masquerading as a broadcaster at Bombo Radyo exploited Beng’s death by mouthing the military’s propaganda line that says Beng was a member of the New People’s Army and that she was executed by her supposed comrades as part of the supposed purge within the movement.
Beng’s courage was demonstrated in how she was willing to withstand the political bigotry and persecution in our midst, as long as she could do what she loved doing – helping the victims of state-sponsored terrorism find justice. There was definitely courage in knowing that she, too, was vulnerable to the very barbarity that she had sought to stop.
Great leap of faith
I still can’t get over the idea that this woman-child who would endlessly tease me about my relationship with a friend of hers is gone. My grief is salved, however, by the knowledge that she took a great leap of faith, forsaking what could have been an easy life after Ateneo just so she could help stop repression, just so she could expose the lies that blind us.
She is a great loss but her death only reinforces her conviction, as well as of those who died before her, that Philippine society is unjust and repressive, and that as long as it is so, a struggle such as the one she took on is imperative.
Beng gave so much to her cause that, in death, she humbles those of us who take comfort in the life we chose to carve for ourselves, insulated and (we’d like to think) protected by the layers of deceit in our national life that we would not confront. From this moment on, every time I slink back to the comfort of the myths that we Filipinos have grown accustomed to – myths that make it amazingly easier for us to just conform and thus help keep this status quo of inequity – I am certain that Beng’s legacy will remind me that it shouldn’t be that way. We have, I can almost hear her say, a choice. Bulatlat.com