Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 10              April 14 - 21,  2002           Quezon City, Philippines

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Standing Ovation for Beng

"You will not be forgotten in our hearts and minds. You will be the brightest star in the darkness of the night."

DAVAO CITY (April 13)  -- Slain rights activist Benjaline "Beng" Hernandez was laid to rest shortly before dusk Saturday as a "martyr for human rights" and a "portrait of justice and equality." At the end of the mass at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) chapel, Hernandez was given a standing ovation and a minute-long applause for having lived a life as a "rights advocate, committed writer, poet and activist."

On the same day of her burial, entries from a diary which the military alleged was owned by Hernandez, were aired on radio and published in a local newspaper. The diary allegedly described activities with the New People's Army's in Arakan Valley.

The human rights group, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, said Hernandez, 22, its deputy secretary-general and vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors' Guild of the Philippines, was conducting a research on the farmers' situation and the impact of the peace process in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato. Karapatan said Hernandez and farmers Crisanto Amora, Vivian Andrade and Labaon Sinunday, were summarily executed in Sitio Bukatol, Barangay Kinawayan, Arakan Valley on April 5 by members of the Cafgu led by a sergeant of the Army's 7th Airborne Battalion.

Councilor Angela Librado, a member of the legal panel of Karapatan and the Hernandez family, said they have at least two witnesses who could testify that Hernandez and her companions were summarily executed. The military claimed it was a "legitimate encounter" between the Cafgus and the NPA. An estimated 200 fellow rights advocates, family and classmates brought Hernandez to her final resting place at the Davao Memorial Park here.

"Justice for Beng" posters were displayed on vehicles while a number of those who attended the burial pinned black ribbons on their chests. Hernandez's photograph, taken in late February just before she went up to Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, was emblazoned on posters and T-shirts.


Hernandez's fater, Benjamin, said they would file charges against the perpetrators. Earlier, Maj. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the 602nd Brigade, said Hernandez and her companions were killed in a "legitimate" encounter with the NPA.

Lt. Bernardo Rocio, executive officer of the 12th Special Forces Company of the Army, showed the media in Kidapawan City a diary purportedly owned by Hernandez which contained entries allegedly describing her activities with the NPA in the remote villages of Arakan Valley. Rocio claimed the diary was recovered by the 12th SF company along with "subversive documents" and two high-powered firearms.

Joel Virador, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao's secretary-general, said the diary, if it were Hernandez's, could have been tampered with by the military. Virador and Hernandez's family demanded that her personal belongings, including a mobile phone, be returned or they would seek legal action against the military for keeping them.

The Ateneo Legal Services Office and the Free Legal Assistance Group have formed a legal panel to assist Karapatan and the Hernandez family in the filing of charges against the killers.

During the mass, Hernandez's mother, Evangeline, said she felt "more thankful than grieving." "Although I grieve, I am overwhelmed by joy that my daughter has made us understand her mission in life which we did not understand before," Evangeline said in Cebuano. She said she never understood the "deeper meaning" of her daughter's life until she was killed in the course of her research on the situation of the farmers there. She encouraged the public, especially the youth, to continue with human rights advocacy "because many still do not understand what human rights is."

She asked for public support in their quest for justice for the killing of her daughter and her companions. She also challenged everyone to seek justice for the two other farmers in Barangay Tababa, Arakan Valley who were killed allegedly also by Cafgus last year. She said her daughter was supposed to have made a follow-up report on this but she did not complete the report "because she was killed by the same group who killed those farmers (in Tababa)."

Promising writer

Don Pagusara, Hernandez's literature teacher at the Ateneo, described her as among the city's most promising writers. Pagusara said the Davao Writers Guild where he is a member even asked her to submit poems that would be included in their workshops. Hernandez was a Literature major at the Ateneo and was Features Editor of the Atenews until she took a leave of absence first semester last year.

"But for me, Beng is special because she did not only strive to hone her skills, she is also a committed writer… to change a rotten society," Pagusara said.

As a tribute to Hernandez, Pagusara wrote a poem, "Beng, hulagway sa katarungan ug kaangayan (Beng, portrait of justice and equality."

Eric Jude Casilao, a student activist and Hernandez's boyfriend, read excerpts from one of her letters where she addressed him as her "soulmate, my clown, my hankie, my best friend, lover… and comrade." "I would never allow anyone or anything in this world … to change the special bonds we have and all the relationships we shared," the letter read. Between sobs, Casilao glanced at her casket and said, "You will not be forgotten in our hearts and our minds. You will be the brightest star in the darkness of the night," Casilao said. (Courtesy of Jowel F. Canuday/MindaNews) Bulatlat.com

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