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

Volume III,  Number 41              November 16 - 22, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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After two years:
Prosecution to File Murder Charges vs Young Journalist’s Killers

Student journalist Beng Hernandez, gunned down while investigating a human rights violation case, would have turned 24 on Nov. 21. Justice would have been a perfect gift for her.  And as if on cue, a three-man panel of the Davao City Prosecution Office recently ruled that there is substantial evidence to file murder charges against the two soldiers and the paramilitary men allegedly involved in the murder of Hernandez and her companions.


(Left) Beng Hernandez a month before she was killed. (Right) Hernandez was found with her hands raised, as though begging for her life.

Right photo courtesy 
of Karapatan

Beng Hernandez, vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and deputy secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, was murdered along with three others last April 5, 2002 while she was conducting research on the human rights situation in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato, southern Philippines.

It took nearly two years after the incident before her family and friends found a flicker of hope that they will still see justice for Hernandez.

Indicted were M/Sgt. Antonio Torilla, and Cpl. Randolph Tamayo of the Army’s 12th Special Forces Company, along with Leo Indagacan and Didok Anarna and another unidentified member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).

The panel cleared the other respondents for lack of evidence on their participation, namely Pfc. Celso Padama and Cafgu members Edwin Arandilla, Edgar Alojado and Bernabe Abanilla.

The panel, composed of state prosecutor Fundador Villafuerte as panel chairman, assistant city prosecutors Jofre Saniel and Ma Gemma Dabbay, issued a seven-page resolution written Oct. 30 calling for the filing of charges for the killings of Hernandez, Vivian Andrade and Crisanto Amora.

However, the panel cleared the soldiers and militiamen of responsibility for the death of the fourth victim, Libaon Simunday, saying his death was a result of a legitimate encounter.

Karapatan Southern Mindanao Secretary General Ariel Casilao hailed the City Prosecution Office for its finding, saying it was an initial victory for the family and the group’s search for justice.


Casilao said this resolution is also a vindication for Hernandez and Karapatan since it debunks the military and North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piρol’s statements that Hernandez was killed in an encounter.

“Gov. Piρol’s credibility is now ruined,” said Casilao. Two days after the Arakan Massacre, Piρol came out with his own “findings” -- firearms and subversive documents allegedly belonging to Beng and her companions and a diary allegedly written by Beng.

With the new ruling, Casilao believes that their case has become stronger. The families of Hernandez and Andrade are also thankful for the decision.

“We have a strong case at hand. It would not be surprising if the accused party will employ delaying tactics especially that such are their expertise,” says Casilao.

Benjamin Hernandez, the victim’s father, challenged the 6th ID spokesperson Maj. Julieto Ando who earlier promised to him and Karapatan to voluntarily submit their men to the court if charges will be pressed.

Hernandez also urged Piρol to come out with his statement now that the panel has contradicted his previous statement.

Casilao urged the Army to immediately confine the suspects to barracks to prevent a repeat of the Mawab Four Massacre (an incident on Aug. 2, 1999 wherein an NPA leader, medic, and two civilians were murdered but with the suspects going into hiding and remaining at large).

The panel came out with this decision after corroborating the statements from the witnesses and the medical findings of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Medical findings

Medical examinations conducted by Dr. Reynaldo Romero of the National Bureau of Investigation showed that Hernandez, Amora, and Andrade were all shot at close range. The findings corroborated the eyewitness account of Alindro Pacana who saw Hernandez being shot as she was pleading to the suspects not to harm her.

Pacana said he was with Hernandez and Andrade the night before the incident as they spent the night together in a house in Arakan Valley.

At 10:30 a.m. April 5, 2002, Crisanto Amora arrived carrying a long firearm and talked to Hernandez and Andrade.

Later, Labaon Sinunday, a farmer, brought them food. Moments later, gunfire was heard coming from the outside. Amora shouted for them to jump out of the house.

Sinunday was the first to jump out of the window, but he was hit by a hail of bullets. Pacana managed to jumped out and escape from the sight of the armed men.

From the bushes, Pacana said he saw Amora wounded in the stomach. Amora reportedly threw down his firearm and asked for medical help. “Surrender, surrender! I won’t fight, don’t kill me because I have a family,” Amora cried out. Hernandez and Andrade were kneeling beside Amora, also pleading to the men to bring him to a doctor.

At first, the armed men deliberated on what to do with Amora. Then one of them shot Amora in the neck and crotch.

Later, Pacana recalled that Hernandez was raising her arms and cried, “Have pity, sir, we are civilians.” But she and Andrade were also shot. A bullet broke Hernandez’s jaw.

The armed men then strafed the house and fired shots in the air, and took away Amora’s firearm with them. Pacana said there were about five men who attacked them.

Other witnesses also recounted how Torilla came to their houses and said, “They are all finished. Go pick up their bodies.”

During the investigation of the Commission on Human Rights, Torilla claimed that what happened was a legitimate encounter. He said his men recovered an armalite rifle, a Thompson, one .38 caliber revolver, subversive documents and personal belongings.

The city prosecution panel however found that Torilla’s claim was “a matter of defense” that should be presented during the formal trial. Bulatlat.com 

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