On April 5, 2002, CEGP Vice President and human rights defender Benjaline Hernandez was killed by members of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) when she was about to eat lunch with four other Lumads in Sitio Bukatol, Barangay Kinawayan, Arakan Valley North Cotabato.
“Beng,” as she was fondly called, was in the area for a follow-up documentation of the Tababa massacre that also took place in Arakan Valley. The CAFGU, led by M/Sgt. Antonio Torilla of the 7th Airborne Battalion of the 12th Special Forces Company of the Philippine Army, brutally strafed on the hut where Beng and her companions were staying.
Alindro Pacana, the sole survivor, narrated that Beng pleaded for their lives. She raised her arms and cried but the soldiers cold-bloodedly shot her at close range. Her three companions, Vivian Andrade, Labaon Sinunday, and Crisanto Amora, who were all farmers, were also killed.
The Philippine military claimed that the incident was a legitimate encounter with the New People’s Army, the armed with of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Torilla claimed that his men recovered an armalite rifle, a Thompson, one .38 caliber revolver, and subversive documents from the victims.
Currently, there is a surge of political persecution with the same narrative from the Philippine police and military. Just this February an alumna of University of the Philippines Cebu and a union organizer were arrested and illegally abducted by state military forces.
Myles Albasin, 21, a mass communication graduate was arrested in the hinterlands of Mabinay, Negros Oriental along with five other young people on the suspicion that they are members of the New People’s Army. Meanwhile, Kilusang Mayo Uno organizer Maoj Maga was illegally abducted by plainclothes men who identified themselves as members of the Philippine National Police.
The military reported that Albasin was involved in a 45-minute gun battle. Allegedly recovered from the group were several high-powered rifles, ammunition, explosives, and subversive documents. While the military reported that Maga had a .45 caliber gun, one piece magazine with seven live ammos, that he was behind the killing of a judge of the 10th Judicial Region in Cabadbaran City, amid being a long time resident in the National Capital Region.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines salute until today Beng’s braveness and love for the masses. She is a hero not only to the Guild but to the Filipino people who used journalism as a tool to deliver the truth especially to the millions of oppressed Filipinos.
April 5 marks the 16th anniversary of Ate Beng’s braveness and idealism. She is a symbol — an icon of this era which proves that journalism as a tool for delivering truth will never waver despite the increasing victimization of impunity, perpetuation of fake news and oppression of journalists.
Together, let us consider her act as a constant challenge to remain adequately critical and conscious of the current societal trends and happenings. Our battle for Ate Beng is on-going. Our battle for truth and justice must never end. Not until there are still perpetrators and victims of injustice, of oppression, or of inhumanity.
The Guild calls on campus publications across the country to rise above the state’s cunning use of the social media and other platforms to manufacture fake news and black propaganda. In these times, it is our herculean task to serve the vast majority of the Filipino people.