CEGP National statement for Beng’s 9th death anniversary

On the 9th death anniversary of Benjaline Hernandez, the National Executive Committee of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines welcomes the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which held that the Philippine government is responsible for the death of Hernandez due to its inability to exhaust all legal means to prosecute the killers of Hernandez.

It should be noted that UN did not accuse the Philippines of violating human rights – it established that it is guilty of breach of human rights. One is an assumption, the other a certainty. The UN categorically stated that the country is responsible for the killing of Hernandez, and this is not surprising. No other conclusion could be made with the absurdly slow pace of delivering justice and the overwhelming evidence of military culpability.

The decision, if anything, will serve as a precedent.

However, we fear for the lives of other human rights defenders as their lives continue to be threatened. The UN resolution is a good thing, but it is no nearer in resolving the cases of human rights violations than the measures of the Philippine government. We fear for the lives of our members, who like Hernandez, continue to write for the people. The UN resolution is a huge leap in the pursuit of justice, but the culture of impunity that already claimed more than a thousand lives continues to be a reality.

Although it was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration that was condemned by the UN because of its dismal human rights record, it is still the job of the current administration to hold accountable those who perpetrated – and tolerated – torture, abduction, extrajudicial killings and other forms of human rights violation. The resolution should be enough impetus for President Benigno Aquino III to take effective and decisive actions. It is high time that he fulfill his campaign promise of making sure that Arroyo will pay for her crimes to the people. He has been at the helm of the government for a year now, but no Gloria Arroyo, no military personnel, no official – no one – has been prosecuted. At this rate, Hernandez’s case, like many others’, would remain a memory of injustice.

Hernandez, or Beng to her friends, was conducting a fact-finding mission on the peasants’ situation in in Arakan Valley, Cotabato when she was killed by CAFGU and members of the 12th Special Forces Company.

She left her loved ones bereft of a friend and a daughter. An AB Literature student on leave from the Ateneo de Davao University, she chose to prioritize investigation of human rights abuses over acquiring a college diploma. She chose to partake of the people’s suffering instead of indulging in the easy life an Ateneo education would almost definitely afford her.

Yet her life was not free from contradictions. She studied in Ateneo through the contribution of an aunt working as an overseas contract worker. It was barely enough to get her through school. So while many of her classmates enjoyed the life of the rich, she wrangled with fact that she is unlike her rich classmates. This unique condition made her impressionable enough to join rallies against tuition and other fee increases.

As a student journalist, she was exposed to the ills of the society where she dedicated her life and talent to serve the people. We will never forget her commitment as the Guild’s Vice-President for Mindanao. It is a nothing less a duty for CEGP member publications to unfalteringly call for justice that has long been elusive. As long as justice has yet to be served, we will not stop in seeking justice for Hernandez.

Justice for Beng Hernandez!
Justice for all victims of political killings in the Philippines!
Prosecute all human rights violators!

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