Human rights advocates and people’s organizations have condemned the alleged massacre of Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez, 22, deputy secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, along with three others last April 5 in Sitio Bukatol, Brgy. Kinawayan, Arakan Valley. According to Karapatan, an alliance of human rights organizations, Hernandez was in the area conducting a month-long research on the peasant situation and doing follow-up work on a fact-finding mission that she spearheaded on the Tababa Massacre in Arakan Valley last year.
According to eyewitnesses, Hernandez and her companions – Crisanto Amora, 23, Vivian Andrade, 18, and Labaon Sinunday, 30 – were in a hut about to eat lunch when six members of the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Units (Cafgus) led by the 7th Battalion (Airborne) Staff Sergeant, Antonio Torrella, began strafing.
Sinunday, a Lumad, ran away, but was shot and fatally wounded a few meters from the hut. Hernandez and two others jumped from the house but were hurdled together by Torella and the militiamen and thrown to ground facing their executioners. An eyewitness also said that one of the victims begged the men to stop, saying, “Tama na. Magpadoktor na kami!” (That’s enough. We need a doctor!)
The bodies were found lying on the ground, with their hands raised as if in a gesture of begging for their lives or protecting themselves. The body of Hernandez was found with her face shattered. Her neck, upper right chest and left palm were riddled with bullets. Bruises were found on her face, hands and body. Her chest was also burnt, an indication she was shot at close range. Amora was hit in the stomach and head and his innards were exposed. Andrade’s head was blown off.
Residents heard the Cafgu men boast of their actions after the killing. One told the residents, “Hurot na sila. Tua na sila sa lain kalibutan. Peaceful na. Adtoa ninyo.” (They are all extinguished. They have all gone to another world. It’s all peaceful now. Go and get them.) Another boasted, “Perting hilak ang mga babaye!” (The girls were weeping loudly!)
AFP officials have stated that the four were killed in a military encounter and that Hernandez was not a human rights worker, but a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). But Karapatan officials dispute this.
“If this was a legitimate encounter as what the military claims it to be, it was a clear violation of the international humanitarian law,” said Dani Beltran, deputy secretary general of Karapatan in a statement released to the media. “But it was no encounter,” Beltran insisted. “It was a massacre.”
Hernandez was an AB Literature student-on-leave at the Ateneo de Davao University and was also the campus paper’s features editor and incumbent vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
Karapatan warns that the massacre in Arakan Valley is not an isolated incident. “Beng is the latest victim of a calibrated attack against genuine human rights advocates and activists of the legal and democratic mass movement,” said Beltran.