For mother of killed rights worker, Lent is a reminder of justice denied

Her daughter was killed by the military in southern Philippines during Easter period 17 years ago
For mother of killed rights worker, Lent is a reminder of justice denied

Evangeline Hernandez, mother of slain activist Benjaline Hernandez, joins a protest demonstration in Manila on April 5, 2019. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

 

 

While Lent is a season for reflection for many Christians, for one Filipino mother, who lost a daughter during Easter 17 years ago, it is a time to cry out for justice.

Agony came to Evangeline Hernandez, 59, one day in April 2002 when Benjaline, her daughter, died at the hands of the military in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. 

Since then, Lent has become a reminder of her pursuit for justice.

Benjaline, or Beng to her friends, was a human rights worker who went to the hinterlands of Mindanao to look into a reported massacre the year before.

Her mother, however, could not understand why her child had to leave their home and stay in a remote village during the "holy days." 

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It is a tradition for the family to come together during Holy Week.

But Beng told her mother that her work for poor farmers was her way of sacrificing "to fulfill her Christian duty."

Hernandez cannot hold back tears every time she sees images of the Passion of Christ. It reminds her of how her daughter suffered, was denied mercy and killed. 

"It was a horrible and unnecessary death," she told ucanews.com. 

On April 5, 2002, Beng was shot at a hut while she and her companions were having lunch.

Alindro Pacana, a farmer who survived the incident, said Beng was able to raise her arms and cry out, "Have pity, sir. We are civilians." 

The soldiers, however, ignored the young woman's appeal and shot her at close range. 

Beng's body was found riddled with bullets. 

The Philippine military claimed Beng and her companions were communist guerrillas and the incident was a "legitimate encounter" that resulted in the recovery of "subversive documents" and firearms.

The case filed against the soldiers was dismissed "due to lack of evidence" in August 2010. 

Today, Hernandez continues her search for justice, and the killings of 14 farmers by police in the central Philippines last week was a cruel reminder of what happened to her daughter.

"These were the farmers that my daughter served and died for," she said. "I will never let her death be in vain."

"My daughter was killed because she wanted to put an end to these senseless murders. It saddens me that it is still happening," she said.

Human rights group Karapatan has documented at least 700 human rights workers having been killed in the past 20 years. At least 205 farmers were killed from July 2016 to March 2019. 

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops' conference, said the government should not use its counter-insurgency program to justify the killings.

"Rebel or not, human rights activists and farmers have the right to life," said the priest adding that killings will never resolve the root cause of the insurgency.

He said government leaders should instead look at the issues of landlessness, food insecurity, social and cultural injustice, and economic inequality.

Father Gariguez said Lent is indeed a moment to reflect on "the real meaning of the observance" of the season.

He said it is not just the suffering and death of Jesus that people should reflect on "but the life that He gave to us when He was crucified to save us from our sins."

"Lent reminds us of the life that we had when Christ died on the cross. It reminds us of the life that thrived when He rose again. It reminds us of the sanctity of life," said the priest.

For Hernandez, however, Lent will always be a remembrance of injustices that many Filipinos have suffered at the hands of the state. 

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