MANILA, Philippines – As former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo celebrates her birthday today, family and friends of journalist and woman human rights defender Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez commemorate the 9th year since she was brutally murdered by members of the Philippine military in North Cotabato, as women rights group Tanggol Bayi-Karapatan renewed its call for justice for Hernandez.
Hernandez was the former Deputy Secretary General of Karapatan and Vice President for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
Cristina Palabay, Tanggol Bayi-Karapatan convenor, said Arroyo should be continuously held accountable for the extrajudicial killings of Hernandez and all human rights defenders who were summarily executed under the pretext of GMA’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya.
“Up until the present, the perpetrators led by Sgt. Antonio Torilla of the 12th Special Forces Company/7th Airborne Battalion of the Philippine Army, who is directly responsible for the killing of Hernandez, remain scot-free as the local court in Kidapawan granted bail last year to Torilla and other junior officers responsible for Beng’s death. The criminal accountability of Arroyo and her military generals should be pursued in the Hernandez case, especially it has seven months since the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) came out with its views on it,” Palabay said.
In March 2006, Beng’s mother Evangeline decided to file a case against the Philippine government, as a state party, at the UNHRC under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Eight years after the murder of Beng, the UNHRC has found the Philippine government responsible for her death and “concludes that there has been a violation of article 6, paragraph 1, of the ICCPR.” The committee said the government violated its obligations to provide effective remedies to resolve Beng’s case, as required by the covenant. But only a few days after Beng’s family and supporters learned of the UNHRC decision, the local court acquitted Torilla of the crime.
Tanggol Bayi-Karapatan said that with the filing of the members of the Morong 43 yesterday of the first human rights violation lawsuit against Arroyo, Pres. Noynoy Aquino should be challenged to make good his pronouncements to act on the prosecution of Arroyo and her top military and police officials for the numerous rights violations and for the perpetuation of the climate of impunity during the Arroyo administration.
“Today, as Arroyo celebrates her birthday, the blood of thousands is still on her hands. The years will not diminish it, nor would the family and supporters of the victims forget. The cry is now stronger than ever: Pnoy, panagutin si Gloria Arroyo, ‘wag patakasin!,” Palabay concluded.