They Grieved Then Took on the Struggle for Justice

“Who would continue their tasks? The dead could no longer speak. It is us, the ones they left behind, who must carry on what they had started,” said Evangeline Hernandez, mother of slain human rights defender Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez and chairwoman of Hustisya!


MANILA – After a loved one became a victim of extrajudicial killing, how does one go on with life?

For Evangeline Hernandez, losing a daughter has led her to a meaningful cause. For Ernan Baldomero, the death of his father became a wakeup call.

Nanay Evan, as what her colleagues call her, 50, is the mother of Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez who was killed along with three others in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato on April 5, 2002. Beng was then deputy secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region and vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). In a recent decision, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held the Philippine government accountable for her death.

Ernan, meanwhile, is the second of the five children of Fernando Baldomero. Fernando, municipal councilor of Lezo, Aklan and provincial chairman of Bayan Muna, was gunned down on July 5 in front of his residence in Kalibo, Aklan.

Nanay Evan and Ernan met at the first national assembly of Hustisya! (United for Justice), an organization of relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings.

From a Small Entrepreneur to a Human Rights Activist

Nanay Evan holds a photograph of slain daughter Beng Hernandez.(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea /

Before Beng was killed, Nanay Evan was preoccupied with their small food business in Davao City. Nanay Evan knew of Beng’s activism, when she was still a student at the Ateneo de Davao University. “That time, I was not politically conscious. I could not understand why she had to do those things,” Nanay Evan told Bulatlat in an interview.

Beng’s boyfriend who is also an activist would often visit the house. Nanay Evan also met Beng’s colleagues at the CEGP-Davao chapter and Karapatan-SMR.

After the death of Beng, the family decided to leave Davao City to start a new life. “We did not want to be disturbed,” Nanay Evan said. The military tagged Beng and the three other victims as members of the New People’s Army (NPA) even as the investigation conducted by the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) revealed that Beng was negative of gunpowder burns and that she was shot at close range.

Beng is the eldest of their four children. The youngest, Angelique, was only ten years old when Beng was killed.

In Manila, Megace, the second child, had been invited by Karapatan in some of its activities. At one of those gatherings of relatives of extrajudicial killings, Megace spoke dearly of her “ate” whom she called her idol. When Megace found a full time work, she asked Nanay Evan to substitute for her in attending activities of Karapatan.

Eventually, Nanay Evan has been transformed into being a human rights defender herself. “I was being challenged. Who would continue their tasks? The dead could no longer speak. It is us, the ones they left behind, who must carry on what they had started,” she said.

“The HR [human rights work] won my heart,” she added.

“My only regret is that Beng had to die before I came to understand her work. Now, I know that she chose the right path,” Nanay Evan said.

Whenever she misses Beng, Nanay Evan said the longing now turns into happiness and a sense of fulfillment.

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