Remembering Eden and Beng on Human Rights Day

Four years ago, on April 21, human rights worker Eden Marcellana, peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy and several others were abducted at gunpoint by soldiers in Oriental Mindoro. The following day, the lifeless bodies of Marcellana and Gumanoy were discovered by a wayside, bearing clear signs of torture.

Today, Human Rights Day, let’s remember human rights workers like Eden, who are ready to give up their lives teaching us the value of our rights, monitoring violations made ironically by purported “protectors of the people” and telling us in no uncertain terms that beneath the relative peace and calm that mark our daily lives in the city, there are beasts that roam rural areas and prey upon the helpless and the innocent.

Here’s a video tribute to Eden by a fan/filmmaker that captures the reason why she was killed — which is simply that her human rights advocacy was found to be subversive by the agents of government and that it put a tag on her head as an enemy of the state.

On a personal note, I knew Eden as compassionate person, who tried her best to serve the people of Southern Tagalog, with spunk and daring whenever she has to face arrogant officers of the police and the military while in pursuit of leads that human rights of common people were being assaulted. I feel fortunate to have known her, and to have worked with her, one way or another. I distinctly remember that Eden badly wanted to train Southern Tagalog activists on the basics and rudiments of media work so that more people would know what’s really happening in the region.

I also remember Beng Hernandez, a colleague in the campus press. At the time of her death, she was vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and deputy secretary-general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao. Beng was among the victims in a military-perpetrated massacre in the far south.

Journalist Carlos Conde write a heartfelt essay about Beng, which I hope you find time to read.

Beng died at the age of 22. Her mother now leads Hustisya, an organization of relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings.

You do not need to be an activist, a socialist, a radical, or a communist to be an advocate of human rights. The important thing is that you know your rights, you exercise then, and you defend them from all and any attempts to cut them down.

Jose W. Diokno, an esteemed human rights lawyer and senator, once said that human rights is what makes us human, remove them and we lose our humanity.

A meaningful Human Rights Day to all.

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