(1 February 1950 – 17 May 1988)
It is said that 1968 was the year that changed world history. Student protests around the world marked the year sparking the rise of a movement against the Vietnam war, the civil rights movements and revolutions in Europe. In the Philippines, students and the youth marched against the Vietnam War, against imperialism and colonialism.
In June 1969, when student revolts rocked numerous universities in many countries, Jorge Cabardo enrolled at the University of the Philippines, then joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). A persuasive speaker, soon, he was speaking at many rallies. In UP, he organized the engineering students into the Progresibong Samahan sa Inhinyeriya at Agham.
Despite his active involvement in the student movement, Jorge was also in a hurry to graduate from his engineering studies. He already had a year of engineering at Feati University, then another year at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). He belonged to PMA Class ’71. He was impatient, however, with UP’s policy of validating his previous credits.
He decided to transfer in 1970 to the Cebu Institute of Technology (CIT) in Cebu City where he hoped he could complete his studies in a short time. But he could not close his eyes and ears to the social inequities inside and outside the classroom. The world was raging with political issues. At CIT, he led student demonstrations in the school and organized a chapter of the KM and later, KM chapters sprouted at the Siliman University in Dumaguete, in Tacloban, and at the MSU in Iligan. Jorge was an eloquent and articulate speaker, drawing many to be aware and to be patriotic in the face of growing militarization.
Naturally, CIT expelled him. He then worked full time for the organization. In 1971, he was elected member of the National Council at the Third Congress of the KM. Soon, he was all over the Visayas and parts of Mindanao, organizing KM chapters and other sectoral groups.
On 18 September 1972, five days before the declaration of Martial Law, 51 youth activists were rounded up in simultaneous raids in Metro Manila. Among those arrested were student leaders from the Visayas, including Jorge Cabardo.
In the next four days, the nation was in turmoil. Thousands of youth and students marched through the streets to protest the arrests. Senators joined the youths to denounce the impending martial law. Around the country, local governments, local officials and student organizations spoke against the possibility of military rule.
Due to the protests, 44 of the 51 student leaders were released. But Jorge and six others were kept in jail charged with “inciting to commit rebellion or insurrection.” On the eve of the declaration of martial law that would change the historical and political landscape of our nation, Jorge and two women colleagues were able to post bail and were freed. Some of their colleagues, however, were not as fortunate. Martial law kept them in prison for years.
Jorge returned to Cebu and organized the anti-dictatorship movement. He was untiring in his organizing different sectors in the Visayas to fight the dictatorship. The military was hot on his heels. He was already a known leader in Cebu.
On 9 November 1972, he was again arrested in Mandaue City together with some colleague student leaders in Cebu. He was brought to Camp Osmeña and while being processed for finger printing, he requested to go to the bathroom. When left alone in the bathroom, he escaped.
After his escape, he went back to his work, organizing students, workers, farmers and professionals in the city and rural areas in the Visayas. The anti-dictatorship movement grew and became strong in Samar, Leyte, Negros, Cebu and Bohol. The movement published the Peoples’ Resistance, a bi-monthly newspaper that became the source of news in Cebu when President Marcos closed down the media.
On 4 October 1973, combined Intelligence operatives in Mandaue City arrested him again with his wife Charo; they were brought separately to the Military Security Detachment (MSD) at Camp Lapulapu. After two weeks of torture during his detention at the MSD, Jorge fell ill and was confined at a hospital. There, he was able to escape from detention again. His escape was an again an embarrassment to the military.
A week later, Jorge was back, he surrendered, remorsefully as he left behind his wife, Charo, in detention. The embarrassed Army authorities decided to transfer the couple to Manila immediately. A fight between the Philippine Army and the Philippine Constabulary ensued at the Cebu airport for the custody of Jorge and Charo and the plane carrying them was held for hours.
The Philippine Army finally brought the couple to the most secured military detention unit, the Military Security Unit (MSU) at Fort Bonifacio. MSU was where the political VIPs were detained — Senator Ninoy Aquino, Senator Jose Diokno, Gen. Terry Adevoso (the Secretary General of the Liberal Party), Geny Lopez (the scion of Don Eugenio Lopez, owner of ABS-CNS Network, Meralco among others), Serge Osmeña III (son of Senator Sergio Osmeña, Jr. and grandson of President Sergio Osmeña) and the so-called “plotters” of the assassination of President Marcos among others. In another building, Lt. Corpus who had defected from the military to the NPA was detained in isolation with his wife and two children.
Jorge and Charo were placed separately in solitary confinements and were held incommunicado. Their families did not know where they were. They went around military camps looking for the couple. Two months passed before the Philippine Army finally admitted they had the Jorge and Charo in custody. The detention was brutal. They were kept in solitary, locked at all times and not even allowed sunlight for some months. They were allowed an hour of visit by their families only once a week. During these visits, they were blindfolded when brought from their detention cells to the visiting room. Days of solitary confinement turned into weeks, months and years.
Jorge would recall that those days were “tests of sometimes unbearable storms of mental agony.” During the period of confinement, Senator Aquino went on a hunger strike. Restless and frustrated, Jorge planned to escape again. Then one rainy and stormy night in June 1974, he crawled out of the window of his cell (he had pried the grills beforehand for many days), crawled under the barbed wires, waded the rice fields of Pateros and in a few hours, was out of Fort Bonifacio. Before long, he was with his colleagues in the movement.
Meanwhile, he left behind at the MSU detention his wife Charo who was pregnant with their third child. Charo gave birth in July 1974 at the nearby military hospital surrounded by soldiers inside and outside the operating room. Jorge had thought that the military authorities would be humane enough to free his wife and child. He was wrong. Instead, for months, Charo was kept in a windowless room with her baby. She was not even given any privilege to go outside the room for fresh air and sunshine. Soon, Jorge surrendered to the inhumanity of it all. He went back for Charo and together they were kept in solitary detention until March 1977 when finally, Charo and his son Michael (by then, three years old) were released from detention. Charo was detained from October 1973 to March 1977, a total of three years and five months. Jorge was released in 1978.
Before his release, Jorge helped his fellow detainees Geny Lopez and Serge Osmeña III plan their escape from prison. Geny and Serge were able to escape exactly the same way, on the very same route as Jorge’s in 1974. Only this time, they escaped on a rainless moonlit night to escape the hourly inspection of the guards during rainy nights.
Jorge was known by fellow activists as an “escape artist,” having escape maximum security detention three times. After his release, Jorge went back to school and finished his BS Civil Engineering. He died ten years later in 1988 succumbing to cancer. He was only 38. Attempting to write his autobiography in 1988, he wrote, “I would live it [life] again as I have lived my previous life until the end of my re-tracing.”
Jorge was born on 1 February1950, the second child in the family of six of Luz Lentejas Cabardo and Alfonso Cabardo. His younger brother, Antonio Cabardo was also an activist. In UP, Jorge met Charo Nabong and they were married in 1970. They had six children.