Hernando a.k.a. Adrian Cortez is remembered as one of the pillars of the labor movement in Mindanao that rocked the Marcos dictatorship but would later cost him his life in the hands of military agents.
Hernando or Boy to his family hailed from Butuan. His parents tilled six hectares of land and sold goods in the market. His older brothers, who graduated from college ahead of him and had found work as engineers, helped their parents send Hernando and his two younger brothers to school. Hernando studied at Butuan Elementary School and Agusan National High School. Influenced by his older siblings, he also took up engineering, majoring in agriculture at the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation (GAUF) in Caloocan.
History of political involvement
It was at the height of the student ferment when Hernando Cortez arrived in Metro Manila in the early ‘70s. Protests against oil price hikes, graft and corruption in the government and Marcos’s moves to extend his presidency were happening on an almost daily basis. Hernando became a member of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and later on chaired the GAUF chapter of the Pambansang Samahan ng Inhinyeriya at Agham (PSIA).
A young and energetic leader, Hernando led his fellow students not only in attending rallies and demonstrations but also in doing community outreach programs. When Central Luzon was flooded in 1971, he helped launch a program called Kilusing Lusong to mobilize relief goods for the victims. He led efforts to undertake education and organizing work beyond the confines of the university, talking with students from different schools nearby. Drawn by the workers’ call for just wages and better working conditions, he joined picketlines in Malabon, Caloocan and Navotas. He was once arrested during a strike by workers of a garment factory in Malabon and spent two days in jail.
Having a sharp, critical mind, Hernando also wrote biting articles for the campus paper, The Farrows (AngTudling) that enlightened the students about current issues prevailing at the time.
Hernando quit his studies in 1975, after the apartment where he and his brothers were staying was raided. He joined the underground resistance movement and changed his name to Adrian.
He went back home to Mindanao to continue organizing among the workers. In 1977, he was one of the lecturers on trade union work for the Institute for Workers’ Education and Leadership Training, a project under the wings of the United Methodist Student Center in Davao City. The scope of his organizing work included banana plantation workers, stevedores, and workers in commercial establishments in Davao City, Davao del Norte and del Sur, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.
Hernando also helped in setting up Kilusang Mayo Uno’s island chapter, Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Mindanao (United Workers in Mindanao/ NAMAMIN), which had 200 unions all over Mindanao. He was also one of those who led the formation of the Center of Trade Unions in Mindanao (CENTRUM) in the early ‘80s. These and some labor centers and unions were eventually allowed by the martial law regime to operate legally but only within the bounds of labor concerns. But because they also opposed the dictatorship, they were also treated as enemies of the state.
Hernando helped the NAMAMIN in launching huge rallies during May 1 and other occasions. Tens of thousands of workers would brave the streets to call not only for economic and political reforms, but also to condemn the rampant human rights violations and to call for an end to the dictatorship.
The workers’ protest rallies and pickets were met with violence and threats by the authorities. One such case was the massacre of workers of Franklin Baker Corporation. Hernando and other activists gave legal and logistical help to the workers and urban poor who became victims of state violence and persecution.
Hernando was always there to lift the workers’ spirit in times of hardship.They respected and loved him so much but he became one of the vulnerable targets of the Marcos regime. He had confided to a friend that he had been harassed by banana plantation company guards and that he was under surveillance by the military.He also requested another friend to go with him to his house in Butuan so that someone will know where his family lives in case something happened to him.
Circumstances of death
Hernando was last seen alive in General Santos City in early August 1983, in a meeting with labor organizers. Later that month, friends came to his parents’ house in Butuan City to tell them the sad news that Hernando had been killed.
At the PC Camp in General Santos City where the father had gone to claim the body, he was told his son (“Adrian” Cortez) had been killed on August 13 during a military encounter with members of the South Provincial Philippine Constabulary under the command of a Col. Andres Superable. The incident was reported in the Bulletin Today on August 17.
However the funeral parlor owner told the father that soldiers had brought the body to him on August 4, instructing him to bury the body in Lagao Cemetery without the benefit of a coffin. Also, documentation by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) records evidence of torture. “Deep, sharp cuts on Adrian’s body and limbs indicated that he had been partially skinned alive.” (Nathan Quimpo in Subversive Lives, 2012)
Thus, Hernando may have been captured, not in a military encounter, but in a military raid, then killed under torture. The family had Hernando’s date of death registered as August 4.
Impact of death on the community
“He was one of the pioneers in trade union organizing in Mindanao,” Joel Maglunsod, one of Hernando’s co-workers in the labor movement in Mindanao recalls. Hernando Cortez could have been a great engineer with a promising career. But he chose the road less travelled and served as an inspiration not only to the activists of his generation but for the younger ones as well.
Born June 22, 1954 in Butuan City
Died August 4, 1983 in General Santos City
Parents Anastacio Cortez, farmer, and Irene Mondoy
Siblings Eight brothers Birth order of hero: 7th
Elementary Butuan Elementary School
High School Agusan National High School
College Gregorio Araneta University Foundation, Caloocan City
B.S. in Engineering, major in Agriculture
Bantayog profile form accomplished by Mel M. Cortez, brother
Anastacio M. Cortez Jr., brother, October 20, 2014, Quezon City
Mirasol A. Reyes, co-worker, September 12, 2014, Davao City
Meynardo P. Palarca, co-worker, October 1, 2014, Quezon City
Joel B. Maglunsod, co-worker, October 7, 2014, City of Manila
USec. Joel B. Maglunsod, August 2, 2016, Department of Labor, Manila
Rey Mendoza, friend, July 2016, Quezon City
Virgilio Labial, friend, July 2016, Quezon City
Samuel Castillo, friend, August 26, 2016, Quezon City
Subversive Lives, A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years, by Susan F. Quimpo and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, Anvil Publishing Inc., Mandaluyong City, 2012, p.333.
“A Qualitative Difference,” by LeoncioEvasco, Rev. Ruben Genotiva and Rev. Ben Barloso, in That We May Remember, published by the Promotion of Church People’s Rights, Quezon City, May 1989.
News article from Bulletin Today, August 17, 1983
Posts and comments from the Facebook account of Mel Cortez, August 17-20, 2016