Jorge Checa was the 7th of nine children of a couple who migrated to Manila from Negros Occidental. His father worked at various jobs while his mother cared for the big family. At the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines), Jorge showed a skill for oration, singing and acting. He became active with the college theater group Kamanyang.
History of political involvement
Kamanyang was one of the many student groups that emerged during the growing protest movement against the Marcos regime. It promoted socially-committed theater and staged plays that provoked and criticized. It performed in rallies and travelled to different places, on whichever type of stage, and before a large or small audience in order to show their empathy with the marginalized sectors of our society, the jobless, the poor, the down-trodden.
To depict colonial mentality, Jorge developed the unique character of an English professor who forced his Filipino students to speak English with an American accent. This role made him a well-known protest performer in college campuses in Manila’s university belt, although Jorge also often attracted a rapt audience of laborers or jeepney drivers, coaxing them often to join in the protest activities.
When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, Jorge went into hiding after learning he was in the military’s wanted list. He linked up with other Kamanyang members who similarly went underground and they created youth teams organizing martial-law resistance in northern Metro Manila, now called the CAMANAVA (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) area.
In Caloocan, Jorge founded a singing group called Salt of the Earth which performed in community meetings. They sang popular tunes as well as songs that spoke of people’s problems and aspirations. The group even made a short appearance at a noontime television variety show.
Jorge married his girlfriend Corazon in July 1973. Their house became the headquarters for community organizers in the area. Months later, the couple and another community organizer Wilfredo Apinado were arrested by the martial law authorities. Corazon and Apinado were released after a day in jail. Jorge, whom the military suspected was a leader, spent three months in detention at Fort Bonifacio.
After his release, Jorge and Corazon decided to move as far away as possible to avoid detection by the regime. They chose Mindanao. Jorge joined up with others, travelling the length of the island while secretly building resistance against the Marcos regime. He and his companions lived with farmers and indigenous communities. He spoke to them about their rights as citizens and how they had to fight for justice and democracy and demand fairness in the government’s treatment of the poor.
Circumstances of death
Corazon would receive occasional letters from Jorge and she knew that in September 1984, Jorge was supposed to be in Zamboanga del Norte. When the letters stopped coming, Corazon suspected the worst. Military officials had floated a report that a political detainee, presumably Jorge himself, had committed suicide while in detention.
Unconvinced about this claim, friends asked human rights lawyers Zorro Aguilar and Jacobo Amatong (both Bantayog martyrs) and other members of the martial-law opposition in Zamboanga to trace Jorge’s whereabouts. Acting on reports that an unmarked grave had been found in Tampilisan town, Zamboanga del Norte, the two lawyers planned to join a fact-finding mission and exhumation. On the eve of their departure, on September 23, 1984, Aguilar and Amatong themselves were assassinated by unidentified gunmen.
Despite this, the exhumation did take place, leading to the recovery of the remains of Jorge and another individual. Jorge’s body bore multiple stab wounds, which disproved the military’s suggestion of suicide.
“Nakilalakosi Jorge sa PCC noongnagingkasapiakongKamanyangtaong 1969. Masayahinn, palabiro, at matalino.Katulongkosiyasapagbibigayngedukasyong pang-masasa akin at saiba pang mgakasapingKamanyang. Walasiyangpagodsamgapagkilos at mgapag-aaralmulasapaaralanhanggangsapagpapakilos.” (Willy Apinado, friend and colleague)
“He was a gentle, fun-loving and kind-hearted man, with a fierce and fearless conviction to do what is right for freedom and justice.” (Jaime A. FlorCruz, friend and colleague)