PAR, Maria Socorro Baronia

Ma. Socorro Par picMa. Socorro’s quiet demeanor belied steely nerves that helped her through the rocky path to which she committed her life. Described by family and friends as good, diligent and patient, Socorro, Soc, as she was fondly called, was the youngest of thirteen children. She may have been pampered but she did her chores dutifully and helped keep the house spotlessly clean. She was born and spent her childhood years in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, her mother Herminia’s hometown. Her father, Claro Par, was originally from Marinduque.

The Par family moved to Digos, Davao del Sur, when Socorro was in her early teens. She was in third year high school when she became aware of the problems besetting the country, particularly of the exploitation experienced by peasants. Already an active member of the Student Catholic Action, and in the wake of Vatican II, Socorro responded further to the call of the times by joining Khi Rho, a youth group closely allied with the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF). The FFF was a socio-political movement that strongly advocated agrarian reforms. Khi Rho members helped document land-grabbing and other cases suffered by FFF members.They also campaigned for FFF leaders who ran for elective office in 1971.

The First Quarter Storm was then raging in Manila and it was the same scenario in Davao. Students took to the streets to demand for social justice and changes in a profligate government. Now in college and studying towards a degree in Economics, Socorro was an active participant in discussion groups and mass actions. When martial law was declared, like most student activists then, Socorro fled to the countryside.

Socorro joined the underground resistance that was newly taking shape in Mindanao. She worked to help the people in the countryside struggle against the manipulation and corruption heaped by abusive officials. While there, she got married to a fellow Khi Rho member, Emerito Rodriguez, with whom she had a son. Rodriguez was killed in early 1975 in Davao del Norte, making Socorro a young widow.

Socorro was arrested in November 1976 in Nabunturan, Davao del Norte. She was then in a house with a group of resistance fighters when they were surrounded by military soldiers. In a bid to escape, she tried to submerge herself in a mudpool but was soon spotted. Accused of subversion, illegal possession of firearms and inciting to rebellion, she was detained at the Philippine Constabulary (PC) barracks in Tagum.

Released shortly after, Socorro enrolled at the Ateneo de Davao. A consistent honor student, she juggled studies and campus activism in this period which political analysts in Mindanao call Second Reform Movement. At the Ateneo, students successfully demanded for the return of the school paper, the Atenews, and of the student council.

Socorro’s efforts were crucial in propelling this resurging opposition to martial law. In the book Subversive Lives, a Family’s Memoir of the Marcos Years, Nathan Quimpo described how Socorro was part of a group that set up the Council for Student Evangelization (CSE) in 1978. The CSE trained promising student leaders from three different universities in Davao. In one seminar held in Matina, participants discussed and critically analysed the national political and economic situations as well as of particular sectors of society- labor, urban poor, and youth.

Socorro also became provincial coordinator of the Student Christian Movement (SCM), and later assisted in the formation of the Kabataan alang sa Demokrasaya ug Nasyonalismo (KADENA), organizations critical of the dictatorship. She helped plan inter-school and multi-sectoral activities that made the people aware of the evils of martial law. Despite being older than most of the people she associated with, Socorro was never brash, but was friendly with them and quietly guided the younger activists“like a mother hen.”

As protest against the dictatorship grew, the state responded with even more repression. Human rights abuses were rampant. Eschewing a comfortable life, Socorro devoted her time organizing people in the urban centers after her graduation in 1979. She firmly plodded on with her commitment to work for the people’s freedom and a just society despite the obstacles she encountered: receiving a bad injury when a grenade near her exploded and a second arrest and two-week detention in 1982. There were certain joys as well: she got married a second time to Lucio Borlaza and gave birth to a daughter. She took a 90-day maternity leave to breastfeed her baby girl.

On April 23, 1985, Socorro had just returned from visiting her daughter in Davao when the hut her group was staying in, in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental, was raided by a composite team of twenty members of the PC and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Socorro and another companion were killed, another woman was arrested, but her husband and another one managed to escape. The dead were brought by a kanga (carabao cart) to the municipal hall, ridiculed as common criminals, and buried in shallow graves in the municipal cemetery.

Socorro’s parents were able to retrieve her remains three days later, finding in it a shattered elbow and a bullet hole in the forehead. In the grave they also found her things: her bag, malong, pictures and bracelets. They brought her back to Davao and gave her a decent burial on April 30.

All these years after her death, Socorro’s friends remember her well. As they look back, they remember the conviction and courage she showed as she tried to achieve her dream of a just society. “Her life and martyrdom continue to inspire and haunt me,” Jeannete Birondo-Goddard mused. A former classmate and thesis partner believes that if Socorro was around today, she would “surely make a big difference in our corrupted society.” He wants to remember her “as a person and not just a footnote in the struggle against injustice.”

The Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA) posthumously awarded Socorro Par the Gawad ni Lorena in November, 1991.