Sofronio Roxas was born in Leyte. His family, like many landless peasants in the Visayas, moved to Mindanao after the end of the Japanese Occupation in World War II. They were able to find some land to till, and Roxas developed a deep love for the soil – even preferring to stop formal schooling after three years and devoting his time instead to producing crops and seeking better methods of farming.
He developed the idea of cooperative farming, in which groups of 10 to 15 farmers agreed to set aside a common piece of land and to take turns cultivating it, so that the proceeds from the crop could be pooled and set aside as a kind of mutual fund for use in emergencies and common projects such as a community fishpond. Because he was a natural leader and organizer, Roxas was able to set up 25 such groups in his area, Lampayan village, in the town of Matalam, North Cotabato. He worked with Bisayan settlers and Manobo communities alike.
In 1978 the Roman Catholic diocese of Kidapawan in North Cotabato asked Roxas to join its social action center. As a community organizer under the Basic Christian Community program, his job involved visiting many barrios, conducting Bible study sessions, helping the farmers solve local problems. He continued to work on his farm, with his growing sons now providing much of the needed manpower.
But the North Cotabato area was heavily militarized. The authorities soon suspected Roxas of having links to the rebel guerrilla units operating there. Maybe it was because he refused to be submissive, and insisted on carrying out the programs that he thought would help the people become more self-reliant and aware of their rights. He was arrested twice. The first time he was charged with rebellion and subversion but was released and never tried. No charges were filed against him the second time, which lasted two months.
The harassment and the risks intensified as he pursued his work. Many times threats were publicly made by the local militia, the CHDF. Friends suggested that Roxas abandon his work in the diocese, but he continued. He attended protest actions. He criticized corrupt officials. He tried to prepare his family for what he had accepted was inevitable: his own death. In April 1984 his son Diomedes was badly beaten up by soldiers conducting a military operation; one month later the young man died of the injuries to his liver.
One hot noontime, on August 29, 1984, Roxas was heading home from town when he was intercepted by a gunman hiding in the sugarcane field beside the road. A single M16 bullet was fired, knocking him off his horse. Witnesses pointed to a paramilitary man as the likely suspect.
Some 500 placard-bearing mourners joined the funeral march, including priests and other religious and lay people from the diocese’s 15 parishes. They called him a true Christian. Kidapawan bishop Orlando Quevedo’s paid tribute to him during the funeral mass, saying: “He is one of the people who impressed me. Most of us have had more education, …more technical knowledge than he. But he was a wise man…dedicated, zealous and humble. He served his people and community in Lampayan in a way all of us would wish deep in our hearts but oftentimes fear to do.”
The prelate continued, “I don’t hesitate to call Sofronio a martyr. It is for speaking and defending justice and truth that his life was sacrificed.”
PARENTS Eulalio Roxas and Basilia Pongos
SPOUSE / CHILDREN Visitacion Cano / 8