Reynaldo Robles had a good singing voice. As a teenaged boy of 18 he participated in the talent search Student Canteen, and was declared champion of that week. That same year, he joined Sing-out Philippines, a well-known musical group as a guitarist and singer. He played in “combos,” as youth bands were called at the time (Bob Dylan was his favorite artist), and he enjoyed partying with his sisters and friends.
But Rey also had a serious side. In high school, he helped in drug education campaigns; beautification drives in his community in Kamuning, Quezon City saw him cleaning up and sprucing up the neighborhood together with the other young people.
In college, Robles was not an activist – he was somewhat turned off by their strong language – but he could sympathize with them on the issues they raised. He wanted explanations for the gross inequalities in Philippine society. He wanted government to be responsible to the citizens.
After earning his license as a chemical engineer in 1970, he was about to take a job at a multinational corporation. But he decided instead to volunteer for a program under the archdiocese of Manila, called Action Leaven, which involved organizing poor communities, establishing cooperatives, conducting discussions among the residents to talk about their problems. In the crowded district of Tondo he soon learned that poverty and crime were not one and the same, and that the poor were far from being lazy and stupid. His first organizational attempt resulted in the Progresibong Kilusang Binhi, a livelihood movement for poor families.
Then he joined the Kilusang Kristiyano ng Kabataang Pilipino (KKKP), where he came to learn about liberation theology, which showed him that religious faith could be a powerful motivation in activism for social change. Here he met priests and nuns, pastors and church intellectuals, organizing protests and joining politically-oriented rallies against the growing authoritarianism of the then Marcos administration. Once he went with a group of priests to Negros where he experienced working in the sugarcane fields alongside the sacada migrant workers, nearly collapsing from the heat of the sun and his hands bleeding from the toil.
Robles became a leader in the KKKP, and a founding member of the Christians for National Liberation when it was organized on the eve of martial law. Despite the restrictions, they continued to meet and organize; Robles was tasked to build a network of students and church members in the Quezon City-Marikina area. In 1973, he was arrested and imprisoned for six months. After his release, he worked in a youth program of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
But he felt that his calling was to take up the hard life and sacrifice of a community organizer in the rural areas. Thus he left for Oriental Mindoro and bought a small farm there, establishing himself in the remote town of Gloria. Although Robles had no roots in the area, his natural warmth soon won the hearts and trust of the peasants among whom he chose to live. That, of course, was enough to make the military suspicious of him.
One morning in September 1977, Rey Robles was boiling some bananas for breakfast when government troops made a surprise attack. He was killed instantly by a bullet to the head. His neighbors gave him a proper burial in town. After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, the Robles family were finally able to exhume his remains for reburial in Manila.
PARENTS Toribio Robles Sr. and Sixta Laminaria
Elementary: Kamuning Elementary School, Quezon City
Secondary: Quezon City High School
College: Mapua Institute of Technology
Postgraduate: Ateneo Graduate School