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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Brother Arrested to Silence Sister’s Activism

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | February 13th, 2008 | Comments 5 Comments »

She starts dispassionately, telling her story that she has retold time and time again: “There were four men who entered my house by jumping over the fence. I looked through the window and saw a man wearing a white T-shirt and brown shorts. He held up a gun and told me to open the door. They entered the house, all four of them, looking for Lenie.”
Lenie is Lolita Robiños’ daughter, her “activist” daughter.

She didn’t know these men, “but if I ever saw them again, I’d know them.”

“Three of them were in fatigue pants and black T-shirts,” Robiños describes, face impassive, her guard up the way it hadn’t been that fateful night. “When they failed to find Lenie, they asked who else was in the house. We have two houses together, and they asked who was staying in the (other) house.”

Her son, Mulong, lived there with his wife and two young children. “When Mulong opened the door, the men said, ‘If you tell me where your sister is, we will not have to take you in.’”

Lenie was in Manila; her mother and brother lived in Angeles Pampanga, a city in Central Luzon, three hours from Manila.

“I told the soldiers I didn’t know,” Robiños looks at me defiantly. “I didn’t know, and I was trying to protect my daughter.”

They took Mulong instead.
“Tell your daughter to stop what she’s doing!” the men said, as they led Mulong away.

Lenie is a community organizer, helping peasants form cooperatives to negotiate better loans for their land – and to resist government land grabs.

“At first, I didn’t agree with what she was doing,” said her mother. “Even Lenie’s other siblings were angry because she’s an activist. Now that Mulong has been taken from me, I’ve been exposed to the realties. I learned that I should fight these abductions.”

Unfortunately, Robiños’ family’s tragedy isn’t unique. According to a preliminary UN report, “Over the past six years, there has been a spate of extrajudicial executions of leftist activists, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, land reform advocates and others….These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, intimidated a vast number of civil society actors, and narrowed the country’s political discourse.”

Lenie was just 26 when her brother was abducted in her stead. How is she? I ask the young woman’s mother.

Robiños’ façade breaks. pict0250_4.JPGWiping tears, she says, “She hurts,” touching her heart. “She hurts.”

The men had guns and pistols. They grabbed the 54-year-old mother by the back of her T-shirt and pushed her forehead backward into a chair.

Robiños calls the men “the military.” What makes you feel they are military? I ask. “No one else would do this.” They had come by twice before looking for Lenie, during the day. This assault happened just after midnight.

Two visiting friends and several neighbors witnessed the episode: none would attest to what happened. “They were afraid,” Robiños shrugs.

She can’t sleep anymore. She lives now in Manila, cleaning an office building to earn money to send back to her grandchildren.

Robiños filed a case with the Supreme Court, and hers was the first to be granted the right to search the four area military camps. The court designated the government’s Committee for Human Rights to conduct the search over five days. They agency waited until the second to the last day to start the search, and conducted it without a photo of Mulong.

Robiños is now waiting for the Committee for Human Rights’ report on the lackluster search, before deciding her next step.

“I will not stop searching and fighting for Mulong until I find him,” she tells me, resolutely, on this sunny day in February 2008. We’re sitting in a suburb of Manila in the airy, busy offices of KARAPATAN, a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating abductions and “extrajudicial executions.” (

Mulong had no political involvement. He was a 24-year-old, raising two young children, six-year-old Kacilynn and Reinangel, just six months. He worked hard driving a tricycle, the ubiquitous Filipino mode of public transportation: a motorcycle with a roofed metal sidecar. Drivers earn just a few pesos ferrying passengers around town.

Suzette, Mulong’s young wife, clung to her husband, crying. “They kept saying they didn’t know anything, they didn’t know where Lenie was, they didn’t do anything wrong,” Robiños remembers. The men pushed Suzette down.

Mulong was led away at gunpoint, wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Barefoot.

In fifteen minutes, it was over.

“We haven’t seen Mulong since,” Robiños looks at me, hard. “No word. Nothing.”

That was November 17, 2006. 436 days ago.
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5 Responses to “Brother Arrested to Silence Sister’s Activism”

  1. Sarah MacDonald Says:

    These are heartbreaking and important stories. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. John Reinke Says:

    This is such a sad story. The only positive thing about it is that at least there is the non profit organization Karapatan, that is able to offer some assistance to Mulong and her daughter Lenie.

    I downloaded Karapatan’s 2007 Annual Report from the website, and plan to read it tomorrow.

    Your report is a useful motivator for me. Thanks!

  3. Agnes Says:

    Thanks Kelly! I’ve spent 26 years in the Philippines and have heard several sad stories like these. So sad to hear that things are getting worse now. A hard-hitting broadcaster who is a friend of mine was brutally murdered in Puerto Princesa City at a broad daylight in May 2006. His case is far from being solved…

  4. dave prine Says:

    Utterly tragic. So hard to believe things like this go on in the world. Thanks for posting this. Be safe out there!

  5. Dennis Facundo Says:

    I just happened to chance by this story when my Monther told me of what had happened, you see I grew up with this family and know them first hand. I am so saddened by this incident. To the Author: can you please contact me for further details. thank you.

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