May 22, 2008

Ka Bel's legacy

The accolades coming the way of Anakpawis Representative Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, in his untimely death, salute his honesty and self-sacrifice, his courageous resistance against all forms of political repression, his unwavering commitment and service to the cause of the working class, his example of humility, good cheer and sincere concern for the lowly and downtrodden and, not the least, his being a loving and responsible family man who found time to rear ten children in the midst of his life-long struggle against exploitation and oppression.

It is not difficult to imagine what sorts of blandishments, bribes and outright persecutory schemes were thrown at Ka Bel by his foes who were, as far as we know, all political and ideological and not personal, adversaries. The most outrageous recent ones have been chronicled in the mass media: an attempted bribe of P2 million pesos for him to support a flawed-and-programmed-to-fail impeachment complaint against de facto President Gloria Arroyo and his 15-month detention on rebellion charges that were dismissed by the Supreme Court as baseless and a gross violation of his right to due process.

As a grizzled icon of the trade union movement in the country, the opportunities to grow rich by compromising the interests of workers were always present. As chairperson of the multisectoral alliance, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, a volte face in his leftist viewpoint and politics on many a burning issue would have been a boon to ruling regimes and the elite class interests they protect and promote.

As a bone fide member of the House of Representatives (he didn’t use public funds, military generals and corrupt members of the Commission on Elections to get elected) he acted in true form – a radical oppositionist in a reactionary institution. He spoke on and filed countless bills and resolutions addressing the urgent and most basic problems of the nation from the P125 legislated minimum wage increase to genuine agrarian reform to making the US-backed Arroyo regime accountable for its grievous crimes against the people. But never for a moment did Ka Bel forsake the Parliament of the Streets where his familiar smiling face, firm handshake and steady stride inspired both demonstrators and onlookers alike.

Ka Bel had traveled to many places around the world but not to the United States of America. Succeeding administrations, whether Republican or Democratic, had continued to blacklist him as an unwanted alien long after the downfall of his jailer, the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and even when he had already attained the title of “Honorable” as an elected representative to Congress. His staunch anti-imperialist stance and his identification with progressive causes and leadership role in the International League for Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) have earned him the ire of rabid pro-imperialists while endearing him to struggling peoples and their movements worldwide.

Next to having devoted his entire life to the struggle for national and social emancipation, the most remarkable thing about Ka Bel is how he remained simple and humble despite his fame and stature. He is the best, if not the only person we know who could get away with wearing a dressy suit or barong tagalong without losing his “masang-masa” aura.

Now the secret is out, ironically revealed by his accidental death. Ka Bel looked like a man of the masses, not only because he always took up the cudgels for them and was with them in their day-to-day as well as historic struggles, but because, in truth, he lived and died a man of very modest means. His wife of more than 50 years, Ka Osang, recounted between sobs, how he had been recently occupying himself with repairs on their house, clearing a space in their cramped residence to park an old van he had been using but was badly in need of repair and sweetly promising that he would help her pull the weeds from the garden in the coming weeks so that their vegetables would grow well and help feed the hungry.

His comrades, co-workers and subordinates and even some on the opposite side of the fence in many a bruising political battle, can attest to Ka Bel’s good-heartedness and humility. He never threw his weight around in meetings nor did he demand special treatment wherever he went. He was always willing to give his time and energy to undertake risky, strenuous and even unglamorous roles so long as these were needed. He was concerned about the welfare of kasamas, the ordinary people and his growing brood of grandchildren.

Ka Bel was never intentionally mean to anyone (of course he would get angry at oppressors and exploiters and would have willingly engaged his persecutors in the Department of Justice in a street brawl). He was generous, some say to a fault, in giving even the policemen standing ready to violently disperse demonstrators, the option to disobey unlawful orders from their superiors by addressing them as kababayan (countrymen) and asking them to open their eyes to what was happening in the country.

Those in the Arroyo regime who contributed in no small measure to Ka Bel’s deteriorated health condition, his economic difficulties and his unabated political persecution would now want to act as if they had, all along, only the highest regard for Ka Bel despite their disagreements with his ideology and politics. They send flowers and make sympathetic noises now that he’s dead and even wish to let it appear that as far as they are concerned, bygones are bygones.

Let us in the democratic mass movement express ourselves clearly and emphatically. Ka Bel was an uncompromising, untiring fighter for freedom, justice and fundamental reforms. He has left us a legacy that serves as an inspiration to generations of activists and the toiling, struggling masses he so loved and whom he served to his last breath.

We celebrate his life by affirming the progressive, nay revolutionary, principles and national democratic program he fought for. As the marchers who accompanied his hearse to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Cathedral shouted resolutely, “Ka Bel, tuloy ang laban!”#


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