Family, friends and neighbors, colleagues, the media, and kasamas (comrades) are heaping praises on Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran; and rightfully so, for who can question the integrity and commitment to serve of a man who was true to being from the working class till the time of his death. He died undramatically - falling from the roof of his house - but not without symbolism.
For Ka Bel, in spite being a labor leader for decades and a member of Congress for three terms, died repairing the house that he bought with a loan. The same cannot be said for many labor leaders who have enriched themselves at the expense of the class they have sworn to serve: becoming willing tools of capitalists and even senators; and the comparison between Ka Bel and other members of Congress, except his colleagues from progressive party-list groups, is too obvious to explain.
His family said that he was a responsible partner to Ka Osang and a good father. What can you say to a man who fought the Marcos dictatorship and all forms of injustices afterwards, stirred the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement), and was still able to do his share in taking care of their children?
His friends said that he always smiled and was warm to them. Well, Ka Bel never forgot a person he had met even briefly and always took the effort to offer a firm and warm handshake to everybody - much unlike the hypocritical, vote-motivated handshake of many traditional politicians.
Ka Bel’s neighbors said that by living with them in an urban poor community, he showed that he is not corrupt. His colleagues in Congress said that he was always sincere and represented the interest of the common man. And the media praised him for his integrity with the Philippine Daily Inquirer saying that, “it showed an astonished nation that it is possible to remain poor while serving in Congress, despite the trappings, the generous staffing budgets, the access to pork barrel funds.” The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) commended him for supporting the rights and welfare of journalists.
Amid the generous praises, what was missed out, except by Ka Bel’s kasamas, is that Ka Bel was the way he was not only because he was a good man - which undoubtedly he is - but because he lived his principles. In Ka Bel, the man and his principles are inseparable.
The Anakpawis party-list came up with the following list of Ka Bel’s activities from his younger years to his time as legislator.
Ka Bel was not yet in his teens when he volunteered to be a courier for Filipino guerillas fighting the Japanese occupation. At 20 he joined a strike by his fellow taxi drivers. He organized and became president of the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Association from 1955-63. Together with Felixberto “Ka Bert” Olalia, the “Grand Old Man of the Philippine Labor Movement,” and Feliciano Reyes, they formed the Confederation of Labor of the Philippines and became its vice president from 1962 -72.
He likewise helped form two other labor organizations, KASAMA and PACMAP. Even under the Marcos fascist dictatorship, Ka Bel helped form the Federation of Unions in Rizal and the Philippine Nationalist Labor Organization (PANALO) until KMU was founded in 1980 with Ka Bert as its first chairperson.
In 1982, the Marcos dictatorship conducted a crackdown against militant labor, raided the offices of KMU and NAFLU, and arrested Ka Bert and Ka Bel, among others. Ka Bert who was 79 then did not survive the harsh prison conditions. But Ka Bel escaped prison in 1984 and continued organizing peasants and workers in the countryside. He returned to Metro Manila and assumed the presidency of KMU in 1987 when Rolando “Ka Lando” Olalia was brutally murdered during the Aquino administration. Concurrent with his holding of the helm of KMU, Ka Bel was also the president of the Alliance of Nationalist and Genuine Labor Organizations.
Ka Bel was the chairperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) from 1993-1999. He was also the chairperson of the International League for People’s Struggles, an international anti-imperialist alliance, in 2002.
He served as vice chairperson and one of the three representatives of Bayan Muna from 2001-2003. In 2004, Ka Bel became a representative of Anakpawis party-list.
Ka Bel was a leader of the working class and he was instrumental in the formation of militant labor organizations and in leading workers’ struggles. He was a patriot and, throughout his life, he was active in the struggle against all forms of foreign domination, from the Japanese occupation to imperialist globalization. Ka Bel believed in social emancipation and he has consistently fought for the rights and interests of the oppressed and exploited classes and sectors in different arena: in factories, in rural areas, in the streets, and in the halls of Congress.
Ka Bel exemplified the tenacity and steadfastness of a man who is firm in his principles; the organization and discipline of the worker; and the humanity and selflessness of one who is genuinely committed to serve the people. To sum it up, Ka Bel is a true revolutionary from the working class.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS