I was there at the FEU hospital when Ka Bel expired at 11:48 am on August May 20. In and out of the emergency room, family, friends and comrades where huddled together anxiously waiting for news of Ka Bel’s condition. We already knew he was comatose. He had fallen 14 feet from the roof of his house while attempting to fix a leak. The impact of his head on the ground would prove to be fatal.
Doctors said it was only a matter of time. He would not regain consciousness. The family had decided to let go. Crispin Beltran just turned 75 a few months ago.
Ka Bel was brought to room 311 where people gathered to grieve over the loss of a man who just fought his last battle.
Ka Osang, the wife of Ka Bel, embraced him. She was grieving and anguished but there was no bitterness. There was no “Bakit mo kami iniwan?!” that we often hear in the untimely passing of loved ones.
Instead of bitterness, a grieving Ka Osang hugged Ka Bel’s body and thanked him for all the good that he has done. “Salamat sa iyong pagtataguyod sa ating mga anak. Salamat sa lahat ng mga kabutihang iyong ginawa….”.
I could barely control my tears. Theirs was a love for the ages. They have been together for decades, married for more than 50 years.
Ka Bel was an exemplary leader of the people’s movement and leader of the working class. He was chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the Anakpawis partylist, the first chairman of the International League of People’s Struggle and was among the first three nominees of partylist Bayan Muna in 2001.
I first saw Ka Bel in person in July 1992 at the Quezon Memorial Circle as we were preparing for the SONA rally. I was a freshmen then at UP and a new recruit of the League of Filipino Students.
People were coming up to this guy wearing a cap. I wondered why they kept calling him Ka Bel. It was then that I learned that he was Crispin Beltran, the leader of KMU. I stood a few feet away from him and I must admit I was a bit awestruck at the guy.
A few years later, I would get a chance to know him better and work with him. He was the nicest man. One would be humbled by his simple living. For the longest time, even when he was an elected congressman, he lived in an urban poor community in Litex, Quezon City. He had the distinction of being the “poorest” congressman in the country, but that’s only in terms of assets and liabilities. I had always thought other congressmen were poorer compared to Ka Bel’s honesty and integrity.
The poorest congressman could not be bribed. He even exposed an attempt to pay him off in exchange for endorsing a flawed impeachment effort last year.
I found it endearing when he refers to himself in the third person. “Ang inyong maliit na lingkod na si Ka Bel…” he would often say.
Not many people know Ka Bel started out as a taxi driver. It was in the taxi union strike where he would be tempered as a labor leader.
His experiences during the anti-Marcos struggle are almost legendary. He was arrested along with Ka Bert Olalia, then KMU chair, when the fascist dictatorship raided the offices of the KMU. Ka Bel was the KMU sec-gen. He was detained but would later on escape his captors and join the underground movement.
In 2003, Ka Bel experienced having his electricity cut off when he adamantly refused to pay for the purchased power adjustment or PPA in his electric bill. In his battle against high power rates, Ka Bel earned the ire of Malacañang. Gloria called him a communist.
On the day he died, Ka Bel was supposed to deliver a privilege speech on high power rates. He was also set to join the filing of a bill that would remove the VAT on power. The organizers of the anti-VAT picket outside the House of Representatives decided to push through with the action even after hearing of Ka Bel’s death. Ka Bel would have wanted the actions to go on. He would have wanted the filing of the new bill to go on.
Ka Bel was in hospital detention under the Arroyo regime for about 16 months. I was in his hospital room on the day the Supreme Court issued its first ruling dismissing the rebellion case against Ka Bel, the Batasan 5 and other co-accused. Oh, he was in high spirits then and contemplated taking legal action against those who plotted his arrest and detention.
He spent countless hours of hospital detention talking to students, foreign visitors, friends and media. His fighting will was high during those trying times of confinement. And because of that he inspired people. He was a symbol of repression under the Arroyo regime, a reminder to all the world of the atrocities being committed by the Philippine government against its critics.
In his last rally speeches, he would talk about the revolutionary movements here and abroad and why these movements would ultimately defeat imperialism and all reaction. Ka Bel was a revolutionary in the mold of Andres Bonifacio. He was loved by the people he served.
We will all miss Ka Bel. His untimely passing is as heavy as the sierra madre. We lost a great labor leader, a fierce freedom fighter, a servant of the people, an internationalist, loving husband, father, lolo, and friend.
Ka Bel wil be brought to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Cathedral in Pedro Gil, Taft Avenue today.