Last May 26, activists from allied organizations of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and various mainstream artists came together at the Philippine Independence Church in Manila to pay tribute to labor leader Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran.
It was a night of songs and poems for a leader loved by many. It was a celebration of the life of a man who was contributed so much to the movement here and abroad in his more than 50 years of activist work.
The tribute kicked off with a rousing performance from the First Quarter Storm Movement who were joined by film director Joel Lamangan, himself an FQS veteran, in a monologue (Joel) and medley of 70’s marching songs.
Armida Siguion-Reyna, renowned for her singing of classic Filipino tunes, gave a rendition of “Ikaw ang Mahal Ko” which got Ka Osang, Ka Bel’s widow, on her feet and singing along. This was followed by The Jerks front man Chikoy Pura who sang Don Mclean’s “And I Love You so”. At this point I could see Ka Osang wiping away tears from her eyes. Chikoy ended by singing “The Storm”, a Dylan-esque tribute to martyrs and victims of human rights abuses under the Arroyo regime.
Heber Bartolome sang “Karaniwang Tao” which tells of the struggles and hopes of working folk. Jess Santiago sang the classic “Halina” while Danny Fabella premiered his song for Ka Bel. Laguna-based Kalantog did a beautiful rendition of “Patak ng Ulan”.
A composite chorale of activists from various Bayan organizations and allies sang “Pandaigdigang Kapatiran” (Because all men are brothers), an international workers song based on music by Johann Sebastian Bach. They also did Jess Santiago’s “Martsa ng Bayan”.
Former HEAD chairman Dr. Romy Quijano delivered his poem for Ka Bel, with the question of how to cure Ka Bel when the ailments he faced were of social and not medical origins. The poem warmly received by the crowd.
For me the most moving scene that night was the arrival of a grey-haired Medardo Roda, more popularly known as Ka Roda, the chairman emeritus of PISTON. Ka Roda was brought to the venue on a wheelchair, having suffered ailments and a stroke. Ka Roda and Ka Bel were long-time friends, back during their days as taxi drivers organizing unions. When I first attended Bayan National Council meetings in the 90’s, the two were among the most colorful members of the council. Ka Roda told the crowd what a good man Ka Bel was. Even during meal time at conferences, Ka Bel would give up the best piece or choice cuts so that others may eat. Ka Roda joked in private that his old friend
It was also a night of surprises for the audience as fire-brand mass leaders took the stage to sing Pete Lacaba’s “Pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa” (which was also included in the Sister Stella L. movie). The chorale included KMU chair Bong Labog, Anakpawis representative Rafael Mariano, Bayan chair Carol Araullo, HEAD secretary general Dr. Beng Rivera, Bayan Muna sec-gen Nath Santiago, UP professor Judy Taguiwalo, AGHAM chair Gani Tapang, Courage chair Ferdie Gaite and Kalikasan coordinator Clemente Bautista. I got to play guitar for the group.
Bibeth Orteza read a poem from Palanca-awardee Joi Barrios about the sampaguita flower being symbolic of the working-class origins and struggle of Ka Bel. It was the flower often identified with the poor and of course, taxi and jeepney drivers.
When the poem was finished, leaders of various groups walked to Ka Bel’s coffin to lay 55 sampaguita garlands to signify the years Ka Bel dedicated to the movement.
Other notable presentations included Jun Lozada delivering a poem from Alexander Remolino Martin; and Nanding Josef delivering a fiery poem about sham democracy.
The tribute drew in a mixed crowd of Bayan allies, politicians, members of the diplomatic community, artists and musicians all expressing their solidarity with the Beltran family.
The activity was made possible through the untiring efforts of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, the FQSM, Karapatan, Ibon Foundation, PCPR and of course the hosts, the Philippine Independent Church.