I was surprised when I read the Inquirer story “No Catholic Mass for ‘Ka Bel’ in Legazpi” last Sunday. From what we gathered in the news, the Catholic hierarchy in Albay province in Bicol, Ka Bel’s home province, gave an order to priests not to celebrate mass for labor leader Crispin Beltran. Ka Bel had died from head injuries in an accident May 20. His remains were brought to the Philippine Independent Church Cathedral along Taft Avenue in Manila.
Ka Bel’s funeral wake at the Aglipay cathedral led Bishop Lucilo Quiambao of Albay to conclude that Ka Bel was not Catholic and therefore celebrating mass for him was prohibited since this would only confuse the Catholic faithful.
In his own words in an Inquirer interview, Quiambao said that “since (Ka Bel’s) remains were brought to an Aglipayan church in Manila, the consensus of the people is that he was not a Catholic.”
There may be questions of protocol and doctrine here, as the Albay hierarchy would contend. But there is a simpler issue at hand. Was Ka Bel a Catholic or not?
We’re raising this not because we value Ka Bel’s Catholicism but because we wonder why Ka Bel was treated as such by the leaders of the church he apparently belonged to.
Just look at the words of Bishop Quimbao, he said that the “consensus of the people was that (Ka Bel) was not a Catholic.”
The issue of Ka Bel being Catholic is not a matter opinion by some priests and bishops. It is a matter of historical fact and record. You don’t form a consensus of whether a person is Catholic, Muslim, Protestant or Jewish. You don’t make that choice or judgment for another person.
All that the Albay hierarchy had to do was to ask Ka Bel’s family and relatives if Ka Bel was Catholic or not. Sad to say, the family was never asked. Instead, they were subjected to a public rejection of Ka Bel by the Catholic hierarchy in Bicol. In a time of grieving, this public rejection from Bishop Quiambao became all too painful for Ka Osang and her children and their families.
Fortunately, friends from the Redemptorists in Albay celebrated mass for Ka Bel, despite the province-wide ban. News reports said it was a very moving event, especially for the Redemptorist folks.
I got to talk to Ka ofel and Ka Olive, two of Ka Bel’s daughters last night and they recalled what happened when they finally met with Bishop Quiambao.
The good Bishop sought a meeting with representatives of the Beltran family, but it wasn’t the meeting Ka Ofel expected. Ka Ofel and her mother Ka Osang were met by Quiambao by the sidewalk near a church. They had waited several minutes by the roadside thinking they would be brought to an office or a chapel. To their surprise and utter outrage, the bishop did not even get down from his vehicle. He merely pulled down the car window and talked to the Beltran family while in his car. He was in a hurry, Ka Ofel said. He was off to celebrate mass somewhere. Quiambao apologized to the Beltran family for his earlier statements, explaining that the Albay hierarchy was “misinformed”.
I thought to myself, yeah, right. Misinformed my foot! They didn’t even bother to ask.
But there was something in the manner of the bishop’s apology that did not sit well with the still grieving and hurting Beltran family. The apology “lacked sincerity” according to Ka Ofel. The manner it was delivered… well, that’s something else. The scene of the bishop in the car and the Beltrans at the sidewalk reminds me of a period in Philippine history where rich friars looked down on poor peasants. It was at the very least insensitive. It was at the most indicative of some kind of bias against poor folk, a superiority complex coming from the vain belief that they are better than others. Simply put, based on Ka Ofel’s account, para namang napaka-elitista ng ugali.
The Beltran family would not have any of that. They demanded no less than a public apology from the bishop. The Beltran family will be looked down on, not even by a bishop. Ka Olive said that Ka Osang still had ill feelings last Monday, when Ka Bel was flown back to Manila.
Now let’s look at the side of the Aglipay church. I got to talk to one of the priests in the cathedral a day after the news of the catholic rejection in Albay. The news report also triggered debates within the Aglipay community. The question the PIC leadership was being asked was “Why allow Ka Bel to lie in state at their cathedral when he’s not even a member of the church?”
And here we see a stark difference in attitude from Quiambao and the PIC leadership. The leaders of the PIC under Obispo Maximo Godofredo David have always held that their church was founded by workers, led by pioneering labor leader Isabelo delos Reyes. The PIC “had an obligation” to receive Ka Bel’s remains because he represented the working people who’s interests the PIC had taken up since its founding.
Though not a member of the PIC, Ka Bel was warmly welcomed at the PIC cathedral without any preconditions and despite his religious affiliations. In fact, no member of the Beltran family belonged to the Philippine Independent Church. But Ka Bel was received just the same.
For the record, we also had approached the Catholic church in UP Diliman but their facilities were not available for the wake. The Protestant church in UP also was not available for such a big event. The Catholic St. Peter’s church in Commonwealth Avenue was also not available. The choice of having the PIC for the wake was a fairly simple one. They were the only ones willing. Religious beliefs had nothing to do with the choice
The Aglipay cathedral, with its dripping roof, limited space, and humble working class origins, somehow (though unintentional) was the perfect place to hold the wake for Ka Bel.
I believe that somewhere in the processes of the Albay hierarchy, there was bias against Ka Bel. I can fully understand the outrage still felt by the Beltran family. If this had happened to you, what would you have felt?