‘Ka Bel’ dies in fall while repairing roof

MANILA, Philippines—Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran bolted the Marcos prisons, emerged bloodied from many a street demonstration, and, even in his advanced years, continued to fight the government and face threats of arrest.

From joining a taxi drivers’ union in the 1950s and leading campaigns for higher wages across five administrations, to becoming a three-term lawmaker representing militant labor, Beltran cut an unflinching, if gaunt, figure.

But “Ka Bel” also took these battles home and turned his otherwise private struggles amid the rising costs of living into an extension of his lifelong protest against the system.

His sudden death Tuesday at 75 after an accident at 6 a.m. at the family home, a barely finished bungalow whose roof needed repair in time for the wet season, brought to full light the proletarian path he had embraced.

It was his daughter, Ofelia Ballate, who made the grim announcement of the man’s passing: “Patay na po si Congressman Beltran.”

Ballate was briefing reporters outside the emergency room of the Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation Medical Center in Fairview, Quezon City, on her father’s slim chances of recovery when she was told of his heart failing yet again after a fifth attempt at resuscitation.

“My mother and I agreed that if after resuscitation his heart again collapses, he’ll no longer be revived,” Ballate said at 11:35 a.m., breaking into tears.

She said her father appeared to be experiencing pain breathing each time he was revived through an injected medication.

The family was also told, she said, to come to a decision on the efforts to revive her father because he appeared to be hanging on to life only with the help of the life-support drug.

“Our family’s decision in case he again went into cardiac arrest was to let him go. We all know that Ka Bel lived his life to the fullest,” Ballate said.

“He was able to raise all of us his 11 children. He was a labor leader, a parliamentarian, an activist, and a very good father,” she said.

Personal is political

Listed as one of the House of Representatives’ “poorest” members since winning a party-list seat in 2001, Beltran refused to pay his electricity bills in April 2002 in protest against the Purchased Power Adjustment rate (PPA) charged by Manila Electric Co.

Then living in a depressed area near the Batasan complex in Quezon City, Beltran agreed to pay only the basic charge and not the PPA that accounted for half of his bill, and refused offers of financial aid from friends and supporters.

By October 2002, with his unpaid bills amounting to around P14,600, Meralco cut off his electricity.

It was not the last time Beltran’s politics and personal money problems would become intertwined.

In July 2007, after 15 months of treatment at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC), Beltran had incurred bills of over P1 million.

He was then under “hospital arrest” on rebellion charges filed by the administration, which linked him to an alleged plot to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in February 2006.

The Supreme Court later voided the charges, clearing Beltran and five other Left-leaning party-list representatives then collectively dubbed the “Batasan 5.”

In his 2007 Statement of Assets and Liabilities that the Philippine Daily Inquirer obtained from the House Tuesday, Beltran wrote that he still owed the PHC P42,000 as of 2007.

His assets stood at P64,750, including his P50,000 house in Barangay Commonwealth, Quezon City. He reported his net worth as P22,750.

Strong heart; head injury severe

Dr. Arnold Corpuz, one of the doctors that attended to Beltran at the Fairview hospital, put the time of Beltran’s death at 11:48 a.m.

He told reporters that Beltran had a laceration on the right side of the head and broken ribs, but the cause of death was “head injuries secondary to a fall.”

Corpuz said Beltran was already in a coma when he was admitted to the Fairview hospital. He said the head laceration was sutured at the North Caloocan Doctors’ Hospital where the lawmaker was taken for initial treatment.

“He had a strong heart. But the head injury was so severe that his breathing and heart kept stopping [after each resuscitation],” Corpuz said.

Beltran’s body was later brought to the hospital’s Room 311 to allow his family to grieve privately.

According to Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Rosario “Ka Osang” Beltran thanked her husband for everything he had done for her and the rest of the family as she held him in a farewell embrace.

“She thanked him for raising their family. They lived a simple life. You could see how much the husband and wife meant to each other,” Reyes said.

During Beltran’s detention under Marcos, it was Ka Osang who delivered her husband’s speeches at rallies. She joined other activists’ wives in campaigning for the release of political prisoners, according to an account of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

The couple were married for more than 50 years. In the past few years, they lived in a house in Barangay Muzon in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.

Man for others

Beltran was “hands-on with household work,” said his daughter Ofelia Ballate.

“They had a very simple life, with no household helpers… It was not the first time that he went up the roof,” she said.

In Bacacay, Albay, Beltran’s birthplace, his younger sister Gerodia Beltran-Mirafuentes remembered him as a helpful man.

“As long as there was something he could do to help, not just his family but also other people, he would not refuse to do it,” Mirafuentes said.

She said Beltran worked hard even while studying so he could help their parents—farmer/fisherman Paciano Beltran and housewife Valentina Bertes—provide for their schooling.

The second of 10 children, Beltran was born on Jan. 7, 1933.

He spent his childhood in the island village of Tanagan and completed his early education at the Bacacay East Central School and the Tabaco National High School in Tabaco City.

“He tended the school’s poultry farm when he was in high school so he could be free from tuition and lodging expenses,” Mirafuentes said.

He moved to Metro Manila and went to college at the Far Eastern University.

But he had to work, first as a gasoline boy and then as a taxi driver to support his studies.

Beltran also took up labor management at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

He studied in the day and worked at night, Mirafuentes said.

“Our father worked so we would have something to eat. The food we ate were the fruits of his hard work as farmer and fisherman,” she said, adding:

“Growing up to these realities, my brother always wanted to help our parents. He sacrificed for the welfare of his younger siblings.”

Mirafuentes said it was Beltran’s simplicity and service for others that distinguished him from most politicians.

“If we needed to get rich, our family could have long been rich. But he refused all [offers]. Since the Marcos regime, he always got imprisoned for standing for his principles,” Mirafuentes said.

“Even if my brother was a political prisoner, we were happy, because we knew he was able to help many people,” she said.

Labor organizer

From being a member and eventual president of the Yellow Taxi Drivers Union and the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Federation, he rose to become a full-time labor organizer in the ‘60s.

During the Marcos regime, Beltran was among the political activists incarcerated. He escaped on Nov. 21, 1984, after two years of detention.

He was said to have been sheltered by the communist New People’s Army and waited for the overthrow of Marcos in 1986. That same year he became chair of the KMU, taking over after the murder of Rolando Olalia, and later chair of the Bayan in 1993.

In 1987, he ran for senator under the Partido ng Bayan ticket and lost.

At the time of his death, Beltran was on his third term as a party-list representative.

The 14th Congress credits him with authoring bills seeking a P125 across-the-board wage increase and the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law, instituting reforms in the coconut industry, and declaring Jan. 22 National Farmers Day, among others.

Free man

Beltran’s relatives in Bacacay expressed gratitude that he died a free man.

“We are thankful that he faced a natural death, that he did not die in prison or from a bullet,” they said.

Said Mirafuentes: “He was a politician of the poor. He died a poor man.”

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