Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran, mahal kong boss at Kasama

By Ina Alleco

My boss, favorite labor leader/mass leader, kaibigan and pinakamamahal na kasama Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran died earlier today, a little before noon after sustaining massive head injuries. No he wasn’t felled by bullets by assassins sent by the military or the government; he died because he hit his head on the pavement when he fell off the roof of his house in Bulacan. He was fixing it, most probably because it’s the typhoon season and he didn’t want to risk water leaking through fissures or cracks and flooding his and Ka Osang’s house.

Am trying to be calm about it, because in my grief I am angry. Angry because his death was so senseless — it’s silly even! Had his fall not been fatal and had he only broken a leg or a shoulder, the entire accident would have been turned into an anecdote, a cautionary tale – one of the stories one tells about the big hearted, kind, compassionate but often stubborn great labor leader that he is. Was. I wonder how long it will be until I begin referring to Ka Bel in the past tense?

But nevermind my anger. What happened — his being on the roof, a 75-year old man with a hammer, doing household work and making sure his home and family were safe from the rains — is (was?) so like Ka Bel. He lived and worked from day to day always with meaningful intent, with purpose, with the aim to protect and defend those he cared for and loved the most. And that purpose extended (oh how it it did reach outward and forward like an undeniable force of nature!) beyond his family — he embraced the working class, the Filipino people, and even the poor and oppressed of other nations.

He was a good guy. He liked to laugh- with others and even at himself. He laughed like a little boy with a good secret and he was tickled pink by it. He had a smile that made you forgive his sometimes outrageous comments (often directed against the likes of de facto president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, DOJ secretary Raul Gonzalez, national security adviser Noberto Gonzales and Executive secretary Eduardo Ermita as well as certain officials of the House of Representatives). He was self-effacing and self-deprecating when it came to his own achievements, and in his commitment and opposition against what he he referred to as ‘the evil government’ he was fierce and fearless. He was an internationalist, a man with the highest socialist ideals, and he lived and practiced what he believed in on a daily basis. He was a good father and husband, nevermind that he was never a good provider. He shared what he had with others, be it the last crumpled P20 bill in his battered wallet, or his wide knowledge of history, politics and economics. (Those who knew him best also knew better than to start a discussion with Ka Bel about the state of the nation or the state of the economy of whatever other country — Ka Bel loved discourse, and loved a healthy discussion. Often he’d risk being late for committee hearings or plenary because he’d gotten so involved in conversations with visitors. Thank goodness his staff are persistent – they had no qualms about dragging Ka Bel away and shooing him off to his appointments.)

I worked with and for Ka Bel for more than a decade. I became one of his staff when he was still the chairman of the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) back in 1995; and when he was elected to his first term as a party-list representative of Bayan Muna in 2001, I joined his office first as his media officer, and eventually as his chief of staff. This was a post I maintained when he got elected to his second and third term under Anakpawis until I moved to the NDFP Human Rights Monitoring Committee in the Joint Monitoring Committee late in 2007. That’s a total of 12 years! I’m now 32, and I am proud to say that my most formative years as a writer, as an activist have been shaped and influenced by the likes of Ka Bel. Twelve years, and every day of it was a great honor to serve such a sincere, humble and highly-intelligent and deeply committed servant of the people.

I have to admit that this day is a day that I’ve long feared would come. Ka Bel wasn’t young, and he had diabetes and hypertension, and the last two years had been so stressful for him because of his unjust and illegal incarceration on trumped-up charges of rebellion. I feared that the day would come when I wouldn’t hear his voice anymore in the rallies or in the plenary hall of the House of Representatives. When I wouldn’t hear his laugh or see his smile and have him grasp my hand tightly in his as he asks how I’m doing. When the Philippine labor movement would lose its staunchest, most fearless leader.

Well, that day has arrived, and no matter how I’ve prepared myself for it mentally, emotionally it’s still quite, quite difficult to bear.

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