Meeting Ka Bel Up Close for the First and Last Time


I recently talked with a friend who told me that if only Ka Bel’s death was more heroic, his wake could have attracted more people. But after my personal encounter with Ka Bel that night- after seeing, hearing and feeling the life of Ka Bel through his family, friends, peers, peers,a nd comrades – I realized that what is important is not how he died. It is about what he did when he was still alive.

BY JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 17, June 1-7, 2008

The streamers of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) and other organizations have set the mood for the people entering the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Cathedral at busy Taft Ave. last May 27.  One gets the feeling that s/he is not merely entering a wake but also a rally.  The atmosphere created by the banners and numerous solidarity statements extolling Crispin Beltran is not only of mourning but also of militance. The first thing that would remind the visitor that it is indeed a funeral is the ubiquitous guest book near the door.  But what strikes the visitor, upon entering the church, is the magnificent painting of labor leader and Anakpawis Representative Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran.  The painting exudes strength and vigor; it’s as if he was alive.

I have not met Ka Bel personally.  I could have, a week before he died.  I was covering a rally then, with my co-intern Hannah, when we were approached by one of Ka Bel’s staff asking us if we would want to interview him, pointing to a van parked nearby.  But we were in a hurry and we declined the invitation.  We never thought that it would be our last opportunity to meet the man who is now being revered as a true representative of the people and a person from the working class till the end.  I have only seen Ka Bel in some of his television interviews and newspaper clippings before. But I can still barely remember the details of the aged but unwavering icon of the Filipino people and the workers’ struggle.

Near the altar, some people were busy rehearsing for a cultural number that would be presented that night. The performers and the technical aspects of the show seemed to synchronize so well that it’s as if they have been practicing for almost two weeks now. But Ka Bel has been dead for only less than a week, so one can imagine the time and effort that people put into this event to pay tribute to Ka Bel.

I was not aware that people from all walks of life were already arriving in droves until I noticed that there were already people sitting along the aisle of the church. I looked behind me saw that there were also a lot of people  standing at the back, waiting for the event to begin. It took some time before the people joining the tribute settled down as they waved their hellos to familiar faces and initiated small chitchats. The people who came that night seemed to know each other very well. It was like a big family reunion, a family bonded by their shared perspective in life.

The Grand Tribute

The grand tribute for Ka Bel portrayed how he carved his selfless battle that started at a very young age. He was a witness to the suffering of his fellow Filipinos when Japan invaded the country. This drove him to do auxiliary work such as being a messenger for the guerillas at the age of 10.

From then on, the pieces of his life story seem to build up to what he is known for right now. From being a humble taxi driver, and a militant labor leader fighting the Marcos dictatorship, he became a lawmaker under the partylist group Bayan Muna (People First) then Anakpawis.

Aside from illustrating how Ka Bel was as a lawmaker and a comrade in the militant labor movement, the tribute also showed the other side of Ka Bel: that of being a family man and a boss. The love story of Ka Bel and his wife seemed to intrigue the people while the song of the staff of Anakpawis for Ka Bel brought silence to the church as the audience listened attentively.

One of the highlights of the event was when some of Ka Bel’s pictures were shown in a slideshow as his favorite song Imagine by John Lennon was played in the background. Emotions of sadness and grief poured out and filled the air. I looked around and saw that everybody was teary-eyed, so was I.

At first I could not understand why it made me feel as if I have known him very well. But after listening to the testimonies of the people that night, I felt Ka Bel’s contribution in my life. The mere thought of him living a humble life made me think that he did not only defend the welfare of the poor but shared their agony as well.

A Hero

I recently talked with a friend who told me that if only Ka Bel’s death was more heroic, his wake could have attracted more people. But after my personal encounter with Ka Bel that night – after seeing, hearing and feeling the life of Ka Bel through his family, friends, peers, and comrades – I realized that what is important is not how he died. It is about what he did when he was still alive.

I see Ka Bel as a man who chose a battle that would not give him any personal gain but is for the interest of the whole country. The celebrant of the ecumenical service said that some people Ka Bel helped are now better off than he is. But I think this is not surprising for a man who shared not the crumbs but the best he has to offer. Bulatlat

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