Youth Speak: Ka Bel: the grand old man of Philippine labor


As August 31 is a day to commemorate Filipino heroes, we remember the life of one of the most respected leaders in the country and a vital figure in recent Philippine History: Crispin Bertiz Beltran or popularly known as Ka Bel to the labor sector. He was a man, who I believe, had strictly observed in his lifetime, the Kartilya ng Katipunan.

Ka Bel was born to a simple family on January 7, 1933 at Bacacay, Albay. A taxi driver during daytime and a student by night time, he was taking up Civil Engineering at the Far Eastern University though he was not able to finish his course due to lack of finances.

Ka Bel began his involvement in the labor movement in his 20’s. He was president of the Yellow Taxi Driver’s Union (1955-1963); vice administrator of the confederation of labor Unions of the Philippines; and vice president of the Philippines Alliance of Nationalist Organizations (1963-1972).

As August 23 is historical date in 1896 when Filipino revolution against the Spaniards sparked in the “Cry of Pugad Lawin,” I remember Ka Bel’s union involvement as a realization of the Katipunan teachings as contained in their kartilya. Among the teachings: “A life not dedicated to a noble cause is like a tree with out a shade or a poisonous weed.” This teaching is reflective on Ka Bel’s cause which is in its noblest form is a selfless act of offering his life and his family’s at that for the service of the oppressed workers because he continued to be a shining beacon, a voice for the masses.

In his quest for social change, Ka Bel detested the Marcos dictatorship, a gargantuan task that time. As a result, he experienced the iron fist of Marcos’ Martial Rule. He was arrested and detained at Camp Crame, Quezon City from August 1982 until 1984. While in detention, he found ways on how to be with the people’s movement against the Marcos dictatorship. His wife, Ka Osang, delivered his speeches at rallies, a move which eventually led his wife to do volunteer work at the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.

Ka Bel’s life and struggle manifested his principle of justice and that all men should be equal regardless of race, creed or socio-economic status. He took the consequences of being jailed rather than being free but with a futile purpose.

In 1984, amid kidney ailment, Ka Bel had a daring escape from his military imprisonment. The escape was realized after he had it well-planned with his wife Ka Osang. As a result of the escape, Ka Osang endured blows, punches and kicks from Ka Bel’s military guards. Beltran became “fugitive of justice,” based in Central Luzon, and protected by armed revolutionaries. In his experiences, Ka Bel showed that Ka Osang was not just an ordinary woman serving household chores but a “partner” in his quest of liberty from dictatorship.

He was recaptured though by Marcos military. When the 1986 Peoples Power Revolution removed Marcos from power and installed Corazon Aquino to the presidency, Ka Bel with other political prisoners were released. The move was a gesture for reconciliation by the new administration and to start talking peace with the armed revolutionaries or the New People’s Army.

Back with the masses struggle, Ka Bel carried their issues to party list elections as a second nominee of Bayan Muna in 2001. BM won three seats in the House of Representatives – the most influential bastion of conservatism in the country. Ka Bel won a second term in 2004 and third in 2007 as Anakpawis representative. In 2006 he was detained in the Batasang Pambansa because of concocted charge of rebellion due to failed military mutiny.

Despite the political power he had in the congress, he did not use it as a ticket for corruption (in the form of Public Development Funds or the pork barrel). He turned down, and exposed, bribes for him to support a weak impeachment complaint against Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As a matter of fact, he was the poorest of all the congressmen in 2007 lifestyle check of public officials. Again, it all boils down to how honorable a man he was.

Ka Bel’s allotted funds reached far flung areas and the needy, including the Baguio General Hospital and Lumad’s settlement in Mindanao. At the dusk of his life, Ka Bel proved that he was exemplary servant worthy of gratitude and honor or even emulation. #(NorDis)

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