Early Tuesday morning, progressive Philippine congressman Crispin Beltran (better known as Ka Bel) died after he sustained head injuries after a fall from the roof of his home that he was reparing. He was 75.
[above: Ka Bel leading a rally in Manila, Dec 2007.]
Ka Bel was one of the congresspersons (along with Satur Ocampo and Luz Illagan) who came to Canada in April of this year to talk to the community and the Cdn Parliament about the human rights problems in the homeland.
His death came as a bit of a shock to me. I knew that his health was poor, but he seemed strong during his visit here, and at all the rallies I saw him at in Manila. It’s a sad day for the Phils and especially for those fighting for decency and a true democracy there and abroad.
For those of you who don’t know much about him, Ka Bel (short for “Kasama Beltran”) is one of the small group of progressive Party List politicians [*the Party List allows voters to vote for a party instead of an individual, much like what they tried to pass in the last Ontario election referendum] that recently visited Canada in April. He has been one of the great modern labour leaders in the Phils, so much so that he was jailed by Marcos from 82-84 (when he escaped), and then again for over a year by the GMA administration (where he was kept in solitary without access to medication).
His health was poor when he came to Canada, but he was still active and never asked others for special treatment (though many doted on him).
He will be missed…
[The below is the press release article sent out by Fil-Can groups about his death. There is an event planned for this weekend to commemorate his life: CLICK HERE For the Facebook Event.]
Ka Bel is dead. Long Live Ka Bel!
We Filipinos in Canada and Friends, who just over a month ago had the honour of meeting with Congressman Crispin Beltran, awoke today May 20 to learn of the tragic death of Representative Beltran, or Ka Bel, as he was known to the millions who loved and respected him. We condole with Ka Bel’s wife Ka Osang, their eleven children, 29 grand children, and five great-grand children.
Around 6 am of the 20th, Ka Bel fell from the roof of his humble house in Bulacan. He was up on the roof to fix a leak because of the recent typhoon. While going down, he lost his balance and fell fourteen feet headfirst. Though he went into multiple cardiac arrest later, it was the hemorrhage from the severe head injury that took his life.
Ka Bel was not one to order other people around when he could do the work himself. Even as a legislator, Ka Bel kept his simple working class life. Ever incorruptible, Ka Bel was not one to feast on the public trough like the traditional politicians so disdained by Filipinos. At death, he left net assets of around P50,000, or less the $1,200. His Bulacan home was only purchased in 2004. It was a simple unpainted house in a 60-square meter lot in a low-cost housing subdivision. He was still paying a monthly P5,000 amortization. Previously, he had lived in a depressed area in Quezon City.
Though he could have had it otherwise, Ka Bel chose to maintain his simple working class life to maintain in touch with the lived realities of millions of Filipinos in order to struggle hard with them for their rights and welfare. Even before his teens, he displayed his patriotism by volunteering as courier for guerillas against Japanese occupation. A farm hand, a janitor, a gasoline boy, a messenger, a bus driver and finally a taxi driver, Ka Bel eventually became a unionist and labour organizer. Putting the interests of the country and workers first, he rose through the ranks of the May First Labour Centre eventually to become its president in 1987 after the military assassinated its then president, the beloved Ka Rolando Olalia.
Though loved by workers, peasants, the urban poor and patriots, Ka Bel is hated by the enemies of the Filipino people and workers. On August 1982, he was arrested and detained by the Marcos dictatorship until his escape in November 1984. Recently in February 2006, Ka Bel was again arrested, this time by the murderous Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime, to suffered over one and a half years detention including withdrawal of his medications for a long period of time.
Ka Bel never tired in his work serving the people. In the 13th Congress, Ka Bel was the partylist representative with the most number of bills and resolutions filed, all together 130, and a nearly perfect attendance until his arrest in 2006. He was awarded Filipino of the Year and Most Outstanding Congressman for four consecutive years from 2002-2005, and in 2006, was adjudged part of the Congressional Hall of Fame.
Just before his tragic death, Ka Bel was busy preparing for a privilege speech on power rates and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). He was scheduled to file a bill to remove the e-vat on electric power to lower the rates affecting his constituents. Ka Bel has also been at the forefront fighting to increase the minimum wage P125 and to make the country self-reliant in rice. Such speak to Ka Bel’s concerns for the urgent problems of the Filipino people. We could go on and on.
We overseas Filipinos know too well the importance of these efforts. Millions of us not only have been forced out of the country we love because of the absence of opportunities, we get regular calls from our relatives back home requesting more help because of the high cost of living, to help a relative finish their schooling, to pay for hospitalization, for help with the holidays. Now we are asked to send rice!
Ke Bel is a beloved hero to millions of Filipino workers, peasants, urban poor, to the middle class, to overseas Filipinos. He may not have died the way he wished, but Ka Bel lived his life the way we should. It isn’t the matter of death that makes you a hero but the life you live. We grieve at the loss of this great working class hero but cry tears of joy at his service to the people. Ka Bel’s life was a heavy and beautiful as Mt. Mayon!
Ka Bel is dead. Long Live Ka Bel! Ka Bel: Genuine Patriot, Working Class Hero! Ka Bel: Incorruptible To the End!
Bayan-Canada in Toronto Migrante Ontario