This early, the 2004 national elections have given rise to unconventional and non-traditional political figures through the party-list system. Progressive groups are in fact supporting six party list groups: Bayan Muna (People First) which topped the 2001 party-list elections, and the newly formed Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), Gabriela Women’s Party, Anak ng Bayan (Youth Party), Migrante Sectoral Party and Suara Bangsa Moro (Voice of the Moro People) Party.
For this issue, Bulatlat.com gives space to the nominees of Anakpawis (See related article).
By DABET CASTAÑEDA
First of six-part series
Crispin Beltran: “Ka Bel” of the toiling masses
Very few people know that the labor leader and former Bayan Muna representative served as a courier of Filipino guerrillas during World War II, when Japan invaded the Philippines. He was then only 11 years old. Thus, for Ka Bel, serving the country has been an ideal lived, not just mouthed.
After the war, he supported his schooling by working as a janitor. He also later worked as a gasoline boy, messenger clerk and then public utility driver. He became more aware though of workers rights and welfare when he became a taxicab driver for the Manila Yellow Taxicab Company.
He had his first taste of state violence when policemen and hired goons swooped down a picketline which he joined with his fellow drivers. Ka Bel recalls the anguish he felt, as three of his fellow workers lay dead.
The violent attack led to Ka Bel’s decision to serve his fellow workers. He organized the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers’ Association and became its president. Together with other stalwarts of militant workers’ struggle, Felixberto Olalia and Feliciano Reyes, he organized the Confederation of Labor of the Philippines, the Philippine Workers Congress and the militant labor organizations KASAMA and PAKMAP that were subsequently declared illegal when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
But even during martial law, Ka Bel continued to actively organize workers, leading to his arrest in August 1982. He escaped from prison in November 1984 and surfaced after Marcos was toppled from power in 1986. When labor leader Rolando Olalia was brutally murdered late that year, Beltran took over as KMU chair. He held the position until his nomination as Bayan Muna representative for the 2001 elections.
Beltran also served in the National Council of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patritoic Alliance), as president from 1993 to 1999.
The 2001 elections howver was not the first time that Beltran entered politics. In 1987, he ran as part of the senatorial slate of Partido ng Bayan (People’s Party). He garnered 1.52 million votes but was eased out reportedly because of massive “dagdag-bawas” (literally, add-minus) cheating.
From February 2001 to November 2003, he served as vice-president of the political party Bayan Muna and became one of its three representatives in Congress.
“My stint as a congressman has opened my eyes to new lessons on how to serve the Filipino people in a different setting. Congress is one other venue wherein activists such as myself can ventilate people’s issues and register the strongest stands on matters concerning poverty, human rights, social justice and the struggle for genuine freedom and democracy,” he said.
Mainly, Ka Bel’s legislative output had to do with labor, urban poor and consumer concerns. He was at the forefront of the consumers’ campaign against Meralco and its infamous purchased power adjustment (PPA), and the urban poor’s fight against demolitions and the violent, inhumane street-clearing operations of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
He was also an active proponent of human rights issues as well as those concerning national security, economic and political independence and national sovereignty. Together with Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, he also actively campaigned against the U.S. government’s war on of aggression against Iraq and the general global campaign against terror.
Ka Bel also worked against the passage of the privatization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR); was at the frontline of efforts to expose the anomalies at the Government Social Insurance Service (GSIS) and with the disbursement of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF).
Rafael Mariano: The peasantry’s Ka Paeng
An articulate speaker, Ka Paeng astounds people with his ability to remember data and drop them off his head at the appropriate occasions. This is most especially true when he discusses the national situation and the plight of the peasantry.
The man is himself a peasant, one very much in the thick of the militant peasant movement.
The eldest of five children of a farm worker, Ka Paeng started helping out on the two-hectare land tilled by his father for a landlord in Nueva Ecija during his elementary-school years.
At an early age, he experienced first-hand the landlord’s rapacity. His father would usually be left with only a very small portion of the harvest, the bulk ending up with the landlord. The family incurred a lot of debts.
When Ka Paeng was in college, his father was stricken ill and he had to quit school and take up the responsibility of being a breadwinner. He became a full-time farmer.
These experiences opened his eyes to the plight of the peasantry. “I saw how the farmers are being exploited and oppressed,” Ka Paeng says. “I started to search for the reasons why. We are working very hard and yet all we reap are more hardships. Slowly, I came to see and realize what is rotten in the system.”
In the mid-1970s, a government infrastructure project forced their family and many others out of their village in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, a province in Central Luzon four hours from Manila by bus. “They threw us out of the land to make way for the flood-control project,” he says. “Our crops and our houses were transferred to another barrio. But since the construction of the dike, we have not been able to benefit from the irrigation. In fact, the flooding of the canals resulted in the destruction of our farms. That is why we decided to oppose and struggle against the project.”
At 20, Ka Paeng became the leader of a youth organization which participated in farmers’ struggles in their community. He led the organization for four years, during which he learned more about the larger social concerns.
In 1984, he became the second regional vice-chair of the then newly-formed Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon), and held this position until 1987. In 1990, he was elected national vice-chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Philippine Peasant Movement), which had been established five years earlier. He served in this capacity until 1993, when he was elected its chairperson.
As KMP chairperson Ka Paeng was in the forefront of major campaigns for land reform, nationalist industrialization, and peasant rights — particularly the struggles of the farmers in Hacienda Looc, a peasant community in Batangas, some 70 kms south of Manila and the coconut farmers.
At present Ka Paeng is also the chairperson of Bayan besides being the spokesperson of the International Alliance Against Agro-chemical Transnational Corporations and an active member of the International Coordinating Committee of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.
“Let our actions in the electoral battle firmly and consciously serve the interests of the people,” Ka Paeng says of the participation of militant groups in the electoral arena.
Carmen Deunida: Nanay Mameng to the people on the streets
During one of the numerous rallies in Makati in the oust-Estrada campaign, a bank executive remarked, “Aling Mameng was the best speaker I ever heard in Makati. Delivery, logic, content, flow, choice of words – perfect!” (quoted from the book “Tayo na sa Edsa,” published by Stitching Migrante Europe).
These words best describe Nanay Mameng, one of the most endearing leaders to rise from the ranks of the urban poor and capture the nation’s imagination, particularly when she spoke irreverently against the corrupt Estrada presidency during the anti-Estrada rallies in Makati, Edsa and Mendiola.
Nanay Memeng’s articulate and powerful speeches may contradict her frail body and old age but the urban poor leader rationalizes this when she said “I grew up in poverty and this taught me to stand up and fight for better conditions.”
Nanay Mameng would best represent the poor and the oppressed as she practically grew up among them. She is the third of nine siblings of a former clerk and a street vendor. “I helped sell rice cakes and just to sell them all I walked through the streets of Malate and as far as the South Cemetery in Makati.”
She only managed to finish second year high school before World War II consigned her family into the quagmire of poverty.
After the war, Nanay Mameng worked as a labandera (laundrywoman) to sustain the needs of her nine children and her drunkard husband who often beat her up. Sick of her husband’s violent streak and drunkenness, she later separated from him.
Her active participation in the struggle of the poor started when she, at 50 years old, became the oldest member of the youth group Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyunalismo (Kadena). It was under this banner that she participated in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
In 1983, she became a founding member of the women’s group Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihang Nagkakaisa (Samakana). The group later elected her as chairperson, a post she held for 11 years and which gave her the chance to meet downtrodden women from various cities nationwide.
Turning 76 this February, Nanay Mameng still works as a laundress and seeks shelter in a small shack in the urban poor communities of Leveriza, Pasay City where, she says, she “feels at home with the masses.”
Her children have repeatedly asked her to quit as an activist but Nanay Mameng’s resolve is not about to be broken. “And if the toiling masses would send me to Congress, I, together with my staff, would make it a priority to submit practical bills to provide millions of jobs and to put a moratorium on violent demolitions,” she said. With report by Alexander Martin Remollino /