In session, Beltran stood tall and dignified among many, untainted by the corruption that soiled many multimillionaire-congressmen’s seats.
BY THE CENTER FOR PEOPLE EMPOWERMENT IN GOVERNANCE
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 16, May 25-31, 2008
As the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) prepares its assessment of the first 10 years of the Party-list system this year, we deemed it apt to devote this issue analysis to the life and struggles of Crispin Bertiz Beltran, first nominee of the Party-list group Anakpawis. Beltran, a charismatic labor leader who died in a fatal accident last May 20 in Bulacan, was a central figure in the Party-list system – defending it from subversion by the powers-that-be yet tirelessly asserting the people’s right to democratic representation in governance.
Crispin Beltran is an exemplary product of his times. Trained in genuine unionism, steeled in the parliament of the streets, and more defiant after Marcos imprisonment, he brought new politics in Congress. Through it all he remained at the forefront of the workers’ struggle – and that struggle has produced a hero.
Beltran, known to many Filipinos as Ka (short for kasama or comrade) Bel, was adjudged Most Consistent Outstanding Congressman from 2002-2005 and was elevated to the Congressional Hall of Fame by the Congress Magazine in 2006. He filed the most number of bills in the 13th Congress among the Party-list representatives and would have achieved the same record in the present one had he not met a fatal accident on May 20. The Philippine press and the whole nation – ruled by a government seen as one of the most corrupt in the world – were astounded to find that he died a poor man and had maintained an even frugal life.
But why was Beltran tagged and imprisoned as an “enemy of the state” by two Presidents – Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s and, for a year-and-a-half, by Gloria M. Arroyo? What kind of politics did he wage that provoked state authorities to believe that by neutralizing him – either by arrest or physical harm (he had faced countless attempts on his life) – they would put an end to his ideology as well?
Born of humble beginnings in Bikol in 1933, Beltran’s life had been etched by struggles whether as a young guerilla courier fighting the Japanese imperial occupation or as a farm worker, office sweeper, gasoline attendant, messenger, bus driver and later, as a cab driver to support his education. His legacy as one of the country’s outstanding labor leaders traces its roots to when, at age 20, he joined fellow drivers in a strike. From thereon, there was no looking back. He either helped organize or served as leader of pioneering labor organizations, the last as chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) in 1987 following the abduction and brutal murder of Rolando Olalia and his driver by military operatives. Three years earlier, he escaped Marcos torture and imprisonment and went to the countryside to organize workers and farm laborers.
For Beltran, working alongside the country’s proletariat did not only mean going on strikes for bread and butter or facing company executives in tough wage negotiations. The years spent in labor leadership also produced hard-fought lessons in ideological skirmishes with “yellow” or compromising trade unionism and also linking up with organizations of farmers, youth-students, urban poor and other sectors in a nationwide cause-oriented movement. It meant taking up the cudgels of the poor through peaceful but militant engagement with state authorities in denouncing oppressive policies while advocating for genuine social, economic and political reform. He knew that any picket or street protest would be met by police truncheons, water cannons, or even bullets but Beltran never for a second vacillated in the frontline of the struggle, as colleagues in the street parliament would narrate.
Known for his solid pro-people leadership in the labor movement, Beltran was invited to join the senatorial slate of the Partido ng Bayan (PnB or people’s party) in the 1987 elections – the first to be held after 14 years of Marcos dictatorship. Reminiscent of the fate suffered by the Democratic Alliance (DA) whose six representatives elected in the 1946 elections were unseated for opposing onerous economic and military agreements with the United States, the PnB came out badly bruised from the polls with many of its volunteers killed and most of its candidates for Congress and local positions victims of fraud.
Beltran and the Party-list organizations that he represented (Bayan Muna and, later, Anakpawis) garnered significant seats in elections for the House, with BM topping both the 2001 and 2004 polls. House records show that the labor leader championed the issues of the poor in privilege speeches as well as by filing bills and resolutions on their behalf. The speeches, bills and resolutions penned by Beltran, among others, called for investigations of violations of the rights of workers, farm laborers, urban poor, migrant workers, consumers, GSIS members as well as public employees and victims of human rights violations. He was most vehement in opposing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Arroyo’s support to the U.S. war on terror and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.