BY MARYA SALAMAT
A year ago this week, Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran died after falling off the roof he was trying to fix. He was only 75 years old. His wife, Osang Beltran, said, “to think that I’d been happily regarding his renewed weight gain and health recovery…” To this day, she still grits her teeth whenever she recalls how the Arroyo government had imprisoned her husband on false charges. “His health suffered while he was detained… I had thought Ka Bel is now back to health,” Ka Osang recalled as she berated him for clambering up to their roof. She was headed to the market that fateful morning, and she remembered how Ka Bel just jokingly dismissed her fears, telling her she should take care of herself while walking.
That morning, Ka Bel was also preparing a bill seeking to scrap the expanded value-added tax (E-VAT) especially on oil and electricity. Before that, he just exposed another of Gloria Arroyo’s scandals, another bribery to ditch her yearly threat of impeachment. Meanwhile, there were the much needed yet languishing bills such as the P125 legislated wage hike, there was the worsening state of human rights to expose and oppose here and abroad. And there was their leaking roof and rainy season approaching.
Ka Bel’s untimely death unleashed a torrent of sympathy, respect and high praises for him from everywhere in the Philippines and abroad. Even those who used to “misappreciate” him belatedly appreciated him, because the manner of his death awed many who had been jaded to politicians’ excesses, and as an editorial said, “it was very clear from the photographic evidence that he truly lived his pro-poor advocacies himself.”
But to Ka Bel’s colleagues here and abroad, what happened was hardly surprising. “Ka Bel was not one to order people around when he could do the work himself,” said Bayan members from Toronto, Canada. “He was very down-to-earth and hands-on,” wrote Murray Horton, secretary of Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (from PSNA New Zealand).
From Hong Kong to Canada, New Zealand, USA and Belgium, unionists and migrant Filipinos held memorials in tribute to Ka Bel. In the Philippines, traffic and session in Congress stopped for Ka Bel. This week, a year after his death, the city of Manila has honored him with a declaration that May 20 of every year would be “Ka Beltran’s day,” and everyone, according to the Office of the Mayor, are enjoined to observe it “with appropriate civic, community services programs and activities to honor the memory, life and legacy of Representative Crispin B. Beltran.”
Simple yet generous
Ever incorruptible, Ka Bel was not one to feast on the public through like the traditional politicians so disdained by Filipinos,” said activists in Canada, whom he visited a month before his fatal accident. At death, he left net assets of around P50,000 or less than $1,200.
Ka Bel’s Bulacan home was only purchased in 2004, and his family still has to continue paying for its amortizations in the next 22 years. It was a single-storey house in a 60-square meter lot in a low-cost housing subdivision. Previously, he had lived since the 70s with his family in a depressed area in Quezon City, near the Payatas dumpsite. Before that, they moved from one apartment to another in Manila, always being forced to leave when they couldn’t pay the rent. After his death, his widow channelled most of the donations they received into renovating the house, adding a new storey for his things and mementos which they plan to open to whoever would want to pore over it. But having run out of funds, it is still unfinished.