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Fil-Ams mourn the death of great Filipino labor leader, Crispin Beltran

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Contact: Berna Ellorin
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA

Bayan USA Statement on Ka Bel’s Passing

It is with great sadness that the US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN USA, mourns the death of great Filipino labor leader and proletarian Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran. News of his passing at 11:48am on Monday, May 20th Philippine time spread like wildfire among our membership across both west and east coasts, in at least five major US cities. Our heartfelt condolences and sympathies immediately go out to Ka Bel’s wife Ka Osang and their family of 10 children and 27 grandchildren.

For us, Ka Bel was a legend in his own time, a model of a “tibak” through the decades to emulate. In his over half-century of service to the Filipino people and the Philippine struggle for genuine democracy and freedom, Ka Bel never wavered for an instant in his conviction and commitment. That is simply because Ka Bel was the most remolded of comrades, with a fighting spirit permanently fixated in his being. He was a man who was born from and continued to live simply and humbly among the Filipino urban poor, even though he was already taking on in his later years the distinguished role of Congressman in the Lower House of the Philippine Congress. Ka Bel lived and died with the simplicity of the Filipino “masa”.

Few comrades in our time have the impressive list of credits stacked up in Ka Bel’s resume. For such a simple man, he is forever etched in our minds as the great Chairman Emeritus of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the militant nationalist alliance of Philippine labor groups and unions that was instrumental in the overall Philippine national struggle that ousted two US puppet presidents and even unwanted US military bases. But few of us in the US recall his even humbler beginnings as a taxi driver in the streets of Manila back in the 1950’s.

While many activists of his generation began in the campus-based youth and student movement, Ka Bel was a real worker who emerged out of worker’s struggles related to wages, contracts, and job security.

Ka Bel was the president of the Yellow Taxi Drivers’ Union and the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Federation from 1955 through 1963. He later became the an administrator with the Confederation of Labor Unions of the Philippines from 1963-1972, and eventually the vice president of the Philippine Alliance of Nationalist Organizations (PANALO) which transformed into the Alliance of Nationalist Genuine Labor Organizations (ANGLO), which was affiliated with the KMU, which was established on May 1, 1980. In his 20’s, Ka Bel’s name was already famously-linked to street protests, pickets, strikes and labor struggles.

As Secretary-General of the KMU, Ka Bel served alongside historical and stalwart labor greats such as Felixberto “Bert” Olalia in the early 1980’s. As a force of nature against the US-backed Marcos dictatorship, Ka Bel and other KMU leaders where arrested in 1982, and together were thrown in jail to succumb to years of torture by their captors. While Ka Bert eventually died of pneumonia in his jail cell, Ka Bel lived on to continue the labor fight upon his great escape from prison, despite his health impediments related to his detention.

Fresh from escape from the clutches of the Marcos dictatorship, Ka Bel took refuge in the countryside in Central Luzon, where he stayed with the guerrilla movement of the New People’s Army (NPA). There he was known as “Ka Anto” and stayed for two years before returning to the city upon Marcos’ ouster from People Power in 1986.

Ka Bel was also a great internationalist. Revered not only as a Philippine labor leader, Ka Bel advocated and spoke on behalf of labor struggles of different global regions, and was grounded in his belief of the great international struggle of the world’s proletariat. He was also the founding Chair of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) in 2001.

From 2001 on, Ka Bel served in a minority of pro-poor legislators in Philippine House of Representatives, where he also became an advocate particularly for the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers. In the last years of his life, Ka Bel was once again thrown into prison for trumped-up charges of rebellion and sedition. Even with his failing health and the intensification of state terrorism under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) regime, Ka Bel remained unfazed until his joyous liberation last year.

Such stories of great leaders do not come often in our human history, and they have also served as inspirations for the formation of people’s organizations outside of the homefront, such as ours. That is why to honor his life, BAYAN USA pledges to emulate his example and strengthen our resolve to contribute fully to the Philippine people’s struggle for genuine nationalism and freedom, as well as the struggle to oust the morally-bankrupt Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime. Generations of subsequent Filipino, overseas Filipino, and international labor activists will not let his example die.