Last night, Seattle organizers of BAYAN-USA, Anakbayan Seattle, Pinay sa Seattle, the Philippine U.S. Solidarity Organization, the Arts Kollective, allies and supporters congregated to pay tribute to a genuine servant of the people – 75 year old Philippine Congressman Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran.  They wore cut-out hearts that read: “Keeping Ka Bel in our hearts as we continue to Serve the People” during a candlelight vigil in front of the Seattle Labor Temple.  The event was in coordination with other BAYAN-USA vigils in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, New York, Washington DC, San Diego, and Chicago and memorials worldwide as his remains were buried yesterday.  Ka Bel died last week after falling from his roof top while making minor repairs.


At a very early age, Ka Bel volunteered as a courier for the guerillas against the Japanese occupation during World War II. He became a gasoline boy, bus driver and taxi driver. At the age of 20, he and his fellow drivers conducted a strike against unfair labor practices. Over the next 55 years, he dedicated his life to improving the lives of workers.  During the Marcos dictatorship, Ka Bel had a major role in establishing the anti-Marcos trade union federation Kilusang Mayo Uno in 1980. From an initial 100,000 membership, the KMU increased its ranks to half a million in the 1980s. He ran for senator under the banner of Partido ng Bayan and garnered 1.52 million votes. He also served as national chairperson of the progressive alliance BAYAN from 1993 to 1999. In 2001, he was elected into Philippine House of Representatives as part of the progressive Bayan Muna (People First) Party List.  In 2004 and 2007, he was elected as the representative under the Anakpawis Partylist.  His three terms in Congress resulted in his recognition as Filipino of the Year and Most Outstanding Congressman for four consecutive years from 2002 to 2005. In 2006, was honored as part of the Congressional Hall of Fame.  Even at the age of 75, he maintained a strong militancy against government corruption, imperialist war and worker exploitation.


Because of his strong advocacy of worker’s rights, he became a target for political repression.  Ka Bel was illegally detained on trumped up charges for 15 months from February 2006.  Locally, Seattle labor organizers and members of the Philippine U.S. Solidarity Organization gathered support for Ka Bel’s fight for freedom garnering support through resolutions from the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, Teamster Locals 117 and 763, the Postal Workers of Greater Seattle Area and the American Federation of Teachers.


Many Seattle organizers of BAYAN-USA and allies had the pleasure and honor of meeting this working class hero.  Some met him at the Philippine Heart Center during his detention while representing the Seattle delegation to the International Solidarity Affair in May 2007.  Others met him as the Seattle delegation to the 2004 Second International Assembly of the International League of People’s Struggle, of which Ka Bel was the founding chairman.  And most recently, some met with Ka Bel in Vancouver, during the Canadian tour of partylist representatives along with Luz Illagan and Satur Occampo.


When sharing his reflections on his dialogue with Ka Bel in the Hague, Netherlands, a former Anakbayan member said, “I asked Ka Bel, what can we as youth do to advance our struggle for national liberation and democracy?”  Ka Bel articulated eloquently, “Three things: Organize, Organize, Organize.”  Ka Bel leaves behind a great legacy on organizing communities to stand for their rights and to oppose exploitation in all of its forms.  Ka Bel was a true internationalist fighting for the oppressed masses around the world.  Although as a Philippine Congressman surrounded by millionaires, he died with assets worth only $1200 as he continuously worked for the benefits of others instead of himself.  Recently, he exposed a Congressional bribery scandal and refused a 2,100,000 peso bribe (nearly $50,000).  He died a man of principles and strict integrity and is a model for all community organizers.

The intimate group of Filipino, Filipino American organizers and allies finished the humble gathering to remember Ka Bel with a song rendition of Jose Maria Sison’s poem “What Makes a Hero.”  It finishes: “A hero serves the people, to his very last breath.”

Rest in power, Ka Bel!
Tuloy ang Laban, Ka Bel!

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