Ka Bel: 24 Years Ago and Back

“I have been unjustly jailed without seeing any hope for freedom and justice. But my resolve remains strong, and I remain hopeful that the causes and the ends that we are fighting for will triumph, along with the masses.” – “Unjustly” jailed party-list congressman, Crispin Beltran

By Lisa Ito

August 18, 2006 passed quietly and uneventfully in collective memory. But for Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran and his wife Rosario “Ka Osang” Soto-Beltran, it marked a day, exactly 24 years ago, when they first tasted how it was to be detained under a dictatorship.

Ka Bel, now 73 and a second-term party list solon, has seen worse days as a veteran activist. But for Ka (kasama or comrade) Osang, Ka Bel’s continuing detention at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City on charges of rebellion and sedition by the Department of Justice (DoJ) is no different from the torturous time when he was jailed as an up-and-coming labor leader by the dictatorship, way back in 1982.

Victim of a labor crackdown

The early 1980s were tumultuous for the Philippine militant labor movement. Newly-founded workers’ organizations held huge demonstrations against the dictatorship while nationwide strikes over unfair labor practices and laws crippled major industries in 1981 forcing the American Chamber of Commerce to sound the alarm.

Reactions such as this from the U.S. business community led the dictatorship to clamp down further on the militant workers sector. On the eve of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s state visit to the U.S. on August 13, 1982, a massive labor crackdown was enforced to pre-empt a purported “September Terror Plot” against the administration. At around 10:30 p.m., agents of the Philippine Constabulary – Metropolitan Command (PC-Metrocom) arrested Felixberto “Ka Bert” Olalia, then 78 and the first chair of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement).

Beltran, then 49 and acting secretary general of KMU, was able to dodge the dictatorship’s dragnet that night. “Nang sumabog ang balita (ng crackdown) sa media, nag-‘UG’ (underground) na ako. Palipat-lipat kami at hindi na umuwi sa aming mga bahay. Minsan, naranasan naming matulog sa isang tindahan ng baboy sa Divisoria” (When news of the crackdown came out in the media, I went ‘underground’. We transferred from one place to another and didn’t go home. Once, we spent the night at a meat shop in Divisoria), he recalls.

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