The first time I saw him, I thought, “this is him?”. He was kinda diminutive but I knew that he was a giant.
He was a giant in the Philippine labor movement. When one talks of militant Filipino workers, the name Kilusang Mayo Uno comes to mind. And for most of the my activist life, Ka Bel was the picture of KMU and of the workers’ struggle.
But I didn’t really get to talk to him until we met in
Since then, I have seen him a couple of times both in the
Amidst all the greatness, Ka Bel lived a simple life. As a recent news article showed, he was the poorest of all members of the Philippine Congress even after six years of being in office. The lure of power and wealth that came with such a position in our society was not enough to bend his principles. For this alone, he’s a man to emulate.
I remember one time when he came to HK to speak in one event here, he had this black belt that we never noticed, until the night before the event, was tied by a flimsy rubber band. He jokingly said that he had on a jacket anyway (it was starting to get cold then) and it’ll cover it up nicely.
The last time I saw Ka Bel was when we met with him and fellow partylist representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casino and Luz Ilagan in October last year for the second HK Mission for Human Rights and Peace and the Philippines. He was his usual jolly self despite being in a car accident just a couple of days before and also only a few months after he was released from more than year of “hospital arrest’ due to concocted charges.
As his colleagues said, he lived the life of a poor man up to the end. Where can you find a congressman who fixes his own roof, has an unfinished bungalow bought by a loan from GSIS, and has a net worth of P50,000?
Simple and ardent in the struggle. Despite the imprisonment, hospital arrest, harassment and failing health, he never wavered in his principles and his dream for a more humane and just society for the working class and other oppressed people.
I guess it was what made him larger than life.
(Graphics above is from BAYAN. Many articles are appearing about Ka Bel. I again stumbled upon this page that even has his love story)