CRISPIN BELTRAN: THE PEOPLE’S STATESMAN
By Alexander Martin Remollino
Published: June 06, 2008
Laguna, Philippines — In life, Philippine Congressman Crispin Beltran frequently clashed with the powers that be –- whether they were leaders of big business or politicians representing elite interests. But in death, Beltran earned only praise, even from those he could not see eye-to-eye with. This is because of the kind of life he lived and the rich symbolism his death showed.
There have been few people in Philippine history who deserved to be called statesmen, and fewer who can rightfully be called people’s statesmen. The recently deceased representative from the Anakpawis, or “toiling masses” party, Crispin Beltran, was one of them.
Beltran died May 20 from head injuries sustained after a fall from the roof of his house in Bulacan, a province north of Manila. He was fixing the roof of his house -– a bungalow for which he was paying 5,000 pesos (US$112) a month -– in preparation for the rainy season when he suffered a fall that led to a coma and, later, death. At the time of his death, his total assets amounted to less than 60,000 pesos (US$1,350) and included two barong Tagalog (the Philippine national attire for males) and a pair of eyeglasses –- making him the poorest member of the House of Representatives, which is known as a bastion of the Philippines’ landlord class.
Thus was the conclusion of his colorful life as a labor leader, and –- later on -– as head of a multi-sectoral activist alliance and, at the time of his death, a representative of a progressive party-list group in Congress. Thus was the end of life for a man who never for a moment wavered from his pursuit of the cause of freedom and justice, even as two governments –- the Marcos and Arroyo regimes -– made him pay for it with his liberty.
Therein lies the symbolism in his death. Here was a leader who literally sprang from the toiling masses, who –- to his very last breath –- lived simply, “so that others may simply live,” in the words of Mohandas K. Gandhi. He came across but rejected many opportunities to enrich himself –- which included a 2-million-peso bribe intended to win his support for a weak impeachment complaint that administration allies were trying to initiate to protect President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from a stronger one that could lead to conviction.
He was a workingman to his very last breath -– climbing a ladder to fix his own roof, something many have said he shouldn’t have done at his age of 75 years, but which he did anyway -– insisting on doing something he could very well do himself. To the end of his life, he was a “people’s (leader),” as described by the think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance.
The kind of life he lived and the manner by which it ended struck chords in many a heart in the Philippines, where it is easy to be cynical about the possibility of integrity in public office. Transparency International has recently rated the Philippines as the eighth most corrupt country in the world and the most corrupt in Asia, but Beltran by his life –- and death -– showed that “honorable” and “congressman” need not be antonyms even in such a country.
With that, Beltran’s death moved multitudes. Profuse were the praises for him -– including from several of his political opponents who derided him in life but who clearly wanted to bask in his posthumous glory.
“Our condolences to the family of the late Congressman Beltran,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo. “We share their grief in this time of great personal loss. While Congressman Beltran and the Armed Forces may have stood at opposite poles in the pursuit of our respective missions, we regarded him with respect. Like many of our soldier-heroes, he stood for what he believed in. And in my personal view, he is a true Filipino.”
The president -– whose issuance of Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 which declared a “state of emergency” in the country led to his arrest and prolonged detention –- sent flowers to his wake at the main chapel of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, or Philippine Independent Church.
Speaker Prospero Nograles, a staunch administration ally, said the House of Representatives was “greatly diminished” by Beltran’s death.
“Poverty did not rob him of the fortitude of his convictions to dedicate his life to the uplift of the poor,” Nograles said. “And yet, when he spoke, whether among groups of colleagues or in debates in this chamber, one cannot help but listen, because his ideas resonated with the integrity of convictions.”
In life, Beltran was often criticized by defenders of the status quo for clinging to a supposedly “outmoded” ideology. In death, he is vindicated by the fact that even his political opponents could not help but pay him the highest respects -– thus conveying a sort of message that he was one of their own even as he differed from them.
Still, the record begs to be set straight for posterity. Beltran did not belong to the ruling political clique which made the Philippines slide into having the distinction of being one of the most corrupt countries in the world. He did not belong to the big capitalists who refuse their workers the basic right of getting a decent wage. He did not belong to the big landlords who dominate the House of Representatives. He belonged, first and last, to the people -– the toiling masses from whom he sprang and for whom he fought all his life.
By this, he was a real people’s statesman.
(Alexander Martin Remollino is a senior writer for the online news weekly Bulatlat -– www.bulatlat.com. He is also associate editor and columnist for the opinion website Tinig.com. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, and was active in the Media for Peace campaign. ©Copyright Alexander Martin Remollino)