“Ka Bel: The Life and Struggle of Crispin Beltran”

Ina Alleco R. Silverio offers her first book to everyone who dreams of finally seeing a new brand of Filipino politician – decent, incorruptible, patriotic and brimming with a sense of service to Filipinos, especially the downtrodden workers.

Although trained in writing fiction, the central figure in Silverio’s book is not a work of fiction. Her book is a biography – about the life and times of a Filipino congressman who defied the convention that lawmakers are rich, corrupt and traitors to country and people.

Yes, folks, we have had the good fortune of being served by someone who truly deserved the title “Honorable”. That man was Crispin Beltran. Silverio does the nation a big favor by reminding us of him and his legacy.

Published by the Southern Voices Printing Press, Silverio’s 156-page book titled “Ka Bel: The life and struggle of Crispin Beltran” is the product of her interviews with Beltran while the Arroyo government incarcerated him in 2006, apart from her own experiences as public information officer of the Kilusang Mayo Uno which Beltran chaired, up until her appointment as his chief-of-staff in Beltran’s distinguished tenure as Member of the House of Representatives representing Bayan Muna and later Anakpawis.

In her book, Silverio (re-)introduces Beltran to readers in ways too familiar to most Filipinos. He was one of us, one of the farmers (his family lived and toiled in Albay) and of workers (of course), and of professionals too (as an insurance salesman). He helped himself through school. He (and later his family) moved from one house to another due to non-payment of rent, brought about by low wages. He loved his wife and family.

It is hard to picture Beltran as a taxi driver but he really once was one. And for one time, Silverio shares, he was like the bad taxi drivers that plague the streets of Metro Manila: He once cheated passengers. He also fathered a child out of wedlock.

Yes, he was like us, in more ways than one – in our personal victories and failings.

But the life and struggles of Beltran, as we can read in Silverio’s book, tell us too of the many acts of greatness we as a people have achieved: Negating our own interests, fighting for others, offering ourselves in sacrifice for the good of the nation, toppling a dictatorship, ousting a corrupt regime and installing in Congress someone like Beltran.

Silverio’s book is not out to prove that national democracy is the antidote to the big, serious problems that afflict the country. (That does not beg more proving.) In between the lines of her rendering of Beltran’s own recollections of his life and struggle, many would discover in total hindsight that he had become the very person we have longed to see elected to public office, to be our leader.

The tragedy right now is that we are endlessly told that the Philippines is hopeless. Many are cynical. Opportunists cunningly rebrand oligarchs as democrats and produce prettified resumes and life stories to deceive the people that only them – the elite who have for the longest time misled and mismanaged the nation – have the capacity and capability to win in elections and to be high government officials.

Although unofficial and unstated, the prevailing thinking now is that we must cast off the edicts of living simply and decently, and being of service to country – the very core of Beltran’s life and struggle – and perhaps look at the (hopefully) outgoing president as the best leadership example and paragon of success this nation could offer.

Silverio would have none of that sh-t. Her book on Beltran seeks to puncture that dark cloud of fiction-filled thinking about ourselves and our nation.

Silverio’s book should find its way in every home and school library and be part of required reading lists across the educational system. It is a good biography of a great Filipino. It is a history of labor unionism and activism. It is an inspirational tome for those who want something out of the stale, ordinary cynicism that prevails today.

Like the humble Beltran, Silverio has apparently seen it fit to downplay her authorship of this biography, her first book. Activist first, writer second – Silverio has the credentials to write this. She’s a journalism graduate from the University of the Philippines and took part in the prestigious UP and Siliman writers’ workshops.

The story behind the writing of this book is also about Silverio’s own life and struggle as a daughter, as the other half of an activist couple, as a mother. The pressures and dangers of activism and the demands of family life were not enough to stop Silverio from finishing this book and seeing to it that more people, especially those outside the national-democratic movement, would get to know Beltran more and make him their paragon.

Silverio and Southern Voices launched the book June 4 at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Auditorium. I hope the book would help in no small way to inspire those in charge of the Wall of Remembrance to finally honor Beltran by placing his name there — in tribute to his contributions as one of Philippine labor’s greatest-ever and most militant leaders who fought and helped defeat the dictatorship.

Congratulations and thanks are thus in order for Silverio (Ina or Aina to common friends) and Southern Voices led by Pia and Joel Garduce.

(To get your copies of this book, please call Southern Voices at 02-4485202 or send an email to southern.voices@gmail.com.)

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