Ka Bel: Bayani ng Sambayanan, Idolo ng Kabataan

Originally posted in my Facebook on May 20, 2009.

Manila City Hall has named today after him. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas is set to award him the title of “Filipino of the Century”. Upon news of his death exactly a year ago, workers’ unions from Europe to Australia held activities to honor his pro-people achievements. And the media was full of stories of how the common Filipino showed their last respects to their “hero”. In one, some flower vendors in Quiapo went out of their way (and at their own expense) to beautify a floral wreath when they learned it was for Ka Bel’s burial. And as far as anyone can remember, Ka Bel is the only person whom Congress held Mass for (and in their own Session Hall, no less!).

Pretty big honors, especially when one considers that up to his last day, the Arroyo Administration (especially the Armed Forces of the Philippines) has branded him as an “enemy of the state”.

But these are not the reasons why Ka Bel should be emulated by the youth. All of the above-mentioned are to be expected of someone who devoted his entire life to making the world a better place to live in, and of the traits and qualities he possessed.

Ka Bel as the Parliamentarian – He was elected three times as a partylist representative in Congress, first with Bayan Muna in 2001, and with Anakpawis in 2004 and 2007. But even as a member of the “legal Parliament”, Ka Bel recognized the superiority of the “parliament of the streets”, or in other words, the collective action of the people.

From his experience as a labor activist, he recognized the huge limitations of working within the government. And in the same breath, he recognized that the ability to make our society better rested in the people, not in a few lawmakers whom 90% came from the rich anyhow. That’s what he always stressed when talking about bills that weren’t passed by Congress because they were pro-people and against the interest of the rich, such as the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, and the P125 across-the-board wage hike.

His “trust” in the ability of “the people” has been proven time and time again, from the peaceful occupation of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac by its peasants, to the victorious workers’ strikes in Manila in the past year (Bluestar, Kowloon West, etc.).

Ka Bel as a Leader – His firm belief in change “for the people, from the people” made his style of leadership very distinctive. Unlike most of his fellow congressmen, members of pseudo-progressive organizations, and insincere NGOs, Ka Bel did not “command from above”.

Unlike the typical intellectual from the academe who merely intimidates the “uneducated ones” with his “knowledge” to get them to cooperate with one’s plans and projects, Ka Bel advocated tireless persuasion.

Unlike the typical NGO bureaucrat who merely gives out orders from his/her air-conditioned office, Ka Bel was always where the people he served would be, whether in a factory picketline, a squatters’ community, a farming village, or a rally, all so he could consult the people and base his decisions on actual conditions. He was unlike the typical college intellectual who made a lot of hot air from one’s books and notes, and could not get one’s plans to work because they were not based on reality.

Ka Bel as the Intellectual – He may not have an M.A, or much less a Ph.D, or even a degree in Law. But Ka Bel possessed the quality of all great philosophers and political thinkers: the recognition of the need of linking philosophy with actual practice.

Ka Bel echoed what the Russian revolutionary Lenin once said about philosophy (and social thinking in general), that it could be either in the service or disservice of the oppressed peoples, with no grounds for neutrality. He affirmed that social thinking should only be measured by how it could be used to benefit the struggle of the poor for a better world.

And by upholding that the only measure of a theory’s correctness is by how effective it can be transformed into reality, Ka Bel has surpassed most degree-holders in our country who are even now unable to give a solution to the present economic crisis. Decades before his death, Ka Bel already drew experiences from China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, etc., in totally eliminating poverty. And with the Greater Depression among the whole world, he and his fellow socialists have once again been proven correct.

We have much to learn from Ka Bel. We must learn to shed the arrogance brought upon us by almost two decades of memorizing notes and books as if it was real learning. We must learn to appreciate the basic scientific concept that all knowledge comes from practice, meaning we can only know the reality of society by participating in the movement to change it. We must emulate his un-selflessness, in which he led a simple lifestyle so he could better serve the people (such as not smoking and drinking so he could live, and hence struggle, longer). We must trust that it is the people, especially the workers and peasants, who will change society. Not a new President. Not a Senator. Not charity or Gawad Kalinga or other NGOs. Not advertisements like Ako Mismo. Not some UP graduate. And not even the partylist system.

This must seem difficult. But as Ka Bel would quote, “this is for the people. why are we then unwilling to change ourselves?”

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