Victims of Military abductions surfaced due to Writ of Amparo
Full text of the writ of Amparo can be found here

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Ballad of Bel and Osang (From the Sunday Inquirer Magazine)

The Ballad of Bel and Osang

FOR THE last two decades, the name Crispin B. Beltran has been associated with pickets, demonstrations, strikes and generally anything connected to the militant labor movement. Not surprising, him being the chairman of the labor federation Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). Since August of 2001, however, he has become known as something else - a party list representative in Congress. As one of three Bayan Muna solons, Ka Bel aims to practice the politics of change and nationalism with the same fervor he does as a leader of the parliament of the streets.

But no less interesting than his politics is his personal life. His love life alone is the stuff of movies. Since 1956, Ka Bel has been married to the former Rosario Soto of Malolos, Bulacan. There's a joke going around activist circles that Ka Bel is a voice who should be heard in the Lower House - but in his own house, it's Ka Osang whom he listens to.

This is their love story.

Ka Osang is the product of a broken home. Her parents separated early in her childhood, and as the youngest among three children, she was left to an elderly relative, her father's aunt who lived in Gagalangin, Tondo. Ka Osang grew up wanting for nothing - she was given new dresses and jewelry whenever she asked for them. But in exchange, she had to be obedient to the very strict and sometimes unreasonable rules of her grandmother. She was enrolled in La Consolacion, a convent school, and was told never to look at members of the opposite sex. "Wala talaga akong kaalam-alam sa mga lalaki noon. Si Papa lang at yung mga kapatid ko ang pwede kong kausapin (I didn't know a thing about men then. I could only talk to my Papa and my brothers)."

But the great aunt and the nuns combined were not able to curb the young girl's adventurous spirit. One morning in 1956, the 16-year-old girl cut classes and, together with a few classmates, sneaked into a movie house.

"We watched Nida Blanca at si Nestor de Villa. Pero pag-uwi ko, nalaman na ni Lola ang ginawa ko. Matindi ang naging away," (When I got home, my Lola learned what I did. The fight was bad) she says. In turned out that the Mother Superior herself came to the house and told her grandmother what happened. Livid at being lied to, the grandmother slapped Ka Osang and told her to leave. And that's what she did.

By 12 noon she was wandering around Quiapo, with nothing but the clothes on her back and the other piece which her grandmother, in her rage, threw at her. In a daze, she entered one of the taxis parked in front of Plaza Miranda. The driver was the man who would be her husband, the then 26-year old Crispin.

"Napansin kong bata pa siya, at medyo tulala" (I noticed she was young and slightly dazed) was his first impression. He asked her where she was going. Still reeling from her experience, she answered "Derecho ka lang," (Just go straight.)

They had reached Monumento, but she still hadn't given Ka Bel specific directions. He stopped the taxi and turned to face her. Ka Osang remembers, "Naiinis na sya. 'Saan ba talaga tayo?" sabi niya. Ako naman, wala sa sarili, naiyak na. Sinabi ko na yung nangyari." (He got irritated. 'Where are we really going?' he asked. As for me, I was beside myself, so I cried. I told him what happened.)

Ka Bel was very sympathetic. She reminded him of his sisters back home in Bacacay, Albay. He looked at her with compassion, and told her that he would drive her home. He also urged her to apologize to her Lola. "Masamang magtanim ng galit sa kapamilya." (It's bad to keep a grudge against one's family.)

Ka Osang shook her head and made a move to get out. By then, night had fallen. Ka Bel refused to let her go. "Something bad may happen to you, it's like you don't know anything about the world," he told her in Pilipino. So he took her to his boarding house in San Juan, where he lived with a few others, and told her to stay the night. She stayed there, in Ka Bel's room, for three days. "Kain, tulog, tatanga sa bintana, iiyak, matutulog (Eat, sleep, look out the window, cry, sleep)."

She was alone most of the time, as Ka Bel drove the taxi all day, and at night attended school at the Asian Labor Education Center at the University of the Philippines. When he got home at night, she would already be asleep, on a low, wide bench that served as a bed, while Ka Bel had his own bed across the room.

"I didn't know his name, I called him 'Kuya'," Ka Osang recalls, laughing. Did she ever get a crush on him? "I didn't care about him then, I only thought about myself. But he was so thoughtful." It was at that time when Ka Bel gave her what she calls his first gift. "A yellow toothbrush in a box. With a 'Good Morning' logo."

On the third day, Ka Osang wanted to go home, but not wanting to further inconvenience Ka Bel, she left the house without telling him. "When my father found out where I had stayed, he was very angry. They went to Ka Bel's house and beat him up. Wala naman akong magawa (I couldn't do anything)." Ka Bel was taken to the municipal jail in San Juan and accused of abusing a minor. Though it was already the late 1950s, no woman could be caught alone in the company of a man if they weren't sweethearts. It was considered a scandal if they stayed in the same room together. Ka Osang stayed in Ka Bel's room for three days. In short, they had to get married. Ka Bel could have easily refused, but he didn't. He knew that if he refused, Ka Osang would be disgraced. "That's why we were married. There was no love then. I really didn't want to, I was so mean to him. But his mind was open. He said love could be learned."

And soon enough, she did learn to love her husband. Initially it was because he was a good provider ("He would give me his earnings from driving the taxi, intact, with the receipt"), but later on it was for himself. She learned to love him for his gentleness with the children, his sense of humor, patience ("When we got together, I didn't know how to do the laundry or cook - he would do it," Ka Osang says. "He taught me about running a house"), and inevitably, for his politics, which he had long before embraced. "That was a big thing," she says in Pilipino. "I got to know him not just as a husband, but as a leader of workers. I didn't like it at first - he would always come home late, or sometimes not at all. We were always fighting. But when I understood his work, I learned to have a deep love and respect for him."

But Ka Bel was ever patient. He continually explained to her his work, and what it meant. Even in his early 20s, he was already a full-fledged labor leader. He became president of the Yellow Taxi Drivers' Union and the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Federation from 1955 to 1963. From 1963 to 1972, he was Vice Administrator of the Confederation of Labor Unions of the Philippines, and then vice-president of what would become the Alliance of Nationalist Genuine Labor Organizations (ANGLO), affiliated under the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

Throughout her husband's growing activism, Ka Osang strove to be supportive. Her love for Ka Bel and the life he had chosen was severely tested, however, in August 1982, when Ka Bel was arrested by the military along with other labor leaders.

"We already had 10 children when he was jailed. We didn't have any money except for what our colleagues from KMU gave us. I was selling at the market - fish, slippers. The nuns would give us rice," she says. By then they were living in a squatters' community in Gao, Commonwealth, Quezon City, where they still live to this day. Ka Osang would walk from Commonwealth to Crame, where Ka Bel was detained.

For two years, Ka Osang not only became the mother and father to their children, but also proxy labor leader: She delivered Ka Bel's speeches for him in rallies, and became a volunteer for Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP). She studied acupressure and acupuncture, and applied what she learned whenever she went to Crame and Muntinlupa, where other political detainees were incarcerated. Along with the wives, daughters, and relatives of other political prisoners, Ka Osang lobbied for their release.

But the Marcos government was adamant. No way would it release one of its prized captives. Ka Bel was then KMU secretary general, and the president, one of the original pillars of the labor movement in the country Felixberto "Ka Bert" Olalia was also under custody. In 1984, Ka Bert succumbed to the constant torture of the military, as well as the dampness of the jail cells. He died of pneumonia.

"That's when I really became afraid. Ka Bel was already having problems with his kidney by then. They didn't want to give him proper medical attention. I didn't want him to follow Ka Bert." She took action. In Crame, she consulted with her husband and hatched a plan of escape. Ka Bel would come home for a few hours' visit for the supposed birthday of a young nephew, then from there make his way to freedom.

Then she went to Ka Bel's lawyers, Attys. Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag, and told them not to show up at Ka Bel's hearing because he was going to escape. The two men were incredulous - they thought Ka Osang was joking. "Tinanong nila ako, handa ba akong mabugbog? Sagot ko, oo. Handa ba akong mamatay? Oo. Ang mahalaga makalaya siya." (They asked me, are you ready to be beaten up? Are you ready to die? I said yes, what was important was that he be freed.)

On the day of the children's party, neighbors and friends came and pretended to celebrate. Ka Bel arrived with his guards. Beforehand, he and Ka Osang had agreed on a sign: After putting down his second bottle of beer, he would make his move. He downed his second beer ("To fight his fear"). There wasn't a chance to say goodbye. He excused himself under the pretext of having to urinate. When he got to the toilet, he pulled out the piece of loose board and squeezed himself through a rough hole made in the wall. Then his guards noticed the inordinately long time Ka Bel was taking. They broke down the toilet door and saw the gaping hole. They quickly turned on Ka Osang and began beating her.

They punched her in the stomach and dragged her outside, to the public basketball court a few meters' walk from the house, where they kicked and slapped her. "They thought Ka Bel would help me if he heard my screams, but he was far away by then. " Then she adds, her brow furrowing in mock anger, "If he came back to help me, I would have beaten him up!"

For a month or so after, soldiers were stationed around the house, and the place became a virtual garrison. But Ka Osang was unfazed. One time, a burly soldier asked her for a glass of water. She ignored the request and reprimanded the soldier. "I told him, there are criminals all over Manila - even in MalacaƱang - so why were they watching us?"

Ka Bel went into hiding in Central Luzon. It's a legend in the labor movement that he was taken in by members of the New People's Army, who heard of his escape. For two years, he hid among the rebels and took the nom de guerre "Ka Anto" after one of the fathers of the labor movement, Crisanto Evangelista. But instead of an armalite, Ka Anto carried a portable typewriter.

Every three to five months, Ka Osang would visit her husband. It was a complicated process, and very tiring. She went on her regular pilgrimage to Central Luzon until Marcos was ousted by People Power on February 25, 1986. When Corazon Aquino became president, she ordered the release of all political prisoners, and in particular mentioned Ka Bel. Ka Osang herself went to take her husband home.

On hindsight, Ka Osang wonders where she got her strength. "Siguro dahil lagi akong sabik makita siya kaya di ko na pinansin yung pagod," (Maybe because I was always eager to see him, so I didn't mind the exhaustion,) she says. But more importantly, she adds, she was buoyed by the knowledge that her husband was an inspiration to many.

And what does Ka Bel have to say about his wife?

He recites a few lines from the song "Kasama" by Gary Granada: "Hindi lang siya kaibigan, di lang siya kapatid. Di lang kasintahan, o kaisang-dibdib. Di lang siya asawa, o inang uliran. Siya'y aking kasama, sa mapagpalayang kilusan." (She's not just a friend, a sister, a lover, wife or exemplary mother. She's my comrade in the fight for freedom.)

In private, they call each other "Ma" and "Daddy." He says Ka Osang has a sharp tongue and is strict with the children, but the minute they need her she drops everything, even to the point of depriving herself. A grandson, 17-year old Cris, agrees. "Lola sermons, Lolo is quiet. But we're spoiled by both of them," he says in Pilipino.

Ka Bel says he is well taken care of. Ka Osang insists on preparing his clothes every morning, whether it's the round-collar shirts he wears to rallies or the barong Tagalog for Congress. "I know when she's the one who washed my clothes," he notes. "It feels different."

She is also his chief confidante. He shares with her the details of his day - the rallies he marched in, the general mass assemblies of the local unions he has attended, and lately, the Congress committee meetings and other legislative functions he goes to.

Proof of the solidity of Ka Bel and Ka Osang's marriage is their 10 children, who, in turn, have given them 27 grandchildren. Oh, Ka Osang says cheekily, there were times, when Ka Bel was younger, when he did a bit of fooling around, but he always returned to her. That was when the first three children were very young, and Ka Bel and Ka Osang had frequent quarrels. "But he regretted it, nag-cursillo pa!"

Ka Bel also has a son with another woman, Crispin Beltran Jr., who's now 35. "Noong panahon na yun, naging seryoso ang problema namin. Pero wala namang gusot na hindi naaayos." (In those days, we had serious problems. But there's no problem that can't be ironed out.) Ka Osang considers Crispin Jr. like one of her own. "I never thought of it as the boy's fault. " They don't like going to movies - more often, they just go to Bulacan and visit relatives. Every two years or so, they travel to Albay. Still very much like the 16-year-old he rescued 45 years ago, Ka Osang becomes petulant when Ka Bel breaks his promises.

"Sometimes he's so busy, we can't go to Bulacan," she pouts. "But I understand. I just miss him. I have to share him with so many people, including the laborers and the country."

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