Thanks to Ms. Ellen Tordesillas for printing my blog entry about Ka Bel in her column space in Malaya today; and thanks as well to GMANews.Tv for putting it up along with the news reports about Ka Bel’s legacy and the preparations for his wake. I am very grateful because, well, I really did – do- want to share how I feel about Ka Bel and his passing. I’ve felt so helpless because much as I want to help his staff prepare the parangal, etc, I can’t be moving around being eight months pregnant. All I can do is write and try to inform as many people as possible about the ka Bel I knew and loved. The entry I wrote yesterday was hurried and fueled by deep emotion — I was literally crying while I typed the words and the keyboard was wet with my tears I kept having to wipe it with my sleeve.
I do intend to write a more coherent tribute for Ka Bel. I’ve actually begun a book on his life, writing it with Lisa Ito and Ka Andoy, but I haven’t made much progress with it since late last year when I started my pregnancy. I remember all those hours I’ve spent interviewing Ka Bel about his childhood, young adulthood and his entry into the political movement, and I can’t help but smile despite the pain: he was such an engaging person to talk to about his personal life! He was candid and funny, and honest and down-to-earth. I’ve recorded all our conversations in my MP3 player, and I took lots of pictures, and he was so lively in all of them.
I admit I wasn’t so worried about putting off writing the rest of the book for a bit (or at least until after I’ve given birth) because I took it for granted that Ka Bel would still be around for a long while yet — heck, even at least another freaking decade! You’ve never seen a more energetic person, he exercised every morning, ate healthy, never drank or smoked, and he slept early! Despite the health problems he had incurred as a result of his more recent arrest and incarceration, he wasn’t going to kick the bucket soon.
At least that’s what I thought. And now there’s tremendous pressure to finish the book, only this time he isn’t around anymore to talk to. I will have to rely on the memories and recollections of others on how he was and what he did and what shaped him into the great labor leader, genuine patriot and internationalist that he was until the last moment he breathed.
My only comfort is that at least he got to read the first 75 pages and edit them. Now, well, Ka Bel, since you trusted me enough when you were still alive to put on paper your thoughts, opinions and stands on a myriad of issues ranging from the cultural, political to economic, I hope you will trust me enough to let me finish this book on your life and the profound and undeniable impact your life’s work has made on the history and direction of the Philippine labor movement.
According to Anakpawis Party-List staff, Ka Bel’s remains will be brought to the House of Representatives on Tuesday morning, May 27, for the protocol necrological services. Prior to that, however, there will be a series of tributes for him beginning today, May 21 up to the 26th at the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Cathedral in Taft Ave across the Philppine General Hospital. His body will be brought there later tonight from Bulacan.
I don’t know if I will be able to go tonight because, well, it’s kind of hard to walk, and I’m not sure am up to saying goodbye to a man I loved like a grandfather. Baka bumulahaw ako ng iyak – e iyakin pa naman ako ngayon!
I wrote his speeches and press releases and resolutions and bills and feature articles about him, and through all those pages and pages of words, words, words I got to know him deeply. We talked about his life and we talked about work. We talked about his family and we gossiped about other people (Ka Bel was pilyo — he liked gossip of the political sort, sure; but he wasn’t above listening to your run-of-the-mill, garden variety chismis about people we knew: whom broke up with whom and why; the argument that broke out between so and so; who has a crush on whom, that sort of thing. Of course he was never mean, and he was no blabber-mouth, but he did laugh, even as he promised-cross-his-fingers-hoped-to-die that he would not tell anyone. Hahahaha!).
He was my main ninong sa kasal in Quezon City Hall in 2005, and when my father died in 2003, Ka Bel travelled all the way to Santiago, Isabela where my father’s remains were to condole with my mother and the rest of our family.
He polished his own shoes, darned the holes in his pants and barong, cleaned his own desk and put his files and reading materials in order in himself. He washed his own dishes (pag hindi siya naunahan ng staff) and made his own coffee.
Well, for a time he didn’t make his own coffee because of a mistake he made with the containers. He tipped a teaspoon of instant coffee and half a teaspoon of brown powder into his mug, mixed it with water, stirred it, took a sip, and his lips puckered.
“Ne, bakit ang asim ng kape?”
“Po? Paanong maasim?”
He points to a small jar with brown powder. “Baka yung asukal sira na? Pero hindi nasisira ang asukal…”: I take the jar, take off the lid and sniff the jar’s contents: sour and pungent. I know it’s not sugar.
“Ka Bel, iced tea yan!”
Ka Bel never had money in his wallet – most of his allowance he gave to his wife, Ka Osang, and whatever was left he often gave away to people who walked up to him and asked for financial aid. It was sometimes frustrating the way he was too generous, even with the fake media photographers/reporters in Congress who badgered him to buy unfocused, blurry pictures they took of him while speaking in plenary — naaawa daw siya. He was also quite frugal. Some of his efforts were even quite extreme: he one time cut a shoe lace into two pieces, used both to tie his leather shoes and then he kept the other uncut shoe lace.
“Bakit ninyo ginupit?!” I asked, aghast when I found him at his desk burning the ends of one severed shoe lace to make sure that the ends wouldn’t unravel and fit into his shoe eyelets.
“Para may isa pa akong bagong pares ng tali pag naluma na ito.”
“Jusme, Ka Bel naman mura lang ang sintas!”
He just smiled his bright, bright smile.