Managed to attend his final tribute at the House of Representatives and even join the looong cortege as it wended its way out of the Batasan Complex and into Litex. My baby cooperated, but I didn’t abuse what strength I had and stopped after the first 20 minutes of the march. Instead I stood on the sidewalk and watched the very long parade of people wearing read and the vehicles swathed with banners and streamers bearing Ka Bel’s face and name and extolling his greatness as a revolutionary.
The eulogies were so beautiful and heartfelt, specially the one delivered by Bayan Muna Satur Ocampo. The fact that he was close to tears and sounded on the verge of weeping as he neared the conclusion of his tribute did nothing to detract from the sincerity and beauty of his reading and his words, they all the more added to it.
Teddy and Ka Liza Maza’s were also sincere and included funny anecdotes. Amusing how both of them spoke of conversations they had with Ka Bel and the topics were clothes — when Ka Bel was a teenager, he supported himself through his first years in high school in Tanagan, Bicol by doing laundry. He was also, always, a snappy dresser: not fashionable, but what clothes he wore, even the plain red t-shirts and blue cords he liked to wear, he wore very, very well.
So many people attended, and somehow the heavy weight that’s been on my heart since last week when I first learned of Ka Bel’s accident and subsequent death lifted: it was very good to see, hear and feel how Ka Bel is so appreciated, so respected, and yes, so loved by so many, many people. When he was still alive he had so many detractors, and while he himself never once showed that he was affected or daunted by their brutal attacks and criticism, the people who loved and respected him, worked with him on a daily basis were often offended and angered on his behalf.
Today, so many tears flowed and the outpouring of love and grief and the collective sense of deep loss could not be denied. He was an ordinary man who succeeded in being extraordinary because he unselfishly gave his life to the furtherance of a struggle to reclaim human dignity and social justice. He was poor, and he never resented it, and he had no trouble resisting all temptation to be corrupted.
Ngayon alam na ng napakaraming tao lalo na ng mga nasa labas ng Kilusan, at silang mga matagal nang tumutuya, namimintas at oo, natatawa sa mga paninindigan ni Ka Bel kung gaano siya kadakila, kung gaano siya kabuti, kung gaano siya karapat-dapat na iginalang at pinahalagahan. Ano ba ang kanyang mga naging kahinaan at kamalian kumpara sa kabutihang inipon at nagawa niya sa loob ng 50-taong paninilbihan bilang unyunista, lider manggagawa at lingkod bayan? Sa huling pagtitimbang, walang kasing-bigat ang kahulugan ng kanyang naging buhay, at kontribusyon sa kamulatan, pagkilos at maging pagkatao ng napakaraming manggagawa at maralita.
Hindi siya santo, pero isa siyang mabuti, mahusay, walang katulad at dakilang tao. Napakalaking inspirasyon niya sa napakaraming tao, at patuloy siyang magsisilbing inspirasyon sa lahat na nakilala siya, o naka-alam sa kanyang naging buhay at pakikibaka. Napaka-palad ng kanyang pamilya, ng kanyang asawang si Ka Osang at ang kanilang 11 anak. Lumaki sila sa piling ng isang dakilang tao, dakila din dahil tunay na nagsikap igpawan ang mga sariling kahinaan, ang mga limitasyon ng kahirapan, at ng kawalang katarungan ng lipunan.
Like I’ve written in previous entries (and I’ve written of nothing and no one else this past week), I have learned so much from Ka Bel, and am and will always be grateful that I was given the chance to work with and for him in the last 12 years. Having been one of his staff, his writer will always be one of the most important achievements of my life, one of the greatest honors I could ever hope to receive. To serve a truly great man, one whose life was dedicated in service to others and to a cause that embraces all that is good and noble in life is an honor I am proud of declaring.
I stood in front of Ka Bel’s coffin with the rest of his staff in congress – Tin, Lyn, Mau, Lisa and Ka Lu – and even as we wept and supported each other (grief does make one weak), one by one we thanked Ka Bel for everything he had given to each of us: meaning and purpose, daily lessons on practicing one’s political and ideological beliefs, a shining example of how to live one’s life as an activist and as a revolutionary.
He was the best boss to have — everyday was full of pep and energy, and you never felt your efforts wasted as you worked with him and for him. But best of all, he was a great person to know — kind and giving and funny to boot! Work was always stressful because there was always so much of it; but one’s exhaustion was also coupled with a deep sense of satisfaction. It was an easy-going office attitude-wise, but it was hardworking, as evidently seen by the output. From the 12th to 14th Congress, Ka Bel was a workhorse — he did his own research, he read voraciously, and he listened attentively during discussions on various economic and political issues even as he himself actively contributed to them — and his staff were only to glad follow his lead. I won’t go into the awards and citations he was given since 2001, but I will write that truth were told, he deserved more because he gave his all and more.
Kaya mayabang ang staff na magaling din sila — kasi sobrang husay ng kanilang principal. Forgive me the conceit, this is our chance, the only chance we’ve had to gloat.
An hour ago I woke up from a most comforting and happy dream: Ka Bel was alive and well, he was smiling at me and cracking jokes. In the dream I was so relieved that he wasn’t dead, and I went to him and hugged him, and we started to talk about the book we were writing about his life. He laughed and said that I might end up exaggerating many details just to make him look good. I told him, ‘e mabuting tao naman po talaga kayo, Ka Bel.” That’s when I woke up, and right now I feel happy.
Thank you for everything, Ka Bel. Paalam at muli, mahal na mahal ko po kayo.