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It started in a taxi for the Beltrans

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:53:00 05/25/2008

Filed Under: Obituary, Politics, People, Family

MANILA, Philippines?The love affair of Crispin ?Ka Bel? Beltran and Rosario ?Ka Osang? Soto began in the unlikeliest place?a taxicab.

It was Nov. 10, 1956. The then 15-year-old Osang had run away from home in Tondo after a spat with her grandmother over cutting classes and, in front of Quiapo Church in Manila, got into the cab driven by Beltran.

Distraught, she told Beltran to just drive on. When they reached Monumento in Caloocan, he stopped the cab and demanded to know exactly where she was going.

So she told him what happened.

?He lectured me. He told me I was so young and yet had the audacity to run away from home. He said, ?You were spanked by your mother, and you ran away,?? Ka Osang, now 68, recalled.

Beltran, then 26, offered to drive her home. But she protested and tried to get off.
Seeing that night had fallen, he stopped her and decided to take her to his boarding house in San Juan.

3 days in his room

The story of how the long romance began is told in a profile of Beltran posted on the website of the militant labor alliance Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

Osang stayed in Beltran?s room for three days, sleeping separately from him. She was alone most of the time because he was a cabbie by day and a student by night, attending classes at the University of the Philippines? Asian Labor Education Center.

In time her furious father showed up at the boarding house, beat up Beltran in front of her, and hauled him off to the San Juan municipal jail.

Eventually, they had to get married, lest the young woman end up disgraced.

?There was no love then. I was totally against it. I didn?t like him. But he, on the other hand, was open-minded. He said that love was something we could both learn,? Ka Osang said in an interview with KMU.

And it didn?t take long for her to ?love? Beltran, who, she said, was a ?good provider? and a gentle husband.

The couple had 10 (not 11, as earlier reported) children.

Jealousy

The young wife also learned to admire her husband for organizing unions in the slums of Metro Manila and elsewhere?an advocacy that often took him away from his family.

In his early 20s, Beltran was a full-fledged labor leader. He was president of the Yellow Taxi Drivers? Union and the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Federation from 1955 to 1963, according to KMU.

He went on to serve as vice administrator of the Confederation of Labor Unions of the Philippines and vice president of the Philippine Alliance of Nationalist Organizations from 1963 to 1972.

?At first I was jealous [of the movement]. I would expect him to come home every night. But since he organized workers in slums, the urban poor, and conducted seminars on workers? rights, there were times he didn?t come home,? Ka Osang told the Inquirer on the phone.

?Now I see how the seed he planted has flowered,? she said.

Tough test

Through the years, she gave the man who had come to be known as Ka Bel her full support.

The tough test came in August 1982 when the minions of the Marcos dictatorship cracked down on Beltran and other labor leaders.

?We already had 10 children when he was arrested. We had no money, and my children lived on my small earnings from selling rubber slippers and fish in the market,? Ka Osang told KMU.

Beltran was then KMU secretary general, and he and his family lived in a slum community in Barangay Commonwealth, Quezon City.

In the two years that her husband was detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City, Ka Osang made up for his absence, delivering speeches at rallies in his behalf and, eventually, doing volunteer work at the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, according to KMU.

And together with the wives, daughters and relatives of political detainees, she sought their release. But Ferdinand Marcos did not budge.

Daring escape

When KMU president Felixberto Olalia died of pneumonia in his detention cell in 1984, Ka Osang worried about her husband who was then afflicted with a kidney ailment.

She visited him, armed with an escape plan.

Beltran was allowed a brief leave to attend a nephew?s birthday celebration?naturally, with military escorts. According to their escape plan, he went to the men?s room supposedly to relieve himself, and managed to flee through a hole in the wall.

For the daring escape of her husband?considered an enemy of the state?Ka Osang endured blows, punches and kicks from his escorts.

Beltran went into hiding in Central Luzon, and was given shelter by insurgents.

The couple were reunited after Marcos was ousted in 1986 and President Corazon Aquino ordered the release of all political prisoners.

Beltran continued his advocacy in mainstream society. He joined the party-list elections as a second nominee of Bayan Muna in 2001 and won a seat in the House of Representatives.

He won a second term in 2004 and a third term in 2007 as Anakpawis representative.

Members of his family thought that his election as lawmaker would improve their lot. But they were proved wrong.

?He was the type who gave away to others anything in excess of his pay. That was what he imparted to his children,? Ka Osang said.

Sedition, rebellion

An even tougher test for the family came in February 2006, when Beltran was arrested on the strength of a warrant for a 1985 sedition case.

When this did not hold, the police still detained him at the Philippine Heart Center for one-and-a-half years for a rebellion case. (The couple marked their 50th anniversary with a Mass at the hospital.)

The Supreme Court dismissed the case against Beltran and five other party-list lawmakers in June 2007. He was freed the following month.

Early on May 20, Ka Osang saw her husband repairing the roof of their home in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

?I was going out to pay our electricity bill, and saw him fixing our roof. I told him to come down and eat first, because he might get dizzy and fall. He just laughed,? she said.

As it happened, Beltran fell and sustained grave head injuries.

Gratitude

After he breathed his last at the Far Eastern University hospital in Fairview, Quezon City, Ka Osang embraced him and thanked him.

?I wanted to show him I was thankful. He might think that we never took to heart everything that he did for us. Despite our poverty, all of our children went to college,? she said.



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