Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ka Bel’s Legacy of voluntary poverty and simplicity

by: Fr. Robert Reyes

SAN PABLO CITY -- The recent murders in Laguna, in Cabuyao last Friday, May 16 and in Calamba last Sunday, May 18, 2008 have shaken our already precarious national peace. Reactions range from panic to sheer vengeful rage bordering on chilling blood lust.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez blurted out that if he could he would issue a “shoot to kill” order. Fortunately, Chief PNP Avelino Razon assures the public that he will not issue any “shoot to kill order.” Columnist Bel Cunnanan lashes out at the killers of the 9 RCBC employees and calls them “beasts.” Nandy Pacheco resurrects his total gun-ban appeal. Senator Miguel Zubiri proposes to reinstate the death penalty.

But many reactions last no more than the publicity given to an incident. The recent disasters in Burma and China are big enough to sustain public interest for some time. But what about the reaction to the spate of fatal violence in Laguna?

Two days after a deranged man murdered an entire family in Calamba, a comparatively minor disaster took place in Bulacan. Early in the morning, Ka Bel of party-list Anak-Pawis falls from a ladder while repairing a leak in the roof. On the day of his death, expressions of grief and loss immediately hit the airwaves.

Both enemy and friend praised Ka Bel from his comrades in the progressive blocs as well as the Presidential Palace. A day after Ka Bel’s death, news revealed how poor and simple the man is. In fact among the 228 members of congress, Ka Bel ranks number 228 or the poorest among his peers. Here was a man who had millions of pesos at his disposal but remained simple and poor to the very last day.

Ka Bel’s death can be considered a quiet disaster with an explosive impact. When the rest of society seems to explode with either senseless violence and equally violent thoughts, feelings and language from “shoot to kill,” “beasts” and “restore the death penalty,” a man dies and ironically, in death, offers an alternative to violence: voluntary poverty and simplicity.

No, Ka Bel did not die in detention or in a violent rally dispersal, which he was always ready for. Instead, he dies from an unexpected cause whose impact is probably deeper than if he died in a way militant leaders usually do. Ka Bel died leaving a legacy of contradiction and counter-witness. He died a poor and simple politician. He died repairing his own leaking roof. He died working, serving and not being served.

What do the Cyclone Nagris in Burma, the earthquake in Sichuan, the murders in Laguna and the sudden death of Ka Bel have in common aside from the wrenching pain of death, loss and separation? They all speak and more, challenge and even question the living.

A question lashes like the angry winds of a storm. It trembles like the tectonic rumblings of a murderous quake. It breaks the stillness of night like the rapid explosions of M-16s. Neither the weak nor the powerful from the Burmese military junta to the Chinese Communist Party to the Philippine Government and the “common tao,” are spared the questions, “How do you live? How do you relate with people , with nature? Are you selfish and greedy? Are you a heavy consumer or do you maintain a low-energy lifestyle?

The overt violence of natural and man-made disasters often distract us and easily divert our attention from the more subtle and hidden forms of violence. Ka Bel’s fall was a brief violent episode that ended one life but unleashed a challenge which may yet be the solution to the carefully camouflaged violence of greed and power.

Worst than creeping Martial Law is the creeping violence which like ivy crawls everywhere. There is a better solution to the various forms of violence from the institutional to the grossly criminal. It is simpler than “shoot to kill,” “capture the beasts,” “restore the death penalty,” “banish and punish the oligarchs,” or classic “revolution.” Ka Bel lived simply and his death was no different. Workers are quietly mourning, militants as well.

Oppressors and rulers cannot be numb. Ka Bel, yes a militant but more a simple and poor man is passing by, no less concerned and committed to changing and rejecting the superficiality, hypocrisy, insanity and sheer inhumanity of the love and worship of power and wealth.

The simple, poor, once taxi driver turned worker leader is passing by. I salute him and more I allow him to challenge and even change me to be simpler and poorer for a freer, less violent and more just Philippines.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong
May 22, 2008