Sunday, May 25, 2008

No Catholic Mass for ‘Ka Bel’ in Legazpi

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

BACACAY, ALBAY—PRIESTS IN the late Anakpawis Rep. Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran’s home province have been instructed not to say Mass for him, Bishop Lucilo Quiambao of the Diocese of Legazpi confirmed yesterday afternoon.

The remains of the party-list lawmaker were flown to Legazpi City yesterday morning. Olive Lalusis, Beltran’s fourth daughter, said the family expected that the remains would be blessed in a cathedral in Legazpi.

But because of reports that priests had refused to say Mass for Beltran, the body was taken instead to the Redemptorist church in Barangay Gogon.

Quiambao told the Inquirer on the phone that Catholic priests could not say Mass for Beltran: “Since his remains were brought to an Aglipayan church in Manila, the consensus of the people is that he was not a Catholic.”

He said the Catholic Church had nothing to do with funeral services for those of other religions.

“We have Church laws to follow. It may be a hard decision but we have to defend the rights of the Church,” Quiambao said. “If we say Mass here, people would be confused about the stand of the Church.”

He said that for those of other religions, priests were allowed only to hold an ecumenical service or a prayer for the dead.


But a Mass was celebrated for Beltran at the Redemptorist church, which had a large “OUST GMA” poster on its fence.

“The Redemptorists are a religious congregation known to be a sympathizer of the masses,” said Tessa Lopez, spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Bicol.

“This is not about Ka Bel’s beliefs or religion. It was his friends and family who requested that a Mass be offered for him,” Lopez said.

She said Beltran did not choose his friends and respected everyone’s beliefs.

Fr. Oliver Castor of the Redemptorists was in tears when he blessed Beltran’s remains with holy water.

“For me he was a person who lived an exemplary Christian life through his selfless service to the people,” Castor said.

The priest denied knowing anything about a formal directive from the bishop.

“We would rather not comment on that,” he said. “It is not the issue at hand. This is a time for Ka Bel.”

Beltran baptized Catholic

The widow, Rosario Beltran, was unhappy with the bishop’s stand.

“My husband was a Roman Catholic. They should not judge my husband that way. He was also human. The Church should do what it is supposed to do,” she said.

She added that Beltran was baptized in a Catholic church in Bacacay, and that they were married by a Catholic priest during their golden wedding anniversary on Nov. 16, 2007.

Quiambao, however, said it was possible for a person baptized a Catholic to convert to another religion.

According to Rosario Beltran, a wake for her husband was held at a church of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (or Aglipayan Church) in Manila because one of its founders, Isabelo de los Reyes, was a great labor leader.

Holding banners and streamers, about 500 activists, friends and relatives waited at the Legazpi airport for Beltran’s remains.

One of the streamers read: "Tuloy ang laban (The struggle continues), Ka Bel.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

‘Ka Bel’ dies in fall while repairing roof

By Volt Contreras,Norman Bordador aand Ephraim Aguilar

ANAKPAWIS REP. CRISPIN Beltran bolted the Marcos prisons, emerged bloodied from many a street demonstration, and, even in his advanced years, continued to fight the government and face threats of arrest.

From joining a taxi drivers’ union in the 1950s and leading campaigns for higher wages across five administrations, to becoming a three-term lawmaker representing militant labor, Beltran cut an unflinching, if gaunt, figure.

But “Ka Bel” also took these battles home and turned his otherwise private struggles amid the rising costs of living into an extension of his lifelong protest against the system.

His sudden death yesterday at 75 after an accident at 6 a.m. at the family home, a barely finished bungalow whose roof needed repair in time for the wet season, brought to full light the proletarian path he had embraced.

It was his daughter Ofelia Ballate who made the grim announcement of the man’s passing: “Patay na po si Congressman Beltran.”

Ballate was briefing reporters outside the emergency room of the Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation Medical Center in Fairview, Quezon City, on her father’s slim chance at recovery when she was told of his heart failing yet again after a fifth attempt at resuscitation.

“My mother and I agreed that if after resuscitation his heart again collapses, he’ll no longer be revived,” Ballate said at 11:35 a.m., breaking into tears.

She said her father appeared to be experiencing pain breathing each time he was revived through an injected medication.

The family was also told, she said, to come to a decision on efforts to revive her father because he appeared to be hanging on to life only as a result of the life-support drug.

“Our family’s decision in case he again went into cardiac arrest is to let him go. We all know that Ka Bel lived his life to the fullest,” Ballate said.

“He was able to raise all of us his 11 children. He was a labor leader, a parliamentarian, an activist, and a very good father,” she said.

Personal is political

Listed as one of the House of Representatives’ “poorest” members since winning a party-list seat in 2001, Beltran refused to pay his electricity bills in April 2002 in protest against the Purchased Power Adjustment rate (PPA) charged by Manila Electric Co.

Then living in a depressed area near the Batasan Complex in Quezon City, Beltran agreed to pay only for the basic charge and not the PPA that accounted for half of his bill, and refused offers of financial aid from friends and supporters.

By October 2002, with his unpaid bills amounting to around P14,600, Meralco cut off his power supply.

It was not the last time Beltran’s politics and personal money problems would become intertwined.

In July 2007, after 15 months of treatment at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC), Beltran had incurred bills of over P1 million.

He was then under “hospital arrest” on rebellion charges filed by the administration, which linked him to an alleged plot to oust President Macapagal-Arroyo in February 2006.

The Supreme Court later voided the charges, clearing Beltran and five other Left-leaning party-list representatives then collectively dubbed the “Batasan 5.”

In his 2007 Statement of Assets and Liabilities that the Inquirer obtained from the House yesterday, Beltran wrote that he still owed the PHC P42,000 as of 2007.

His assets stood at P64,750, including his P50,000 house in Barangay Commonwealth, Quezon City. He reported his net worth as P22,750.

Strong heart

Dr. Arnold Corpuz, one of the doctors that attended to Beltran at the Fairview hospital, put the time of Beltran’s death at 11:48 a.m.

He told reporters that Beltran had a laceration on the right side of the head and broken ribs, but the cause of death was “head injuries secondary to a fall.”

Corpuz said Beltran was already in a coma when he was admitted to the Fairview hospital. He said the head laceration was sutured at the North Caloocan Doctors’ Hospital where the lawmaker was taken for initial treatment.

“He had a strong heart. But the head injury was so severe that his breathing and heart kept stopping [after each resuscitation],” Corpuz said.

Beltran’s body was later brought to the hospital’s Room 311 to allow his family to grieve privately.

According to Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Rosario “Ka Osang” Beltran thanked her husband for everything he had done for her and the rest of the family as she held him in a farewell embrace.

“She thanked him for raising their family. They lived a simple life. You could see how much the husband and wife meant to each other,” Reyes said.

During Beltran’s detention under Marcos, it was Ka Osang who delivered her husband’s speeches at rallies. She joined other activists’ wives in campaigning for the release of political prisoners, according to an account of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

The couple were married for more than 50 years. In the past few years, they lived in a house in Baragay Muzon in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.

Man for others

Beltran was “hands-on with household work,” said his daughter Ofelia Ballate.

“They had a very simple life, with no household helpers... It was not the first time that he went up the roof,” she said.

In Bacacay, Albay, Beltran’s birthplace, his younger sister Gerodia Beltran-Mirafuentes remembered him as a helpful man.

“As long as there was something he could do to help, not just his family but also other people, he would not refuse to do it,” Mirafuentes said.

She said Beltran worked hard even while studying so he could help their parents—farmer/fisherman Paciano Beltran and housewife Valentina Bertes—provide for their schooling.

The second of 10 children, Beltran was born on Jan. 7, 1933.

He spent his childhood in the island village of Tanagan and completed his early education at the Bacacay East Central School and the Tabaco National High School in Tabaco City.

“He tended the school’s poultry farm when he was in high school so he could be free from tuition and lodging expenses,” Mirafuentes said.

He moved to Metro Manila and went to college at the Far Eastern University.

But he had to work, first as a gasoline boy and then as a taxi driver to support his studies.

Beltran also took up labor management at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

He studied in the day and worked at night, Mirafuentes said.

“Our father worked so we would have something to eat. The food we ate were the fruits of his hard work as farmer and fisherman,” she said, adding:

“Growing up to these realities, my brother always wanted to help our parents. He sacrificed for the welfare of his younger siblings.”

Mirafuentes said it was Beltran’s simplicity and service for others that distinguished him from most politicians.

“If we needed to get rich, our family could have long been rich. But he refused all [offers]. Since the Marcos regime, he always got imprisoned for standing for his principles,” Mirafuentes said.

“Even if my brother was a political prisoner, we were happy, because we knew he was able to help many people,” she said.

Labor organizer

From being a member and eventual president of the Yellow Taxi Drivers Union and the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Federation, he rose to become a full-time labor organizer in the ‘60s.

During the Marcos regime, Beltran was among the political activists incarcerated. He escaped on Nov. 21, 1984, after two years of detention.

He was said to have been sheltered by the communist New People’s Army and waited for the overthrow of Marcos in 1986. That same year he became chair of the KMU, taking over after the murder of Rolando Olalia, and later chair of the Bayan in 1993.

In 1987, he ran for senator under the Partido ng Bayan ticket and lost.

At the time of his death, Beltran was on his third term as a party-list representative.

The 14th Congress credits him with authoring bills seeking a P125 across-the-board wage increase and the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law, instituting reforms in the coconut industry, and declaring Jan. 22 as National Farmers Day, among others.

Free man

Beltran’s relatives in Bacacay expressed gratitude that he died a free man.

“We are thankful that he faced a natural death, that he did not die in prison or from a bullet,” they said.

Said Mirafuentes: “He was a politician of the poor. He died a poor man.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

NFA closes 200 rice outlets in Bicol

LEGAZPI CITY—THE National Food Authority (NFA) closed at least 200 retail rice outlets in Bicol for overpricing, hoarding and other violations, NFA officials said yesterday.

Jose Guevarra, NFA assistant regional director, said 48 outlets were closed in Albay, 46 in Camarines Sur, 39 in Sorsogon, 32 in Camarines Norte, 30 in Catanduanes and five in Masbate.

Guevarra said the retailers were also facing other charges, like violations of the Consumer Act. Their accreditation have either been indefinitely suspended or cancelled outright, he said.

The most common offense was overpricing. Guevarra said some retailers sold government rice at P25, higher than its original price of P18.25.


“The selling without price tags is an attempt to fool the consumers while rice diversion involves the rebagging of NFA rice. Both boil down to overpricing,” Guevarra said.

He cited a 20-percent increase in the number of violators in late March, when the government became stricter in monitoring the distribution of rice.

By mid-April, he said, the number decreased, indicating the success of government monitoring.

Guevarra said the NFA quickly approved new permits to sell to retailers to ensure no disruption in distribution. Bicol has around 3,000 accredited rice outlets.

Three high-ranking NFA officials in Bicol are also facing administrative charges for allegedly colluding with dishonest traders.

Flood of complaints

Their cases were still being heard at the provincial level, where there are internal auditors, an investigation and prosecution directorate, and a hearing officer, Guevarra said.

He said the NFA had been receiving complaints through anonymous phone calls, letters and media reports. All are subject to investigation.

As of yesterday morning, Bicol had a buffer stock of 687,000 bags of NFA rice, good for 54 days.

An additional 304,000 bags are expected to arrive aboard two cargo ships at the Tabaco City International Port this weekend.

Maria Asagra, 38, of Barangay Cabagñan in Legazpi City is a constant buyer of government rice from the NFA truck that tours villages weekly.

She said she had never been a victim of overpricing since she was buying directly from the NFA. “I don’t buy NFA rice from the public market since the queues there are longer,” she said.

She said around 200 villagers in their place would buy rice from the NFA truck every Tuesday, the schedule of distribution in Cabagñan. Tickets are being distributed to the buyers.

Every purchase is limited to 4 kg but, Asagra said, she and her daughter would line up so the family would get 8 kg.

Guevarra said the price of commercial rice as of Tuesday ranged from P29 to P32 per kg, depending on the variety.

Rice supply worldwide was predicted to be tighter as a cyclone devastated rice farms in Burma and further put pressure on world supply of the staple.

The Philippine government effort to obtain bids for rice suppliers from Thailand and Vietnam failed as no bidder from either country took part in a recent tender. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Monday, May 12, 2008

4th-class town seen to achieve celebrity status

08 May 2008, A1

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

CARAMOAN, CAMARINES SUR—IT was not too long ago that only backpackers and the locals knew of this remote peninsula’s pristine beaches.

But the fourth-class municipality is expected to achieve celebrity status soon enough, with foreign productions completing filming and development projects in place. Even now it is being touted as the next Boracay.

About 10 million TV viewers in Europe and Canada are expected to watch the French edition of “Survivor,” which was shot entirely on Caramoan’s white-sand beaches.

The eighth season of “Survivor-France” will be aired in France and other French-speaking nations like Switzerland, Belgium and Canada from July to September, their summer season.

“Survivor,” a popular reality game show that isolates its contestants in the wilderness to compete for cash and prizes, is known to choose locations in exotic environments.

Gota beach, the gateway to Caramoan’s other beaches and islets, was rented for exclusive use by the French production outfit starting late February until early this month.

According to “Survivor-France” TV director Corinne Vaillant, the powdery sand, the coconuts on Gota beach and the neighboring islets are a “dream” for the French people.

“We chose Caramoan because it’s really wide. It’s necessary that contestants don’t see anything other than nature for them to believe that they’re really lost in the wilds,” Vaillant told the Inquirer.

With the filming completed, members of the production crew prepared to leave Gota beach yesterday.

Overnight stay

President Macapagal-Arroyo, some Cabinet officials and congressmen visited Caramoan on Monday and stayed overnight at Gota beach.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, who was in Ms Arroyo’s party, said the wide viewership of “Survivor” would surely boost tourism in Caramoan.

Durano said it was the first time in the TV show’s history that two seasons were consecutively shot in one country.

He said the seventh season of “Survivor-France” was filmed in Palawan last year, and that after it was aired, the number of tourists arriving in the province from France alone was up by 23 percent.

While the Department of Tourism, which brought “Survivor-France” to Caramoan, shouldered the fuel cost to keep the location powered with electricity, the provincial government took care of the development of the site.

There are now 73 foldaway cabanas at Gota beach, imported from China and worth P60,000 each, said a source who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.

A total of 20 regular-sized cabanas can be assembled by two teams in a day.

Ms Arroyo stayed in one of the largest cabanas during her overnight stay, the source said.

Filipinos in crew

One of 10 Filipinos hired as production assistants in “Survivor-France” told the Inquirer that the work was a demanding and challenging experience.

“We also had to hop with the whole production team from one beach or islet to another,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was bound by a confidentiality agreement.

He said Gota beach was tightly guarded to keep kibitzers away, and that the production assistants were among the few who were able to see the contestants being filmed.

“Survivor-France” also hired more than 120 laborers and visual artists, the source said.

He said the laborers were paid P250 a day; the visual artists, as much as P800 a day; and the production assistants, at least P1,000 a day.

P20M to prov’l gov’t

A source close to Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. said “Survivor-France” reportedly paid the provincial government P20 million for the exclusive use of Caramoan’s beaches.

The memorandum of agreement to develop and manage Gota beach was signed between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the provincial government, and the municipal government apparently does not have a share in the revenue.

The provincial government gained the right to manage and administer the Caramoan National Park, specifically Gota beach, which covers about 298 hectares, at the signing of the MOA on March 16, 2005, according to a copy of the agreement furnished the Inquirer.

The signatories were then Environment Secretary Michael Defensor (for the DENR-Protected Area Management Board) and Villafuerte (for Camarines Sur).

Durano thinks there is nothing wrong with the agreement.

“Well, the municipality is under the province, right? So the local leaders here and the provincial government would just have to talk about it.”

In a phone interview late last month, Villafuerte said Caramoan residents stood to benefit from the development of Gota beach in terms of employment opportunities and infrastructure.

He said the provincial government was implementing a P200-million development plan in Caramoan, which included road networking and the construction of an airport.

The governor also said “two Hollywood films were in the works for possible shooting” on Caramoan’s beaches.

With no filming contracts in the meantime, he said Gota beach would be reopened to the public in June.


There’s a chance that the American edition of “Survivor” will be filmed next in Caramoan, according to an employee of the provincial government who was at Gota beach preparing for Ms Arroyo’s visit on Monday.

But the employee, who refused to give her name, said nothing had been finalized.

As for talk of Hollywood stars, reportedly including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming to shoot, a ranking officer of Gota beach could only flash a noncommittal smile.

Villafuerte had earlier said that Caramoan could be the next Boracay, with a difference: Development projects would be carefully planned so it would not become like the now world-famous resort—“overloaded” and plagued with sewage problems.

But Durano said it would not do justice to Caramoan if it would be viewed only from the Boracay perspective.

“We should always improve on what we have based on what we’ve learned from [tourist] destinations. Maybe we should say that this will be better than Boracay,” he said.

Durano also said it was important that development be done slowly:

“Since nature is the main asset and attraction here, it must be preserved. Everyone must be careful not to overdevelop the place.”

95% of public transport in Bicol paralyzed by strike

By Ephraim Aguilar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 11:35:00 05/12/2008

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines -- Public transportation, mostly jeepneys, was 98 percent paralyzed in Albay and 95 percent off the streets in the provinces of Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte as of 9 a.m. Monday as transport groups here joined the nationwide strike led by the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston, United Organization of Drivers and Operators Nationwide).

In Catanduanes province, transportation was 100-percent paralyzed in Virac town only, said Joel Ascutia, president of the Concerned Drivers and Operators for Reforms-Piston (Condor-Piston) in Bicol.

Ascutia said the few public utility jeepneys in Masbate also supported the strike by distributing leaflets and streamers.

Piston said it called the strike, not for a fare increase, but to pressure government into repealing the Oil Deregulation Law (which allowed oil firms to set the pump prices) and the 12-percent expanded value added tax (which significantly increased fuel prices).

The absence of public transportation disrupted office work in Legazpi City in Albay even as trucks from the Philippine Army, Philippine
Navy, and the Philippine National Police rushed to help stranded passengers.

In a major business process outsourcing company in Legazpi City, more than 50 percent of the employees in its content department were absent from work, said a 21-year-old employee who asked not to be named for not having authorization to talk to the media.

She said most of those who skipped work were those living in the northeastern and northwestern towns in Albay.

Some vehicles stopped plying their routes as early as midnight Sunday.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Magnitude 5 quake strikes off Legaspi City

By Ephraim Aguilar
Southern Luzon Bureau,
First Posted 14:25:00 05/07/2008

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines--A magnitude 5 earthquake struck off Legazpi City at 1:38 p.m. Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, about four-and-a-half hours after Albay and Sorsogon were hit by a 4.8 magnitude tremor.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

The latest undersea quake was located 45 kilometers south of Bicol region’s southeastern city and 50 kilometers north-northeast of Masbate island at a depth of 31.6 kilometers, the USGS said.

Alex Baloloy, senior science research analyst of the Philippine Institute
of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) in Bicol, said the first quake, with a 4.8 magnitude, struck at 8:59 a.m.

It was measured at intensity 5 in Bulan, Sorsogon, and intensity 3 in Legazpi City.

He said the earthquake's epicenter was detected 41 kilometers south and 17 kilometers west of Legazpi City with a depth of 21 kilometers.

The earthquake, caused by the movement of tectonic plates under the earth's surface, was not destructive since it was below magnitude 6, Baloloy said.

He added it had nothing to do with any activity on Mayon Volcano, which had been showing an intensified crater glow during the past weeks.

"The intensified crater glow is a sign of rising magma. But Mt. Mayon's alert warning is maintained at level 1," Baloloy said in a mobile phone interview.

He said visual observation of the crater glow is just one parameter in determining volcanic activity.

"We are now monitoring other parameters such as seismic activity, ground deformation, and sulfur dioxide emission," Baloloy said.

He added that the alert level status may only be heightened when all the parameters show a significant increase.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a zone where continental plates collide causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Airport official hits false report on propeller 'mishap'

By Ephraim Aguilar
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 14:46:00 05/07/2008

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines--A Masbate City Airport official Wednesday corrected radio reports that "a propeller of an Asian Spirit plane fell to the ground from mid-air" in Masbate province.

Airport manager Josefina Nuñez clarified that the propeller did not fall off the 50-seater plane while in mid-air but on the ground, when a replacement engine was being installed to replace one that would not run Tuesday morning.

Nuñez said engine trouble was detected before 47 passengers bound for Manila boarded the aircraft and airport officials immediately canceled the 7:35 a.m. flight and a replacement engine requested from Metro Manila.

The spare engine arrived late in the afternoon and, while it was being installed by technicians, one of the four propellers fell on the parking apron where the plane was being repaired.

"The propeller was too heavy for the boom truck that carried it and it fell off the hook. It was damaged and could no longer be used," Nuñez said in a phone interview.

"It was a good thing that the engine trouble was found out before the plane left. But the media has to be careful in giving reports as it could cause fear and panic," Nuñez said.

The same plane was able to resume its flight on 7:35 a.m. Wednesday with 44 passengers, among them some of those stranded Tuesday.

Nuñez said 14 of the stranded passengers refunded their tickets.

The Masbate City Airport serves one Masbate-Manila flight daily.

Gov’t declares CamSur electrification complete

CARAMOAN, CAMARINES Sur--For the first time in many years, the people of Lahuy Island in Caramoan peninsula in Camarines Sur will be able to watch TV.

This was after President Macapagal-Arroyo, on Monday, ceremonially switched on the power button that signaled the electrification of four villages on this island.

There are the villages of Gata, Gogon, Daraga and Oring.

After the switching on, Camarines Sur was already 100-percent energized, said Ms Arroyo.

Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said some 3,000 island residents will benefit from the Arroyo administration’s rural electrification program.

The 10-km-long Lahuy is famous for its white pukka shells and coral-embellished sand, and its seas is a rich habitat of marine wildlife.

Lahuy was part of the government’s P87-million Missionary Electrification Project, which is now 95 percent complete.

After her visit to Lahuy, Ms Arroyo proceeded to the Gota beach in mainland Caramoan, where she had talked with reporters and stayed overnight.

Ms Arroyo said Caramoan is a potential tourist destination and could be the next Boracay.

However, she said, the government still has to improve infrastructure for tourists to have easier access to it.

Aside from the electrification project, Ms Arroyo also announced the allotment of an additional P350 million for the repair of the Andaya Highway starting June.

Ms Arroyo and several Cabinet officials and congressmen stayed overnight at the well-guarded Gota beach, where Survivor-France was being filmed. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon