MANILA, Philippines — Having been freed after the Supreme Court threw out a rebellion case filed against him by the government, 74-year-old Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Representative Crispin Beltran appears ready to start working even before Congress convenes for its first session on July 23.
Beltran immediately made known his desire to attend the High Tribunal’s summit on civil rights and extrajudicial killings on July 15 to 16 after learning that the Supreme Court had dismissed with finality the rebellion case against him and his five fellow left-wing party-list representatives.
Beltran was arrested and detained for that case for more than a year. Due to his chronic hypertension, he was placed under hospital arrest.
“I beg for the indulgence of Chief Justice Reynato Puno and ask for an invitation to the summit. I wish to be able to share my experience as a Filipino and a progressive lawmaker who was arrested and detained for speaking out against the unjust and anti-poor policies of the Arroyo government,” Beltran told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.
“The fight for civil rights in the Philippines must be strengthened and civil rights defended at all costs. We cannot be denied our basic rights and freedoms by a government that never had the legal mandate of the Filipino people,” he added.
As of Tuesday morning, his blood pressure was a relatively normal 140 over 90. In the afternoon, when he learned of the Makati Regional Trial Court’s order for his release, Beltran said he felt well and expressed doubt his blood pressure went up due to excitement.
“I was not overly excited. I was just happy with the Supreme Court decision and the Makati court’s order for my release,” Beltran said.
“I am ready to go and return to Congress to continue the fight for Anakpawis. I am ready to start working. I can again file bills and resolutions,” he added.
However, one source of stress for Beltran could be the more than P800,000 in bills that he has incurred since he was placed under hospital arrest at the Philippine Heart Center in April 2006.
But a member of his staff said the bill would be settled with the hospital management and would not stop Beltran’s release.
“We’ve been told by the hospital that we should at least pay P100,000 up front. The hospital and the party are now discussing how the bill can be settled,” Beltran said.
Ina Silverio, Beltran’s chief of staff, told the Inquirer that their group had guarantee letters and some “cash on hand” to address the problem with the hospital bill.
“We don’t see it as a hindrance to his release,” said Beltran, who was at his hospital room with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) chair Carol Araullo, activist-priest Fr. Joe Dizon and Anakpawis members.
His co-respondents in the erstwhile rebellion case were also expected to arrive at the hospital before his release. His co-accused in the dismissed rebellion raps included Bayan Muna representatives Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño and Joel Virador, Anakpawis’ Rafael Mariano and Gabriela’s Liza Maza.
Beltran’s wife Rosario was at their Quezon City home preparing his homecoming, while their children were with lawyer Romeo Capulong in Camp Crame to secure his release from police custody.
The solon first left the hospital in June when the House went through the last of its session days before the 13th Congress adjourned sine die. The Supreme Court had just handed down its decision dismissing the rebellion charges against Beltran and his fellow militant legislators. But the government filed a motion for reconsideration with the high court.
Clad in a red barong, the congressman at that time immediately took the floor to deliver a privilege speech. He went to the House complex in an ambulance and a convoy of police escorts.
Beltran was the principal author in the last Congress of the P125-across-the board hike in minimum wage. The piece of legislation passed the House but was taken back by the chamber after questions about its legality was raised by a number of congressmen.
“I am glad that the High Court stood firm on its decision to uphold my innocence. It has been 16 months since my arrest and I am greatly looking forward to my freedom and resuming my work as a legislator of Anakpawis in the 14th Congress,” Beltran said.
“I owe my freedom to the thousands of Filipinos who campaigned on my behalf and against the political repression of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. I also express gratitude to my lawyers, namely my kumpare [friend] Atty. Romeo Capulong, Atty. Rachel Pastores, and Atty. Amyln Sato. They have all worked very hard to assert my innocence and to gather the biggest number of support for my case,” he said.
Beltran also thanked friends and allies in the House of Representatives and those “who crossed party-lines and extended both their moral and financial help to me during the last 16 months.”
He thanked Senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal “who frequently made visits and helped keep my spirits up by assuring me of her support” and outgoing Zamboanga del Sur Representative Roseller Barinaga, “who fought for the P125-wage hike bill in Congress with the same fervor and energy as I would have, had I not been incarcerated on these ridiculous charges of rebellion.”