Pablo Tariman knew that one day the moment will come. The music writer and critic has prepared himself for it for years. But how does a father ready himself for the news of his daughter’s death, especially the kind that 42-year old Kerima Lorena Tariman suffered Friday, August 20, at Hacienda Raymunda in Silay City, Negros Occidental?
Kerima was one of three fatalities in the encounter between soldiers of the 79th Infantry Battalion and members of the New People’s Army. The two others who perished were a man named Ka Pabling, identified as a comrade of Kerima (who was Ka Ella), and 31-year old Private First Class Christopher Alada of Badiangan, Iloilo. Alada was a father of two. Last weekend, Silay City Mayor Mark Golez posted a message on Facebook recognizing Alada as "a great soldier who embodied bravery, selflessness, and heroism." The mayor added the Ilonggo soldier "made the ultimate sacrifice," and wished "all citizens recognize that because of you, they have the freedom of speech and much more.” Alada's remains were brought to his hometown Saturday.
The Friday clash happened in the early morning, at around 6AM, an exchange of fire that went on for a little more than half an hour. According to Digicast Negros, the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division spokesperson Major Cenon Pancito III said Kerima was found near the site of the clash during the clearing operations. He told the same website she may have died due to loss of blood. "Her shoulder had been hit by bullets and was nearly severed.”
In a Rappler story, a military source was quoted as saying, "A 35-minute firefight ensued after the troops responded to the reports from concerned citizens on the presence of armed men doing recruitment and wide extortion activities in the area." The same article says the military were also able to get hold of "weapons, personal belongings, a radio with charger, medical paraphernalia, and 'subversive documents.'"
Kerima’s father Pablo told Digicast Negros he was shown a photo of Kerima in the site of the clash. "When I asked for confirmation, a friend of Kerima in Silay described a photo taken at the encounter site. I asked her to describe how she looked and I'm certain she was my daughter. The person who described the photo also confirmed that it was her," said Pablo.
“She was alive with just one bullet wound in her hands but the military finished her off," added the rebel-poet's father.
Who was Kerima?
Kerima was second of Pablo’s three children, all girls. Her mother, Merlita Lorena, from whom she got her second name, was a political detainee during Martial Law. Kerima was born in Bicol, “in a house by the sea with a view of the perfect cone,” as her father’s poem went.
Her folks knew she was different from the time she started school. She grew up surrounded by books and was a natural at poetry, publishing her own collection of verses even before she could graduate from the Philippine High School for the Arts where she was a scholar. She walked barefoot when she claimed her high school diploma and read a poem instead of giving the usual long-winded speech.
“For four years/it was a weekly ritual/ fetching her from her Makiling school/to the CCP pickup grounds/on hot summer days/and stormy weather,” wrote Pablo in a poem entitled 29th of May—also Kerima’s date of birth—describing their father-daughter routine.
Like her dad, Kerima had an affinity for the creative arts. She loved movies and books and wrote about them. As a young woman, she loved Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac and Margaret Atwood. While Pablo, an impresario, was into opera and classical music, the younger Tariman loved going to Quezon City’s live performance haunts to watch local bands. While she was a Philippine Studies major in UP, Kerima became culture editor, and later on managing editor, of the campus publication, Philippine Collegian.
As a young lady, the dusky, free-spirited Kerima was described as frugal with words and possessing a fierce kind of cool. “Kerima has this quietly ferocious aura that keeps people away,” Rey Liwanag, a close friend and housemate during their college years in Maalalahanin Street in Quezon City writes in an essay for pinoyweekly.org. “Back then, she wasn’t someone you approached unless you absolutely have to.”
It was while she was a student in UP when Kerima was arrested while conducting research on poor farming communities in Isabela.
“The first time I went to the countryside to integrate with farmers, government troopers tried to show me first-hand how fascism, counter-insurgency and psychological warfare work,” Kerima wrote about the experience. “As if to make sure I don’t forget, they gave me a minor grenade shrapnel wound, and a major, lingering fear of any man with a golden wristwatch who’d seem to loiter in public places to watch me.”
Kerima said she was detained in a military camp, inundated with questions even before she could get a lawyer, and shown to media already wearing handcuffs. “They slapped me with a criminal charge of illegal possession of a high-powered firearm and had me imprisoned.”
Her first visitor was her father, “a very anxious Pablo Tariman,” wrote Kerima in the same 2011 essay. “Everyone knows he’s never the activist. He could only turn to his Pavarotti records whenever he’s down.” Still, he would go back and forth to Isabela for the hearings on his daughter's case, Pablo told Rappler. In the same report, he said he heard from Kerima two years ago. She was in Negros Occidental “still doing work with farmers and farm workers.”
“It is futile/telling her to live a ‘normal’ life/when the newspapers/are full of stories/of corrupt politicians/and cops in cahoots/with big time drug lords,” wrote Pablo in his poem 29th of May, which is really all about Kerima. “She will not accept/what has fallen on her countrymen/still reeling from the shenanigans/ of kingmakers and wily politicians.”
In a Facebook post, the broadcast journalist Howie Severino wrote a short tribute to Kerima whom he admitted he never met. "The real connection is not in the incidentals," he said, "but in the alchemy of awareness fired into action. Every idealistic youth has felt the compulsion. Not everyone acts on it. For Kerima, poetry and journalism were not enough to quench a thirst. She was like generations of idealists before her, going back centuries, driven by a dream for a better world to climb mountains and sacrifice everything."
Meanwhile, the Facebook post of former UP professor Ruben Carranza sounds different from many of the stuff written following Kerima's death. Carranza says he refuses to romanticize "the needless sacrifice of young lives by a movement led by old demagogues who can't accept, after more than 50 years, that their armed struggle isn't revolutionary. These demagogues continue to value and preach rigid Maoist dogma over the lives of the young people who are made to believe that killing and dying, rather than building progressive coalitions and openly fighting fascists instead of enabling them, is the only way to be progressive and radical."
Mr. Carranza continued on to say that he mourns Kerima's death "because of its needlessness and because I did try, in my own way and in defiance of the fascists who stood in the way years ago, to help her consider a revolutionary option that didn’t have to lead to this end."
Last Saturday, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army offered Kerima, along with her fallen comrade Pabling, a “red salute” through a statement on their website. The statement described Kerima as a revolutionary martyr, “a leading Party cadre of the RJPC-NPA,” and “a renowned poet, writer and revolutionary artist who chose to share the life-and-death struggle of the masses of Negros Island. She gave up her life to serve the people and the revolution.”
Kerima is survived by a husband, the activist, musician and poet Ericson Acosta, a political detainee. There's also their son, Emmanuel, now 18. “When my second daughter gave birth to a boy, I knew just by looking at him that he would spend his early life with me,” wrote Pablo in an essay about her daughters who, he said “have metamorphosed into good mothers and very devoted ones at that.”
In his poems and interviews, Pablo Tariman continues to express not only his profound sadness for having lost a daughter but also a deep understanding of her cause. In the Digicast Negros article, the writer and critic said he is proud of Kerima. “She was consistent all the way. I like the way she lived her life. In poetry and commitment,” he told the website. “I was ready for this death years back. When it happened, it was not surprising.”
[Images courtesy of Pablo Tariman]