Not in her wildest dreams would a Kerima Lorena Tariman ever had imagined her image being “muralized” and immortalized in any city of this world. Yet here is a mural immortalizing her well-lived life and cause.
Anyone who had the great opportunity to know her whether close by or from a distance would know that Kerima was not ever seen wearing an attire as elaborate and beautiful as this one. I never saw her use any assortment of indigenous blings and trinkets. But this mural is not about capturing Kerima’s sense of fashion. It is a brilliant depiction of how Kerima had in her lifetime carried on with the rich tradition of valiant struggle of our ancestors from Spanish colonialism and all throughout the continuing struggle of national minorities who are also Filipino farmers; and how their aspirations reflect the overall Philippine struggle for the right to self-determination.
Having said that, let me add this very minor but factual point: Kerima had, for a short period, a penchant for applying make-up, especially the eyeshadow and the eyeliner. Her craft, in my view, remains unrivaled. I mildly regret the times I mocked her for looking a little bit “extra.”
:Yes, deadma na (ignore it).
:’Di ko kaya (I can’t).Are you trying to attract me? Or maybe confuse me?
:Then stop being weird.
That would be the most intrusive I got during our life and times together. I have had Kerima for more than half of my life. She was my anchor in what oftentimes, especially in our younger days, felt like an abstract nation and struggle to me. I mention this because this mural reminds me of the times that she was away from me. The times when Kerima became “extra,”someone who was definitely more than my best idea of a wonderful companion.
Her reason was sobering. Her sense of humor was superb. Her jokes were merciless, sharp and hilarious. I was born 3 years ahead of her but between the two of us, she was the big sister. She brought me to airports. She arranged tickets for me. We visited areas far away from Manila. When we did and we had different schedules, she made sure that my journey through highway motorcycles and habal-habal were made up of smooth, safe, and secure transfers. How? She had the numbers of each driver and would check on every transfer.
: You know what you are?
She loved that joke, and even texted back “that’s accurate.”
Apart from her caring/suffocating ways, Kerima never crossed the boundaries of what we have had established as our bond’s “normative mechanisms.” Far from the state’s counterinsurgency propaganda that depicts red guerrillas as ruthless and scheming recruiters, Kerima never recruited or enlisted me or anyone I know to any of her revolutionary underground activities. She was very protective of the people’s army and the people they serve. She never did or say anything to me that would compromise the security of this armed revolutionary movement in the countryside. No details, no requests, no favors.
I knew nothing of her whereabouts until I got a call from a person based in the Visayas asking me if I could confirm that Kerima Tariman is the person that appears in the photos sent to me. “Could she be dead?” I rushed to check the photos and it was not hard to tell that those are images of a lifeless Kerima. Perhaps to console myself, my initial thoughts were scenes of our tender moments together:
My efforts at showing my utmost respect for the important decisions she had made. That included not demanding time from her, something she gifted me willfully and generously when ever she can anyway. My readiness to cancel everything to accommodate her bonding needs was almost always instinctive and robotic. Kerima showed nothing but equal respect for my choices and decisions. She valued my work in the academe and the academe in general.
She was emphatic about a facet of the people’s protracted war for national liberation and socialism that is often misconstrued. Its vibrance, dynamism, and success depends on the strength of parallel struggles in the countryside and the urban mass movement in the cities. She neither presented herself nor depicted the red army as superior revolutionaries. A lot of people deeply cherish them, nonetheless. And rightly so in my view.
So while I go about my daily routine unarmed and above ground, I shall never concede to the terrorist tagging of this revolutionary group to which the greatest person I have ever known was associated. That decision is far from personal, for my friendship with Kerima is an accident of biography that turned into a vital part of my life. But the historic revolutionary struggle of the working class worldwide has been well underway long before I was born and it continues as I seriously study revolutionary theory and practice. It will continue even if, say, I died soon after I post this, which of course is a remote possibility (not today, Satan).
I started this post by indicating that a muralized Kerima would have been unthinkable for Kerima herself. But we know that Kerima truly deserves the highest honors that people, organizations and institutions have been bestowing upon her since her death in August of last year. This mural also reminds me of how Kerima never wasted a single opportunity to organize visual artists.
I distinctly remember how she had met with several of them in Philcoa while I waited patiently in a corner. She came to Philcoa almost every day to buy snacks from a nearby bakery as a token for the labor of her artist friends. In one of those back and forth when she probably thought this particular errand is delaying me from coming to my class, she told me in jest “Artists don’t eat art, you know.” To which I replied “But man does not live by bread alone. They need rice meals.” She obliged.
A few days later, a glorious mural of a modern interpretation of Bonifacio and the Katipunan revolution greeted pedestrians as they tread on the Philcoa overpass. The overpass traffic on the City Mall side going to Fairview would become heavier than usual. The mural would also feel like an altar for street kids, street dwellers and beggars. I can’t forget how Kerima spontaneously talked to a group of street dwellers who were sitting by the mural. They obviously took pride in how this place got an “upgrade.” She asked them if they were familiar with the images, particularly that of Bonifacio. Almost instinctively, they replied in unison, “mga bayani” (our heroes).
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Center for International Studies. She is engaged in activist work in BAYAN (The New Patriotic Alliance), the International League of Peoples’ Struggles, and Chair of the Philippines-Bolivarian Venezuela Friendship Association. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal for Labor and Society (LANDS) and Interface: Journal of/and for Social Movements.