Farm workers defended Kerima Lorena Tariman from the military who alleged the highly-regarded poet was a “terrorist” and “extortionist.”
Bristling at government troopers’ description of Tariman, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said they should instead take a hard look at themselves.
“State armed forces seem confused about what terrorism is. Serving the people—which was what Kerima Lorena Tariman did—is not terrorism,” UMA chairperson Antonio Flores said.
The military said in its announcement of Tariman’s death she was a terrorist involved in extortion as part of her task to allegedly “re-establish the dismantled Northern Negros Front” of the NPA.
Tariman died in a fire fight between the New People’s Army and the Philippine Army last August 20 in Silay City, Negros Occidental. She was 42.
A “Comrade Pabling” perished with Tariman while a Private First Class Christopher Alada of the 79IB later died in a hospital after being wounded in the clash.
UMA said however Tariman never harmed peasants and has only consistently defended them all her life.
Defender of poor farmers
As an activist, Kerima led efforts in Hacienda Luisita for agricultural workers to assert their right to land and secure their access to food, UMA said.
Tariman was once briefly detained by the Tarlac police with 10 others for joining a rally at Hacienda Luisita in September 2013.
In Mindanao, Tariman conducted a research on corporate plantations and the harsh working and living conditions of farm workers, UMA said.
In Negros, Tariman led campaigns to alleviate sugar workers’ plight against extreme poverty and assisted them in asserting their right to social amelioration funds, the group added.
“How can any of that be terrorism?” Flores asked.
In a separate statement, the group Defend Negros said it is an abomination for Negrenses to have their “heroine” Tariman labeled as a terrorist “by the very forces who sow terror in Negros and the whole country.”
“We vehemently condemn the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ statement against Kerima, a former staff of UMA and a staunch land rights activist,” Defend Negros spokesperson Ariel Casilao said.
“They maliciously maligned and undermined every sacrifice that Kerima made for the benefit of landless farmers and farm worker,” he added.
Casilao revealed that among Tariman’s achievements while living with peasant communities in Negros was a primer on the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) to help sugar workers understand and defend their rights for better wages and benefits.
Tariman also spearheaded the publication of UMA’s newsletter that focused on tiempo muerto (season of death) or off-milling season when seasonal farmhands in Negros have no work and income.
A highly-regarded writer and already a published poet upon graduation from high school, Tariman was managing editor of The Philippine Collegian when first arrested in Isabela province in 2000.
“It is the deep-seated, centuries-long poverty of the peasantry that compelled Kerima to take the path of the revolutionary armed struggle. Fighting until her very last breath to defend the people’s rights to land and living wages is not and must not be tagged as terrorism,” the former Anakpawis Representative said.
UMA said military spokespersons like Maj. Cenon Pancito III, Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon and Col. Ramon Zagala should take a hard look in the mirror before accusing Tariman of what they ought to be accusing themselves.
“Occupying civilian communities, conducting aerial bombings over farmlands, gunning down unarmed peasants—routine activities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines—now that’s terrorism,” UMA said.
The group said the police, military and armed goons hired by plantation owners have killed more than 100 activists in Negros Island, most of whom were peasants.
Casilao also said: “It was the military, the police, and other armed goons who had sown terror in Negros Island with their Oplan Sauron operations conducted under Memorandum Order 32, killing more than a hundred peasants and activists.”
Casilao challenged the government, the police and the military to look at the sufferings of the people as Tariman did.
“The regime and its armed forces are deeply intoxicated on the falsehood that being a revolutionary makes you a terrorist…Landlessness, absence of security of tenure, inadequate social services and slave-like wages–these are the causes of unrest in the island,” Casilao said.
UMA said it was in Negros that Tariman most deeply realized the limitations of being an “aboveground activist”, having witnessed firsthand the violence state forces were capable of unleashing on unarmed peasants.
The fact that Negros Island remains the country’s hacienda capital proves that government land reform programs are fakes and anti-peasant, the group added.
“This was what pushed Kerima into the armed struggle of the NPA. For her, there was no more effective means of serving the people, especially the peasantry. She was not involved in terrorism. Rather, it was state terrorism that pushed her into joining the NPA,” UMA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)