Young Filipinos opposed to the US war on Iraq

Painting for Peace

By Fe B. Zamora
Inquirer News Service

Rameer Tawasil was only 5 when Jolo was turned into a bloody battleground between the Tausug mujahedeens and soldiers in February, 1974.

“My sister carried me piggy-back style, and we just ran,” Rameer recalled. He saw bullets whizzing by and bombs raining upon the Jolo landscape. He remembered tongues of flames leaping wildly, lapping at a wide swath of homes, including the Tawasil residence in the port area.

The Tawasils fled Jolo along with hundreds of Joloanos who were picked up by a passing Japanese cargo ship and unloaded in Zamboanga City. Rameer settled in Zamboanga City with his other siblings. He mixed with Christian children, and lived a life as normal and as peaceful as the environs could provide. But the trauma of that fateful day now known as the Burning of Jolo haunted him.

Not in the way you’d think it would be, though. Rameer did not join the rebels, although an uncle, Al Caluang, carved a legend as one of the Moro National Liberation Front’s staunchest generals. (The famous Al Caluang is now the mayor of Kalingalan Caluang town in Sulu). Neither would he join the government, as did his father, the late Hadji Hassan Tawasil, who became presidential technical adviser on Muslim affairs during the Marcos years.

Like most people in Jolo, and Mindanao, or throughout the world in general, Rameer only wants one small thing: peace.

He expressed this yearning in his first one-man exhibit “Rameer Tawasil” at the lobby of Garden Orchid Hotel in Zamboanga City. The exhibit opened last February as part of “Dia de Zamboanga,” a three-day festival to mark the 66th foundation of the city.

“The military cannot solve the problem in Jolo. The rebellion is not the solution either. And while they are out there fighting, the civilians are suffering,” Rameer said.

This sentiment is expressed visually in the “Peace Vendor” series. An ageing woman, her face lined with suffering and eyes downcast, carries a basket on her head. Inside the basket is a dove, trussed up unmercifully and seemingly dead.

The delicate brush strokes in ink and watercolor highlights Rameer’s personal feelings for the Moro homeland. The painter, in fact, is crying out: “There is so much suffering already. Who wants peace? And who is the victim?”

Or the Moro warrior series. Done in bold strokes in somber shades of red, blue, gray, colors of maroon, the series features a kris and an image of an adult male, head shaven and eyes livid with rage. Instead of a body, however, the head is linked to a human skeletal frame.

“He is the walking dead,” Rameer said. The Moro warrior is “sabil,” a man who is bound for martyrdom, or death for a cause, he explains. “A sabil is not a juramentado (a person who runs amok). He is not a terrorist. Sabil is martyrdom and can only be justified when a person has been subjected to extreme humiliation, or when his land was taken away from him,” Ramer explained.

A Muslim who has decided to be a “sabil” has to undergo a ritual normally given to a cadaver before a burial. Except that this time, the cadaver is a breathing, living human being who would even walk towards his target-the person who insulted him or the persons who grabbed his land-without injuring the innocent women and children.

But for so many years, Rameer could not come face-to-face with his culture. “I did portraits, landscapes, flowers, anything but the Muslim issue.” Every now and then, he would encroach on Muslim social realism, but would just back out as quickly, like he had touched a sore spot within himself. To this day, Rameer admits he had not really talked much about what happened to him on that horrible day 29 years ago.

Perhaps, he says, his paintings are his own way of downloading the bad memories, his own catharsis. Perhaps, his own mind had been pushing him to let go of the bad memories all these years. While in the elementary grades, Rameer won various art contests in Zamboanga City, a feat that he would repeat while in high school at the Hadji Butu School of Arts and Trades in Jolo, the alma mater of celebrated Joloano artist Abdulmari Imao. In college, Rameer spurned the Fine Arts to pursue a BS in Architecture at Western Mindanao State University. Even then, he continued with his painting, teaching himself various techniques but carefully eschewing anything Muslim on canvas.

“I think it’s my coming to terms with my being a Muslim. I could not run away from my culture. Instead of trying to evade the issue, I have decided to confront it,” Rameer said. “I am a Muslim. I know what it’s like to be a victim. I share their feelings, but I have a different way of expressing my feelings,” he stresses. These feelings he has learned to articulate best on canvas. And how.