Rep. Shernee Tan-Tambut: Sweet, thoughtful ‘warrior’

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Rep. Shernee Tan-Tambut: Sweet, thoughtful âwarriorâ
Shernee with her husband Jonh Tambut at the SONA, wearing creations by Francis Libiran with accents of Pis Syabit, a traditional Tausug cloth
STAR/ File

She’s sweet and caring; thoughtful even. But in matters where public service is put on the line, she becomes fierce and emotional; volatile, even.

That’s the polarity of the character of Shernee Tan-Tambut, a Tausug from Sulu and party-list representative of Kusug Tausug. “Kusug” means “strength” in the Tausug language; and the Tausugs are the natives of Sulu, hence Kusug Tausug means “Strength of the Tausug people.”

“It was triply hard for me when I first became a representative at 29 years old in 2016. I thought I was a minority for three reasons: I am a Muslim, a woman, and from the youth sector,” begins Shernee, a Psychology graduate from De La Salle University. She is now on her third and last term in the 19th Congress as a lawmaker.

Kusug Tausug party-list Rep. Shernee Tan Tambut.

Her “weaknesses” ended where her strength began to surface when she questioned in the House plenary the alleged “unfair appropriation of billions of funds” of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).” The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) replaced the ARMM via a plebiscite in 2019. The BARMM is comprised of the provinces of Sulu, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindano and Tawi-Tawi.

She “turned into a warrior” at the plenary on her first term when, during interpellation, she stopped the national budget hearing in search of answers for the alleged “corruption of ARMM officials.”

Shernee vows to speak up for the welfare of Muslim Mindanao in the House of Representatives.

“Ang ingay ko talaga pag budget hearing (I really speak up during budget hearing). I even made them stop the budget hearing nationwide in search for answers for the reported billions of funds lost in the ARMM. I asked that the national budget hearing be suspended. Maraming napikon sa akin (Many got mad at me),” she said.

“The BARMM is the poorest region in the country and Sulu is the second poorest province. During the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the poverty rate in our region was low. During the time of President Noynoy Aquino, we were thankful the budget in our region tripled. However, the poverty rate became high. It did not make sense,” she said.

Her resolute will to defend the concerns of Muslim Mindanao was further emboldened with the advice of GMA, a principal sponsor in her wedding: “Live to fight another day.” That has become her political mantra.

Shernee knows the struggle is real to ferret out the truth. But she will continue with the struggle, to speak up for Muslim Mindanao. Up to the last session day of the 18th Congress, she continued to question the alleged inefficient practices of the BARMM and unfair allocation of BARMM funds.

Shernee, the youngest daughter of Sulu Governor Abdusakur M. Tan, a Chinese-Muslim, shares her father’s concern that Sulu has a lot of resources to offer to the rest of the Philippines, but is saddled by the lack of infrastructure with which to bring these resources to markets where they can command better prices. Thus, the congresswoman defends the concentration of her Kusug Tausug’s “hard” projects — such as roads, piers and airport improvement — in Sulu.

Shernee is most excited about President Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s health and economic recovery bills as mentioned in his maiden SONA as the lady lawmaker will soon file a bill establishing hospitals in major island municipalities in BARMM. “I hope this can serve as a companion bill of the proposal to set up regional branches of specialty hospitals. I am also hopeful that the priority bills for economic recovery will hasten the economic recovery of the Muslim Mindanao provinces.”

For the “soft” projects like scholarships, training programs and health assistance, Shernee has generously shared them with people residing outside of Sulu, including Metro Manila.

The soft side of Shernee escapes her when she talks about her parents and John Tambut, her husband, a pilot for Philippine Airlines.

“My dad taught me never to show hatred and anger even before your enemies. From my mom, however, I learned to be fierce and tough,” she said. Governor Tan, seasoned in public service since the ‘80s, has served as councilor of his hometown of Maimbung and as representative of Sulu from 1987 to 1992.

“From John, I’ve learned to be calm,” Shernee added, her eyes lighting up every time she talked about her husband. (She was so sweet that she took out some food from The Pen, where this author interviewed her one evening, “so that my husband will have a midnight snack.”)

So passionate is the congresswoman from the town of Maimbung that when she puts her heart into something, she wants to see its fruition. One project Shernee desires to launch is to popularize Tausug culture in the Philippines, and hopefully, abroad. What she is most passionate about now is introducing the Pis Syabit, the Tausug woven cloth. The Pis Syabit, once a headgear worn only by Tausug male royalty, is now accepted as fabric in apparel for men and women. (Shernee and John wore their SONA ensembles by Francis Libiran with Pis Syabit accents).

She’s thankful that the Tausug cloth is also being promoted by internationally-known and multi-awarded designer Ann Ong. Ann has shown a few pieces of the textile to Philippine Consul General in New York Elmer Cato, who promised to feature it in his Philippine exhibition project in New York.

Shernee knows there’s a challenge in marketing Sulu “despite its high potential for tourism” because it has been ingrained in the public’s mind that the province is the lair of the Abu Sayyaf Group.  “That was before,” she said confidently, “as domestic tourism is present in the area. Many from the extremist group have surrendered, especially during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte. There are government projects that continue to entice them to return to the fold; thanks to the LGU and the government troops, too.”

Be it in politics or culture, Shernee Tan-Tambut is always passionate. There’s no other way to stir the spirit of this Tausug lady but to execute her excellence in her undertakings. She always remembers: “Live to fight another day.”



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