ZAMBOANGA CITY: For the first time in the history of the Sultanate of Sulu in southern Philippines, five influential sultans have signed a covenant aimed at consolidating and strengthening their unity.
The signing ceremony, held recently in this city, brought together Sultans Ibrahim Bahjin, Muizuddin Jainal Bahjin, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, Mohammad Venizar Julkarnain Jainal Abirin, and Phugdalun Kiram to form the Royal Council of the Sulu Sultanate.
Sulu Gov. Totoh Tan also attended the event and was one of the witnesses in the signing of the covenant along with the Grand Mufti Abdulbaqi Abubakar.
It was attended by hundreds of supporters and members of the different Royal Houses of the Sultanate of Sulu, as well as religious leaders and representatives of various sectors not only in the province, but in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Sulu Vice Gov. Sakur Tan, who is a key figure in the unification of the sultans, said the signing of the covenant was unprecedented and historical, and will further strengthen the unity of all heirs to the Sultante of Sulu.
“I expect them to come up with a uniform vision and objectives for the Sultanate of Sulu and that includes the people,” he said.
Tan, who is running for governor in the Muslim autonomous region, commissioned many respected Muslim scholars and educators from the University of the Philippines led by Dean Julkipli Wadi to help in crafting the unity covenant.
Mehol Sadain, who previously heads the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, was also among those who helped Tan in this historic endeavor.
The sultans also thanked Tan for his efforts in unifying the Royal Houses of the Sultanate of Sulu. Tan is strongly advocating the revival of the sultanate and promoting the rich and colorful tradition of the Tausug people.
The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1457 and is believed to have existed as a sovereign nation for at least 442 years. It stretches from a part of the island of Mindanao in the east, to Sabah, in the west and south, and to Palawan, in the north.
It continues to lay claim to North Borneo, now Sabah in Malaysia, after obtaining it from Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion on Borneo Island.
The British leased Sabah and transferred control over the territory to Malaysia after the end of World War II. But the sultanate said it had merely leased North Borneo in 1878 to the British North Borneo Company for an annual payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars then, which was increased to 5,300 Malayan dollars in 1903.
North Borneo was annexed by Malaysia in 1963 after a referendum organized by the Cobbold Commission in 1962 saw the people of Sabah voting overwhelmingly to join Malaysia. But Kuala Lumpur has continued paying the Sulu Sultanate some 5,300 ringgits a year on the basis of the Sulu royals’ ceding the Borneo state.
In Feb. 2013, the ailing Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sent about 200 followers headed by his brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, to Sabah to assert their claim and supposed historical rights over the oil-rich state.
Jamalul’s group rejected Malaysia’s demand for them to surrender peacefully, prompting a bloody fight in Lahad Datu town, where more than 60 of the sultan’s men were killed and over 300 Filipinos arrested on suspicion that they were aiding the group of Raja Muda Agbimuddin.
Malaysia also put Jamalul and his brother on its wanted list and branded them as terrorists for intruding into Sabah and killing and decapitating 10 policemen and soldiers in separate clashes on the island.
Agbimuddin managed to escape the Malaysian assault in Sabah, while Sultan Jamalul died in October of the same year from a lingering illness at age 75. Agbimuddin died from cardiac arrest in 2015 in Tawi-Tawi province. AL JACINTO