IN an unprecedented move in the history of the Sultanate of Sulu in southern Philippines, five influential sultans have signed a covenant to consolidate and strengthen their unity.
Held recently in Zamboanga City the accord 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 Governor Totoh Tan witnessed the signing along with the Grand Mufti Abdulbaqi Abubakar who is head of the Muslim religious leaders.
Hundreds of supporters and members of the different Royal Houses of the Sultanate of Sulu, religious leaders and representatives of various sectors in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were also in attendance.
Sulu Vice Gov. Sakur Tan, key figure in the unification, 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, running for ARMM governor, commissioned 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, also 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 Sultanate of Sulu and promoting the rich and colorful tradition of the Tausug people.
The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1457 and is believed to exist as a sovereign nation for at least 442 years. It stretches from 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 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 continues paying the Sulu Sultanate some 5,300 ringgits a year on the basis of the Sulu royals’ ceding the Borneo state.
In February 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 to and supposed historical rights over the oil-rich state.
Jamalul’s group rejected Malaysian demand for them to surrender peacefully and fighting erupted 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 branding them as terrorists for intruding into Sabah, killing and decapitating 10 policemen and soldiers in separate clashes in the island.
Agbimuddin managed to escape the Malaysian assault, while Sultan Jamalul died in October the same year from a lingering illness at age 75. Agbimuddin died from cardiac arrest in 2015 in Tawi-Tawi province..