Reworking the Philippine sultanates

by Nasser Sharief

MANY FILIPINOS TODAY think that to be a Sultan is a position strewn with beds of roses. While this romantic notion was true in ancient times when the sultan wielded enormous power and even appoints ambassadors and emissaries to foreign lands, in our day it becomes more of a burden. Many royal houses in fact have folded and some others have the barest minimum of courtiers, operating on a skeletal setup. Only the sheer determination and dedication of the royal family and their loyal subjects keep it from closing shop.

The passing of an era has been eloquently captured, albeit lamentably, by a reigning Sultan of Sulu, Moh’d. Hadji Jamalul Dalus Kiram III: “It is like a joke of history when once upon a time Ambassadors from the Court of St. James of England, the Celestial Empire of China and other Great Powers pay tribute to the Sultan of Sulu at his ancestral Palace in Darul Jambangan, Maimbung, Sulu, which is now a depressed area needing rehabilitation.”

Too often, to add leverage to his influence, the Sultan himself holds on to a government position—whether appointed or elected—to augment what nominal power he can dispense. This has been how many royalties in Mindanao have survived in the modern era. As witnessed in the last election, no less than the Sultan of Sulu tried his hand on national politics by running for the senate at the prodding of the Arroyo administration with uncalled for result.

For many years, political planners have been shrugging off the influence of the royalties as a dead angle in shaping the future of the country especially the South. Even rebel movements like the MNLF and the MILF and most religious groups tried to do away with the royalties of Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao. But lately there has been a renaissance.

The potential of the royalties in swiftly ending disputes, even blood feuds at that or rido had been tapped successfully in many instances. The royalties effectively rally the people in social works, even mediating on marriages, inheritance disputes and facilitating local development infrastructures by the government when the locality are not too convinced of the motives.

Sultan Topann Ditaul Disomimba, the reigning Sultan of Masiu in Lanao echoed the trend: “It has been realized by everyone that the Sultanates cannot be dispensed with. We are the missing link in our troubled nation. The Royalties must be revived not for nostalgic reason but as our anchor of the past and for the stability of our future. True, in the constitution no royalty is recognized, but that doesn’t mean we have to jettison our heritage. We have to take the lead of Japan, Malaysia, and the European countries. In Japan, no matter how modernized they are, they always look upon their past. It is manifested in their households and the treatment they accord their royalties.”

The government seemed to sense the latent potential of the old royalties. For instance, President Gloria Arroyo recently created the Lanao Advisory Council that empowers the 16 Royal Houses of Lanao to make a study and recommendations on the promotion of peace and development in their area. She has issued Executive Order 602 establishing the Council that would advise her on issues and problems affecting the constituents of the affected Royal Houses. This development appears experimental for now and if found successful it could also take foothold in Sulu, Maguindanao and other places.

The Sultanate of Sulu

The Sultanate of Sulu is the best known and oldest Sultanate in the Philippines. The Genealogy of the Sulu Royal Families, written by Sururul-Ain Ututalum and Abdul-Karim Hedjazi, traced the close relationship between the royals of Brunei and Sulu. In the 1500s, Brunei Sultan Bolkiah was married to Sulu Princess Putri Laila, granddaughter of Shariful Hashim, first sultan of Sulu. In the late 1600s, when Sultan Muaddin of Brunei was threatened by rebellion, he turned to his kin in Sulu for help. The rebellion was quelled. As a reward, the Brunei sultan gave resource-rich Sabah to the sultan of Sulu.

The Sultanate had been a sovereign nation, recognized by both the Spanish and American colonizers. The colonizers entered into treaties with the Sultan. Between the 16th and 19th century, only about a dozen assaults were successfully launched by the Spanish Audiencia operating from Fort Santiago in Manila. Earlier, attempts of subjugation were made by the Srivijaya Empire, the Madjapahit, and Ming Empires. The British, French, German, and Portuguese tried also. In all these long struggles, the Spanish Walled City of Jolo was the only part of the territory of the Royal Sultanate of Sulu that was taken and garrisoned by the Spaniards which only lasted for about 31 years.

A reigning Sultan is Paduka Maulana Mahashari, Al Sultan Moh. Hadji Jamalul Dalus Kiram III.

He is the eldest son of the late Sultan Punjungan Kiram. He’s from the direct lineage of the first Sultan of Sulu, Sultan Shariful Hashim from the Bano-Hashimite tribe. He is married to Dayang Hadja Fatima Celia H. Kiram.

He acted as “Interim Sultan” during the absence of his father Sultan Punjungan Kiram while in Sabah (1974- 1981) and proclaimed in 1984 as 33rd Sultan of Sulu and was crowned on June 15, 1986 in Jolo, Sulu. However, there are contrary opinions on who is the true Sultan of Sulu. When Sultan Punjungan left Sulu to live in Sabah, the Ruma Bechara installed Sultan Esmail Kiram. In 1962, Sultan Ismail Kiram and his Ruma Bichara (literally “House of Talk,”, the equivalent to the Cabinet) transferred sovereign rights over Sabah to the Philippine government on condition that the government would pursue the Sabah claim. The resolution signed by Sultan Ismail also stipulated that if the Philippine government fails to recover Sabah, the Sultanate would be free to assert sovereignty over Sabah.

When sultan Esmail died, his son and Crown Prince, Mahakuttah, was enthroned. Mahakuttah proclaimed his son, Datu Muedzul-lail Crown Prince. The latter has proclaimed himself sultan in ceremonies conducted two years ago. In 1993, Princess Denchurain Kiram, then the oldest of the surviving private heirs to Sabah, acknowledged three claimants to the throne: Datu Muedzul-Lail, Datu Terona al-Shariff Kiram, nephew of Princess Tarhata Kiram, the recognized Queen of the Sultanate for five decades and Sultan Aguimoddin Abidin, son of Sultan Jainal Abidin.

To revive the international stature of the Sultanate of Sulu, Kiram III forged the century-old relationships between Sulu and China during the royal visit in Dezhou, Shandong Province, PR China in September 1999 with 87-man entourage. The visit concluded with the signing of the agreement between Hebei Province and the Sulu Sultanate on agricultural technology exchange.

The Maguindanao Sultanate

The Old Sultanate of Maguindanao was given new impetus lately when Datu Amir Baraguir, a writer cum historian, was crowned to the royal throne as Seri Paduka Sultan Sayyid Hadji Datu Amir bin Muhammad Baraguir. Baraguir, thus, became the 25th Sultan of Maguindano on December 12, 2005.

Baraguir was the third son of the late Sultan Muhammad G. M. Baraguir and Bai Fatima Carmen Andong. He traces his roots from the Maguindanao’s 3 royalties, namely, Maguindanao, Buayan, and Kabuntalan.

Baraguir lamented that contemporary sultans have had “little else to do” than acting as “symbols of unity for those whose traditional and historical moorings are still intact, and in serving in limited capacity as a patron of Maguindanaoan arts, culture and tradition.”

Although, Baraguir had some high hopes he commented that the royalty cannot appropriately address the problems besetting the community like poverty, education, and peace because they were reduced to no more than ceremonials. But Sultan Baraguir insisted that this state of affair need not continue. The royal leadership said in his speech on becoming the new sultan can be a catalyst in pursuit of Maguindanao’s right to self determination without having to uproot the present political setup.”

Unfortunately, before Sultan Baraguir could put prime his projects he was gunned down by masked gunmen on his way home on January 12, 2006, cutting short his reign for just a month.

Moro Times were able to interview the Sultan’s brother Datu Khalikuzaman Baraguir to give his assessment on the present status of the Sultanate.

When asked if he was ready to succeed his brother, Datu Khalikuzaman, the Provincial Director of the Department of Trade and Industry in Maguindanao only grinned. He said that “there are five criteria which must be present before one can be crowned a Sultan, and I think this equally apply to any Royalty, wherever. They are: Nobility, which means blood lineage; knowledge, which is breeding and high education; wealth, which is financial, an ability to financial run a court; aura, which is personality; and rupawan or authority.”

The Baraguirs came from a long line of the Masturas. Datu Baraguir himself was the grandson of Mastura. His father was Datu Mamadra, known as “Wata Mama sa Maguindanao,” the eldest son of Mastura by one of his wives, Sarifa Atik, sister of Sharif Ampatuan. He died earlier than the father. On his mother side, Baraguir is descended from Rajah Toa, brother of the Datudacula I of Sebogay (the current being Datu Dacula VI). Amerol Parti is one of the sons of Datudacula I. His brother was the Sultan Ontong, the regal name of Sultan Kudaratullah Djamalol Alam Ontong. Ontong was named after Sultan Kudarat, so he was referred to in written records as Sultan Kudarat II. Amerol Parti, who was also known as “Mama sa Sulog” had a daughter Bae Ikog who marrief Datu Mamadra, and out of the marriage came Datu Baraguir.

The Sultanate of Masiu

The reign of Topaan Ditual Disomimba as Sultan of Masiu is a manifestation of the reworking of the royalties in the Southern Philippines to give it a positive posture in the modern age. No longer are datus confined to the métier of their courts. They have to reach out to their people if they do not wish to be relegated to the periphery.

Sultan Disomimba is one of the exponents of the new movement. He was named after a great, great ancestor Amaloya Topaan who had married Potri Kaizadan, who herself was the granddaughter of Sharif Ka­bung­suwan by his third wife, Bae Ma­zawang. As a young man Topaan Disomimba was trained in the court of his father, Datu Palawan, who was then the Datu-a Cabugatan of the Royal House of Masiu. His apprenticeship gave him a close-up observation of the proceedings of the court, the action of the courtiers, and the mechanics of the ijma and tartib, and how justice is dispensed. In 1991 when the elder Palawan died, Topaan had to take the mantle. He is the only male among eight children. He became mayor of the town of Tamparan in 1992, following the footsteps of his father Datu Palawan who had held the post for 30 years who also became Vice Governor of Lanao del Sur. In the just concluded election, Sultan Disomimba, after completing a 3-term, is succeeded by his wife Bae Norhaniza Janaree Macapundag Pundato.

The Sultanate of Masiu is the most documented royalty around Lake Lanao. It was founded by Balindong Bezar, after the successful retake of Lamitan (Ramitan) near Baraas along the Illana Bay by the redoubtable Sultan Kudarat. At the time, Balindong Bezar was a young man awed by the prowess of his uncle-in-law. Ba­lindong had married Bae Pindaw (Pindawa-dawa Oray is the longer name), daughter of Bae Gayang Mupat, sister of Kudarat and wife of Amatonding a Noni. Since Balindong is the son of Paramata Adir, cousin of Amatonding, that makes Ba­lindong and Bae Pindaw second cousins. As soon as Kudarat has reestablished himself back to power, the young Balindong, getting his spur, lay stake on his claim on a vast tract of land that included a sweep of the towns around Lanao and down along the shorelines of Panguil Bay.

The reigning Sultan Disomimba and the 16 Royal Houses of Lanao had organized the 1st Conference of the Royal Sultanates on Unified and Effective Governance on August 27, 2003 in Manila. A 2nd Conference is in the offing which will touch on the peace and economic development in Mindanao to be held in Davao sometime in early February, 2008.

Claims to the Sultanates

In the wake of the branching out of the royal lineage over the centuries, many of the Sultanates are disputed especially in cases where the succession of male progeny had been broken for quite sometime.

Does this development hamper the working of the Sultanates?

The incumbent Sultan of Masiu, Topaan Dsimomba does not think so. “I’m not alarmed at all by the rival claims to the Sultanates. This is in fact, a healthy situation,” Disomimba said. “It only goes to show a resurgence of interest in the old titles. I myself don’t mind, as long as everyone works for a common good. What is bad is when people just sit on their title and sleep on it.”

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2 thoughts on “Reworking the Philippine sultanates

  1. Pingback: Sultan of Sulu, who is the true and legetimate? | Rightways's Blog

  2. Pingback: Sulu sultanate, Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram gave Datuk Seri title | Rightways's Blog

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