Should the Sultanate of Sulu demand full independence from the Philippines and Malaysia?

At the end of the day, what exactly is ‘the Philippines’ to begin with? The way things are going, it seems it will remain no more than the bunch of tropical islands around which the 16th Century Spanish crown drew a ring and named after their king. To this day, Filipinos suffer from the same identity crisis they have suffered for the last 400 years. What does it mean to be “Filipino” anyway?

sultan_of_suluThe question of what being “Filipino” means is relevant today in light of the 27th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power “revolution” which, true to form, is being put up as the most relevant thing to reflect upon this month. Never mind that the long “dormant” issue of the Philippines’ long-standing claim on the Malaysian state of Sabah has come to the fore again thanks to a hundred-odd armed Muslim-Filipinos supposedly representing the Sultan of Sulu who are currently in a standoff with Malaysian government forces there.

The Filipinos are calling themselves “Royal Sulu Sultanate Army,” according to a report from the Malaysian news portal The Star Online.

They claim to be followers of “a descendant of the Sultan of Sulu” and are demanding that the subjects of the Sulu Sultan in Sabah not be deported to the Philippines, the report said.

A Philippine military officer interviewed by Reuters also said the men were followers of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu – an island group off the southern Philippines – who had been invited to Sabah by a Malaysian opposition politician to discuss land issues.

The Sulu sultanate, first founded in the 1400s, was once a regional power center, controlling islands in the Muslim southern Philippines and parts of Borneo including Sabah until its demise a century ago.

Malaysia pays a token amount to the Sultanate each year for the “rental” of Sabah state – an arrangement that stretches back to British colonial times.

The Philippine government had late last year entered into an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) effectively creating an “enlarged Bangsamoro” autonomous region in Mindanao which will encompass the prior-existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and parts of Lanao del Norte and Cotabato among others. The new autonomous region will be allowed implementation of Muslim Shari’ah Law.

The creation of what is tantamount to an autonomous Islamic state within Philippine territory (a nation supposedly governed on secular principles) as part of a “peace process” the Philippine Government had initiated with the terrorist MILF raises the question of what exactly qualifies claim of any territory within the Philippines to independence from the Manila government. Is it the claimants’ capacity for violence and armed aggression? That the creation of the “enlarged Bangsamoro” was part of a peace deal implies that continued war was the only alternative.

Perhaps then, this is the key to salvation for the embattled followers of the Sultan of Sulu currently besieged in Sabah. If they can demonstrate a convincing capacity for violence — like the MILF had — then a “peace deal” with the Philippine and Malaysian governments could earn them the same prize. Indeed, as part of the first stage of the implementation of President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III’s “framework agreement”, members of the MILF armed command and their families will enjoy first crack at the dole-out of government “development assistance”….

Ochoa said Administrative Order No. 37, which President Aquino signed on February 13, will ensure that development projects and programs are implemented in Bangsamoro, a new autonomous region that will be established in Mindanao, for MILF combatants and their families as well as communities that will be affected by the framework agreement signed in October last year.

The task force, according to Ochoa, is mandated to develop and implement programs that will respond to the health, education and livelihood needs of MILF priority beneficiaries and poverty-stricken communities throughout Mindanao.

Violence, it seems, does pay in the Philippines.

This could be an important point to mull over for the Sultan of Sulu’s loyal followers. It is interesting to note, as a matter of fact, that this “loyalty” is unabashedly for the Sulu Sultanate and not, explicitly, for the “Philippine” Nation. Indeed, the positions on the matter of both the Philippine and Malaysian governments are framed by artifacts of the legacies of European colonial domination of both countries. This makes the Sulu Sultanate’s fundamental interests and its notional future on those bases incompatible with either one as the underpinnings of their claim pre-date the Spanish and United States’ Philippine colonial government and the British Empire’s administration of their Malayan colonies.

Indeed, step back further, and we will find that not only does the Bangsamoro and the Sulu Sultanate have a strong claim to autonomy from imperial Manila (and any foreign government that is a product of European imperialism) but much of the rest of the Philippines as well. Ignoring for a while the strength and endurance of Europe’s colonial legacy in the Far East and the administrative concepts it created such as “the Philippines” we can find straightforward sense in award-winning intellectual David Martinez’s provocative proposal articulated in his book A Country of Our Own; that…

The country […] comprises five regions (“nations”): Cordillera, Luzon, The Visayas, Mindanao, and Bangsamoro. He proposes holding legally binding referenda in each of these places to determine whether those who live there wish to remain inside the Philippines or form their own independent country.

The former countries of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and now internally-unstable Rwanda, come to mind when one thinks of what the Philippines is all about — an agglomeration of fiefdoms that remain stuck together for the purpose of keeping alive nostalgic relics of 19th Century “nationalist” thinking and not for any real practical or measurable ends befitting a modern 21st Century society.

Are the citizens of the Sultanate of Sulu really serious about asserting their right to exist as a nation? Perhaps it should reconsider remaining in bed with the Philippine government and go for the gold. After all, with regard to the effort to come to terms with the question of what it really means to be “Filipino”, even the brightest amongst our self-proclaimed “thought leaders” continue to scratch their heads.

[Photo courtesy The Australian.]


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28 Comments on "Should the Sultanate of Sulu demand full independence from the Philippines and Malaysia?"

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What a good question! IMHO, since the people of Sulu recognized their sultan as their leader, which is very obvious; Sultan of Sulu should request for their full independence since the Philippine government can’t give them their piece of pie to improve their places and status in life. Our government usually offer lip services to our brothers in mindanao. But if the other existing tribe of our country demand the same thing including the NPA (which don’t have any land to demand nor principles aside from being menace to our society)how about MILF which also a menace etc..etc… This is… Read more »
Johnny Saint
What Quezon may or may not have done is moot. The current situation stems from Pres. Diosdado Macapagal who brought the claim to international attention in the United Nations in 1962. The Philippine government has been pursuing the claim ever since. Pres. Marcos’ stupidity in fomenting an armed conflict, which culminated in the infamous “Jabidah Massacre” in 1968, derailed the discussions with Malaysia and even led to the severing of diplomatic ties. Is it any wonder why Malaysia helped train the MNLF? That is reason enough to be suspicious of both Malaysia’s role as mediator to resolve the Muslim conflict… Read more »
The author asserts that the Philippines is based on an ‘agglomeration of fiefdoms’ based on a ’19th century nationalist thinking that is not befitting that of a modern 21st century society’, yes? Is the author supposing that the idea is ill-advised based on its antiquity? and if so, what then is the idea of the recently created ‘Bangsamorro’, based on ANCIENT sharia muslim religious law, supposed to be a newer and better way to govern a modern 21st century society? By bringing to bear on a 21st century society an even more antique form of government based on centuries old… Read more »
sancho alconce
Give up the Sulu archipelago and Sabah altogether. Sulu since the beginning of time had been and will always be a big headache for imperial manila who to this day thinks of the place as a problem with no solutions. Of us being a secular state is only on paper. Politicians openly endorse a community’s religious practices of fiestas and ramadhans. Now we have a shariah law in a place where it is inhabited by majority of christians. Oil and water don’t mix in these places. It has been proven since the start of these abrahamic religions. No peaceful co-existence… Read more »
Hyden Toro

It’s a waste of time. The claim to Sabah. Aquino has other things to do. But, he is lazy to do it…

Hyden Toro

YellowTards mess up my Red Bull…

Mark Tagoylo
I am not taking sides with anyone, we all want a peaceful solution to the problem. With regard to the accusation who is Sultan or not?… And or, who brought this to the attention of the world or not?… It is only fitting that the contested land be returned and rightfully turned over to the PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT as part of its territory (Backed by HISTORICAL CLAIMS). Regardless of the heir issues since the sultanate itself is a part of, and still under the governing laws of the Philippine Government (JUST LIKE THE BRITISH MONARCHY -There is QUEEN ELIZABETH and THERE… Read more »
Mark Tagoylo
Let’s look at things in a different perspective… Answer this, If you own an apartment complex and it was rented by a company or a person and made some enhancements to the place without your permission and not stated in the agreement and they didn’t pay the rent for quite sometime and doesnt recognize you as the owner anymore. Being its rightful owner what would you do? or If you owned a business, Example: a McDonalds franchise, you the one who managed it directly and business was running smoothly, but due to your busy schedule you hired a manager to… Read more »
the solution is simple guys: ASK THE SABAHANS THEMSELVES. Although the issue is about the legitimacy of Sabah, many Filipinos are actually forgetting that Sabah is not some piece of land to be taken away but is already settled by many ethno-cultural identities. I’ve been there actually, it’s a multi-cultural place where you find Chinese, Malay, Kadazan-Dusun, Orang Laut, Murut, Melanau and many others. Ask each cultural community if they want the Tausug settlers to rule each and every one of them. I doubt they will say “YES”. Our Tausug brethren are just “panggulo” in their place so it follows… Read more »
If Sabahans would answer the following: *We are still part of Malaysia – then, forget about Sabah. *We don’t want to be part of Malaysia, which is either… *…therefore, we want a Sabah Republic! – then again, forget about Sabah. or *…therefore, we want to be a part of Sulu Sultanate! – then, it’s best for the Philippines to let go of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-tawi, and Malaysia to release Sabah, and these territories to join forces to become another Southeast Asian country. or *…therefore, we want to be a part of the Philippines! – then, jackpot! Sabah is ours!… Read more »

Oh and one last thing. Filipino citizens are some of the least -liked foreigners in Sabah. They’d rather eat their own shit than be a part of Filipino goon mobcracy, ehem, so called “democracy”. Nakaabang lang ang mga power-hungry politicians from Mindanao (and of course, don’t forget about Imperial Manila!).

Jubah Dress

Pertama kali saya baca blog awak… saya kurang bersetuju dengan idea2
awak… tapi setelah baca berulang kali… saya dah
faham… saya minta maaf sbb buruk sangka dengan awak selama nie…