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.]

print

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

  1. 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 all Manuel Quezon’s FAULT! damn that president! 😀

    1. I couldn’t agree more with what you said! Philippines was a creation of the Spaniards many centuries ago and it is already obsolete. It is time to move on as with other countries who did like Singapore from Malaysia, many Russian Federation states from former USSR, so forth and so on.

  2. 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 in Mindanao and the negotiations of the Sabah claim.

    The sultanate is unlikely to have the ability to pursue independence in the first place. To date there are about ten claimants to the sultanate and Malaysia will not negotiate unless the heirs speak as one body. Sadly, Gloria Arroyo did not see fit to continue the work of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos to unite them, recognizing Jamalul III as sultan without the agreement of the rival claimants.

    No chance that the Philippines or Indonesia will have Sabah independence at the top of their priority lists. Back during Ramos’ presidency, the focus was the East ASEAN Growth Area. At the start of this century, the focus is Muslim terrorism. All of which have captured the energies of Southeast Asia. And with Malaysia investing in Mindanao as well as employing thousands of Filipinos, the Sabah claim will likely remain on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

    Unless the sultanate presents a united front and commits some defining (possibly violent) act that draws the attention of the region and the world to their claim, it is not likely that they can pursue independence on their own.

  3. 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 ‘dogma’? Just exactly is the author suggesting? The move to sharia law is aimed at creating a better standard of living for the people living there? Seems it was achieved by starting arguments with the current central government in Manila and by going backwards even further than the 19th century ‘nationalist’ic thinking.
    Is that what is supposed to be considered progress?Going backwards and inflicting sharia law on people that might be Christians? Manila’s admin appears to be doing what it can to appease the militants it seems to be unable to control and if that is progress, and losing the tax revenue derived from that state, while giving the taxes of the central government to the new state, is supposed to be progress the country could very well be on the verge of collapse from with-in. and wouldn’t that be ironic?

    1. I didn’t say anythiing about the potential break up of the Philippines into its original feudal states (or for that matter its continued existence as a “unified” state) as necessarily leading to some sort of “progress”. I’m just saying that the Philippines is what it is: an artificial country cobbled together by colonial edict and that old ancient dynamics continue to work within in it and even cause it to fray at the seams. Stidi ka lang dyan. Read and comprehend first before you continue making a fool of yourself here.

      1. WTF? I asked you what are you trying to say, and ya get all sensitive.and insulting? HA HA HA,LOL!!!
        The countries a mess, and sharia law is gonna help, LOL!!! Fraying at the seams is putting it mildly.
        If you re-read what you wrote it is not too far a stretch to wonder what it is your trying to say.

        1. 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 they don’t want a “panggulo” to become a “pangulo”.

          Sabi ko na nga ba sakit sa ulo talaga mga Tausug na iyan. I guess it’s time to let them go and deport all Visayan-speaking Christians in the Sulu Archipelago (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi) back to the Visayas, or even to the squatters in Manila (lol, just kidding!).

          As an Ilocano, I find it funny when a Tausug dilemma is considered as a “national” dilemma! Huwag mo kaming idamay sa norte, mga pre! Okay na kami dito. Pabayaan na lang ang mga Tausug na iyan!

      2. and btw, you do ‘imply’ that the peace process was the only way to avoid continued war. That could be construed as ‘progress’, by some, as well as few other statements in the essay, such as the ‘going for the gold’part. Questions asked not seeking an argument, or an insult, more like a clarification.
        Personally, it might be ventured that the political elements involved are only angling for a shot at the treasury, by way of forming a state to tap into a new treasury or by getting it out of the established one OR both, and do not give a shit about much else.

  4. 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 ever happened. Now we have a government financing again another else’s religion. Recipe for chaos maybe.

  5. 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 is a BRITISH PRIMINISTER, UK GOVERNMENT RECOGNIZES THE EXISTANCE OF THE BRITISH MONARCHY AND THE MONARCHY ITSELF IS BEING GOVERNED BY THE EXISTING LAWS OF THE STATE).

    Therefore, SABAH must be returned to the Philippine Government and claims to the heir of sultan issue will be dealt with accordingly by the Philippines.

    Let’s start by taking back SABAH, which is rightfully ours, which we have HISTORICAL BACKING, once we resolved this., We can then move to resolve other territorial issues.

    We can not let our people and our muslim brothers down. We as a nation must be firm in taking back what is rightfully ours. Who knows, this move will enstill and stir up the long awaited peace in the country and unite the people.

    We can only resolve our country’s territorial problems if we act as one….

      1. Hahaha… You have read it wrong…I was refering to other issues such as With regard to the accusation who is Sultan or not?… And or, who brought this to the attention of the world or not?…

        The truth of the matter is… “Sulu and all its territories and bounderies are still a part of the archepelago of Philippines and still being governed by existing laws of Philippines, am I right? If you did agree… Then any territorial claims with substancial backing, including historical account of its territorial bounderies, must be then rightfully turned over to the Republic of the Philippines since even if it’s rented by a foreign power.

        1. According to Sabah’s history courtesy of wiki,
          As reported by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the independence of North Borneo was brought about as the result of the expressed wish of the majority of the people of the territory in a 1963 election.

          This is further reinforced by the International Court of Justice view that,
          “ …historic title, no matter how persuasively claimed on the basis of old legal instruments and exercises of authority, cannot – except in the most extraordinary circumstances – prevail in law over the rights of non-self-governing people to claim independence and establish their sovereignty through the exercise of bona fide self-determination.

          Malaysia however, considered this dispute as a “non-issue”, as there is no desire from the actual people of Sabah to be part of the Philippines or of the Sultanate of Sulu.

          Sabah should just remain where they are, that lease is as ancient as the old fossils that died out centuries ago. We can hardly manage our own country well, we don’t really need to add more potential problems on our side.

          As for the topic, if Sulu can be better off without us then why not? The only problem would be some places might follow suit and demand independence too. But then again, I do feel like this country isn’t really as united as it seems to be.

          Just like how our country is, we wanted independence from the U.S., they granted us that, we vilify them with whatever issue we can find whenever we have too much free time for the nonsensical and yet we beg for their aid when typhoons ravage us even worse when there is a threat of war..so much for that…

    1. Sabah and Mindanao was never part of the Philippines. When the Spaniards came and conquered the natives, they were able to take Luzon and Visayas but not Mindanao. Thus, when the Spaniards created the Philippines, only Luzon and Visayas were part of it. And this is also the reason why Mindanao remained Islamic because they were never conquered unlike Luzon and Visayas that got Christianized.

      Likewise, if you ask the people of Sabah if they want to be part of the Philippines, their answer is NO. Even the Filipinos who immigrated to Sabah does not even want it to be part of the Philippines.

      Filipinos are stupid monkeys.

  6. 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 oversee operations and the manager remits to you the net income monthly for some time and then it stopped and then you learned that he pretended to be the NEW owner of your business and doesnt recognize you at all and made you sign document that states a different terms and conditions different from the one that you have on file and has agreed on… What would you do if you were the owner?

    1. Well said. Their referendum of the past(the 1963 decision) is actually not that relevant to the issue of who is the owner of the land. The Sabahans in reality are “tenants” of a territory that historically, legally, and today rightfully belongs to the Sultanate(the heirs).

      The ala Falklands means of giving a referendum is one of the worst moves done by the UN then IMO because it creates the idea that a land which has a sovereign over it and just being leased by another can be taken over just because its “tenants” said it wants to be ruled by the lessor. There is no justice in that!

      The referendum in itself is a stab in the back and the real victim in this whole issue
      is NOT the Malaysians nor the Sabahans nor the Filipinos in Sabah but the Sultanate of Sulu and its people.

      So the only way that is of justice is that Malaysia relinquish its sovereignty and create a compromise in cooperation of the Sultanate and the Philippine government to properly address what would be the status of Sabah which will be a real headache for all parties to negotiate.

  7. 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 they don’t want a “panggulo” to become a “pangulo”.

    Sabi ko na nga ba sakit sa ulo talaga mga Tausug na iyan. I guess it’s time to let them go and deport all Visayan-speaking Christians in the Sulu Archipelago (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi) back to the Visayas, or even to the squatters in Manila (lol, just kidding!).

    As an Ilocano, I find it funny when a Tausug dilemma is considered as a “national” dilemma! Huwag mo kaming idamay sa norte, mga pre! Okay na kami dito. Pabayaan na lang ang mga Tausug na iyan!

  8. 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! Our politicians will have more money in their pockets, while the pristine rainforests and its inhabitants (the orangutans especially) will be grazed to the ground for a palm oil gold rush! Our politicians will do it in no time.

    So there you go guys. Think about it. I have to say the last two options WILL NEVER HAPPEN in the future.

    1. Way back in 1963 during the elections in Sabah, the people have already spoken and they don’t want any part of the Philippines or even the Sultanate of Sulu. “This is further reinforced by the International Court of Justice view that,
      “ …historic title, no matter how persuasively claimed on the basis of old legal instruments and exercises of authority, cannot – except in the most extraordinary circumstances – prevail in law over the rights of non-self-governing people to claim independence and establish their sovereignty through the exercise of bona fide self-determination.”

      This is why Malaysia says it is a “non-issue”, if it is a “non-issue” to them but a big issue to us..then I guess the joke is on the people who claim Sabah to be ours when it is not anymore. The Philippines by itself is already horribly mismanaged and yet they want to add more liability..wow..just wow…

      1. Another point to bring up is there wasn’t even a genuine consensus between all the people ( i mean, common people) of Sabah and the representatives of the Federation of Malaysia. No voting, no debates, nothing. Politicians from West Malaysia (Malay Peninsula) only talked the representatives of Sabah about joining the federation and its benefits, so we can say annexation of Sabah is a shady issue indeed. Now, if Malaysia’s annexation is a possible skeleton in the closet, the already outdated Sultanate of Sulu’s claim is just an irritant menace in this whole geopolitical mess.

        Filipinos, most of us, just don’t understand the concept of self determination because we are in fact clueless about politics.

        1. So your essentially saying that because one part of the country wants to be independent then you should allow such to happen unhindered. Are you also in fact CLUELESS to the rights of sovereignty one country to its people?

          The “annexation” is not even true!(remember the Malaysians pay lease to the Sultan’s heirs) So the issue was never settled to begin with. The Malaysians might assert to actual annexation(don’t pay rent and as the final act). That would of course mean one thing, the Malaysians ILLEGALLY acquired the Sultanate’s possession(and by extension, Philippine territory). That would then be NOT A JOKE NOR A NON-ISSUE as it would blow this dormant geopolitical crises wide open. Conflict will be imminent and the possibility of war is on the horizon by then.

          On the other hand it will blow the international image of both Malaysia and the Philippines which will only be detrimental to both. The only alternative will be negotiations by the Malaysia, the Philippines and the Sultanate to finally create a compromise to close this issue for good.

      2. The elections of 1963 in itself is void because the Malaysians(nor the Sabahans) have no real right to have done such a thing in the first place. What is funny on your note is that you imply that because one country calls it as a “non-issue”, the Philippines and more importantly the Sultanate(rightful owners) should treat it as such?

        If we(and other countries) cannot put justice properly and the objective reality that it is indeed a land of the Sultanate by historical and legal truths(Malaysian gov’t. even pay a rent for Sabah!), then that is truly the joke.

  9. 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!).

  10. 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…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.