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The Re-Assertion of Sovereignty
By Hb Mohd Zakir al Daie

The notion that the independence of the Sultanate of Sulu can never be achieved without the concurrence of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) through amendments to its Constitution; otherwise, it will have to be through the barrel of the gun, is purely a by-product of colonial mentality amongst the professionals and citizens of the Sultanate who have subsumed their entire faculties and human existence to the whims and caprices of the colonial GRP.  They belong to a group of Tausug who have lost touch with reality and true history of their beloved homeland; who devoted their entire life to learning and embracing only the obscure history of their adopted Philippine homeland while paying little or insignificant attention to the great history of their own, the unconquered Kingdom or Empire of Sulu. These are the type of people who, according to a great thinker, Dr. Jose Rizal, have bleak future because they didn’t know (or refuse to admit) their own origin.

Among contemporary historians advocating the independence of the Sultanate of Sulu (or its reassertion), include Professors Clemencio Bascar and Emmanuel Mangubat of Zamboanga City, both of whom are not Muslims or Tausugs. Unfortunately, some of the Muslim Tausug professionals who tried to identify themselves as allied to the advocacy of the two non-Muslim professors still profess the above-mentioned colonial mentality. Either they lack the basic knowledge of the Sultanate’s history or knowingly have subsumed their fundamental rights to the Constitution of their adopted country.

Unconquered Kingdom

Honest historians, local and international, are of the opinion that the Sultanate of Sulu was never conquered by any foreign power that had come to subdue the monarchy one after another. The Spanish who carried out a well-designed war of conquest over a period of nearly four centuries, could only achieved partial sovereignty when, for a brief period, it  was able to build and maintain a small garrison in three or four sites within the Sulu archipelago, including Zamboanga City. The Spanish authorities had to certain extent concoct some impertinent issues to convince other interested parties that they already have achieved sovereignty over the Sultanate of Sulu.

The Madrid Protocol

The First Protocol solicited by Spain from Great Britain and Germany aimed at convincing the Americans prior to the “Deed of Sale” of December 10, 1898, otherwise known as the Treaty of Paris, was turned down by both nations as it was without basis and a travesty of international law and natural justice. However, in the Second (1885 Madrid) Protocol, in which Spain offered vital concessions to England and Germany, a case of high profile bribery, both powers relented and signed the Protocol. Great Britain was offered by Spain full control of the North Borneo territory while Germany was to be afforded free access to Spain’s colonies and trading posts in the region.

Mock Naval Battle

As a face saving mechanism for the ‘conquestadores’, a mock naval battle between Spain and the United States of America was staged at Manila Bay to justify the turnover of power from one colonialist to the other. The Spaniards was already on the brink of defeat in the hands of Filipino freedom fighters that had gradually decimated a number of Spanish garrisons in Luzon (North) and Visayas (Central) parts of the Philippines. The modus operandi was to save the white man’s virtue and legacy from the ignominy of being defeated by its colonial subject. So, fresh from their genocide campaign in the Indian territories of Wild West, the American forces were in high spirit to expand their sphere of influence into Asian soil. They agreed to pay Spain the sum of $20 million (Mexican) for whatever it may entail without any question asked. Included in the deal were the colonized territories of Luzon, the Visayas and, surprisingly, the unconquered territories of Mindanao and the Sulu Kingdom. In short, the transaction was consummated partly over a stolen property. Not contented with the initial buying and selling of stolen properties, the Americans were to pay more for additional islands and islets of the Sultanate of Sulu which the Spanish tried to sell one after another to a willing buyer without any proprietary right and also without the knowledge of the real owners, the Sultanate of Sulu.

The Treaty of Paris

The Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898 between Spain and the USA was null and void ab initio. Due in part to the Treaty's illegitimacy, the Spanish Cortes (Parliament) did not ratify it until today. In spite of the financial constraints obtaining back home due to increasing military adventurism and colonial expansions, the Americans were upbeat to lord it over and administer a new territory, a new colony. But the grave military blunder committed in Sulu, having massacred thousands of unarmed civilians, including women and children, at Bud Daho in 1906 and Bud Bagsak in 1913, the Americans had to gave in to the persistent lobby of Filipinos to include the contested and unconquered sultanate territory on condition of “parity rights” for both.
In view of the above, and due to the non-involvement of the proprietors of the transacted territories, the United Nations should declare the Treaty of Paris null and void and initiate proceedings to return said territories to the respective owners thereof. The owners reserved the right to institute legal proceedings to recover lost revenues and collateral damages arising out of the illegal (deeds) of sale and takeover of their properties, otherwise known in today’s parlance as an "international land-grabbing scheme.”

USA makes amends

Upon assuming colonial foothold in Mindanao and Sulu, the Americans were quick to find out (or did they know beforehand) the truth about the unconquered territories of Mindanao and Sultanate of Sulu. For that matter (or for expediency) the Americans lost no time in establishing a treaty of friendship and non-belligerency with the Sultanate of Sulu, known as the Bates Treaty. But after overcoming the Filipino revolutionaries in the North, the Americans were also quick to unilaterally and treacherously revoke the Treaty as they failed to trick the sultan into recognizing their sovereignty over his territory. Not long after, a new armed twisting Agreement was imposed upon the Sultan, with threats of possible annihilation should the latter repel the innuendo. To avert further bloodshed which would mean one-sided, and through the advice of his prime minister, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, obliged. A few thousands of the sultan’s loyalists, including women and children, had already succumbed to the military might of the USA in only two defiant stands at Jolo’s Bud Daho and Bud Bagsak in 1906 and 1913, respectively, which had tainted the superpower’s human rights records in her (mis)adventurism in this part of the world.

It must be emphasized that the sharp decline of the Sultanate’s military power was partly, if not mainly, due to superpower treachery and deceit. The latter had earlier offered to fully protect the territory of the Sultanate from all quarters, internal or external, that may attempt to disturb the peace and harmony within the monarchy. Along that line, collection of firearms held by the Tausug freedom fighters was sought by the American military strategists and seconded by the peace-loving patriots of the Sultanate, all in the name of peace, mutual welfare and security. However, it turned out to be a treachery hatched by the colonial administration to deceive the Sultan and his freedom fighters into parting with their priceless instrument of protection. With all of their best firearms already collected, the colonialists summarily turned back on their mutual defense commitment, ignoring and retracting the treaty. The people’s objection to the underhanded tactics employed by the colonialists against them was met with a violent repercussion, an outright massacre. 

The Carpenter Agreement

Unable to outwit the Sultan of Sulu who was hardly literate compared to Muslim leaders of various liberation fronts today, the USA unilaterally abrogated the Bates Treaty and forced the Sulu Sultan to sign the Carpenter Agreement, a prepared instrument for the Sultan's virtual surrender. Signed under duress, the Agreement acknowledged the colonial character of the Sultan's territory under the American Administration.

Today, the colonialists seemed to have realized the folly of their previous inhuman policy against the Sultanate of Sulu government and people. They found out that what they need most to ward off bankruptcy is found within the Sultanate territory. They worked hard even to the point of bribing their way through the Philippine bureaucracy in order to legalize even the illegal in order to set foot and dig their heels in Sulu once again. The Balikatan, a joint US-Philippine military exercises and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) had already exceeded their time limits. And the 'Green Berets' seemed to be serious in lording over the rich natural resources of the sultanate by all means, legal or otherwise. They have occupied strategic positions without any legality except sheer ambition and raw power, plugging only loopholes along the way. It appears that what they cannot get through bribery and policy of attraction, they will do it the hard way – through intimidation and the barrel of the gun. As foretold by another political analyst sometime ago, under the circumstance, Sulu will most likely become the next arena or venue for the World War that would usher the final curtain for planet earth. Just how wise the leaders of the uni-polar hegemonic power are, in the discharge of their avowed duties to avert war with catastrophic consequences, will be gleaned from their collective performance this time around. But seeing no tangible deterrent power to contend with, they may proceed with the usual armed twisting approach to whichever they wish to covet.

Why resurrect the monarchy?

Taking cue from the Middle East upheavals that saw monarchs and dictators ousted one after another, a legal minded fence sitter posed a question; why are the Tausugs desperately trying to resurrect the Sulu sultanate? Obviously, the idea holds a grain of salt. However, we dare say that not all monarchies are totalitarian, and SSDI is not bound to follow blindly any system of governance not suited towards the interest and welfare of the Tausug. In like manner, one should not judge a book by its cover. The budding Sultanate of Sulu Darul Islam could still be the logical answer to the humanitarian problems besetting the world today. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that there is no such thing as a perfect system due to the socio-cultural and idiosyncratic differences in human beings. But for all the shortcomings and miscarriage of natural justice in the old monarchic rule, if any, the new breed of Tausug traditional and political leaders have already learned the rudiments of good governance from history. They are not here to repeat the same old mistakes, but to put them in conventional order for the benefit of their posterity and to resurrect the downtrodden masses from abject poverty into a life of affluence and contentment. Tausugs of SSDI are comparably the richest people in the world today, but they are pauperized and forced to live in want and perpetual misery by the inhuman system that inherited them from the ugly politics of colonialism, against their will. 

Dangerous liaison 

As experienced immediately after the assertion of independence in November 2010, a group of Tausug Filipinos tried to stage a coup d’etat, first by openly campaigning against the legitimately installed sultan. Failing which they went ‘overseas’ to install their own sultan, banking on the “legal papers” they had manipulated to produce while still in the legitimate service of the Movement for the Restoration of SSDI. For their acts of indiscretion, they were hunted off by the government of the state they tried to illegally operate from, although most of them were able to dash off and evade the long arm of the law. Apparently, they were only doing it on their own. It would have been different and greatly dangerous had there been powerful hands behind them, such as the case in the Middle East. That all Muslims and Muslim states are programmed to become vassals of a certain power bloc, is a premise the Muslim world should seek to establish. Even then, none of them could possibly extricate themselves from the evil the scheme has been built upon, except by the leave of Almighty God. This phenomenon was also well planned ahead by the unseen hands behind the diabolic scheme. They sent ahead deterrent groups disguised as more Islamic than most Muslims are, to create doubts and confusions in Muslim beliefs and practices. Aside from being highly trained to delude ordinary Muslims into believing in their “holier than thou” approach, they are also well financed to convey and win adherents to the diabolic scheme through “policy of attraction.” As ‘franchise holders’ of truth and justice in the way of Islam, Muslims are the prime target of manipulation and annihilation by the powers-that-be whenever the opportunity arises. The Sultanate of Sulu Darul Islam is no exception


The Spanish Conquistadores

Frustrated as they were in not being able to subdue the Moro people in over 377 years of war of conquest, undoubtedly the longest of its kind, nevertheless the Spaniards succeeded in planting the seed of Christianity in many parts of the archipelago. But where they failed to achieve by way of the Toledo blade, the Americans and Filipinos got them through policy of attraction, treachery and deceit. In fact, from around 80 per cent of land ownership in Mindanao, the Moros have only less than 40 per cent left of their ancestral domain. Any prospect of retrieving lost grounds may already be a foregone conclusion.

The Kiram-Bates Treaty

The Bates Treaty or Senate Document No. 136, 56th Congress, lst Session, Serial 3851 was hesitatingly signed by Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, with Gen. John C. Bates on August 20, 1899. The Sultan seemed to have a premonition on what the US government was up to (something fishy?) when it sued for the treaty barely nine months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. But as a junior partner, the Sultan had no leeway. Prior to this Treaty, the Sultan maintained both de jure and de facto sovereignty that was recognized by the Americans.  It was referred to as "The Government of the Sultan". Among the other terms of the treaty were:

1)      Non-interference with religion, social and domestic customs or internal economic or political affairs of Moros unless requested to do so
2)      The United States was not to give or sell Sulu or any part of it to any other nations
3)      Continuation of the $250.00 monthly allowance that was initiated by the Spaniards
4)      Slaves are allowed to purchase their freedom.

Admittedly, a very critical error of translation existed in this treaty. The Tausug version states "The support, aid and protection of the Jolo Island and Archipelago are in the American nation," whereas the English version read: "The sovereignty of the United States over the whole Archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged. The word "sovereignty" was never used anywhere in the Tausug version. (Peter Gowing, Mandate in Moroland. The American Government of Muslim Filipinos 1899-1920, p.122).

Taming Filipino rebellion

Apparently, the Bates Treaty was a tactical move by the Americans to avoid facing two prongs of rebellion at the same time. So, while dangling their carrot and sticks in Luzon against Filipino revolutionaries, the Tausugs of Sulu Darul Islam were tied up to the peace treaty. Several policies of attraction including perhaps the devil’s kiss were applied by the Americans to hoodwink the Tausugs into believing sincerely in their friendship. Thus, when the colonial government asked that all firearms be turned over with guarantee that the US soldiers shall be the sole guardian of peace and stability in the archipelago, virtually none of the Tausug freedom fighters resented.

But soon after the Filipinos were defeated, the barrels of the US guns turned 180 degrees South to Sulu. Consequently, the Bates Treaty was unilaterally abrogated and taxes were arbitrarily imposed for which the Sultan protested and asked the Americans not to burden his people more than they can bear, otherwise trouble will ensue. But being confident of their military superiority, the Americans went on to suppress all opposition to colonial administration (without due regard to human rights and international law). Starting with the massacre of thousands of Tausugs at Bud Dajo in 1906, including women and children, it was followed by another massacre of gigantic proportion at Bud Bagsak in 1913, and in October 1913 at Talipao, where a group of anti-imperialist Tausugs gather in defiance of US-imposed head taxes.

 Bud Dajo, A forgotten massacre--and its lessons
On March 7, 1906, US troops under the command of Major General Leonard Wood massacred over a thousand Muslims, known as Tausug Moros, who were taking refuge at Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines. This massacre was also recorded by Mark Twain in the Autobiography of Samuel Clemens, in June 1913. Photo shows US soldiers posing for the camera in the aftermath of the massacre. (Photo from the National Archives)

The Sultan protested over the unilateral abrogation of the Bates Treaty arguing that he couldn’t stop the resentments against Americans because of the taxes imposed on the people, a practice which the Tausugs were not used to. He urged the Americans not to "put yokes on our necks that we cannot bear, and don’t make us do what is against our religion and don’t ask us to pay poll tax forever and ever as long as there is sun and moon, and don’t ask taxes for land which belong to the Moro people, including all that grows (is planted) in Jolo and its islands." (Letter to Gov. Gen, Luke Wright in Peter Gowing, p. 350-351) Nov. 12, 1904

Ten years after the US Disarmament Policy, the Moros continued to resist the American rule. The freedom fighters of Lati, Patikul with a population of between 6,000 to 10,000, fortified themselves in a cotta in Bud Bagsak. Gen. John Pershing ordered the attack, assisted by Charlie Schuck, a Gerrman, who reported that it was easy to attack the cotta. Though official estimates accounted for only 300 Moro casualties, John McLeod, who was in Manila at the time of the massacre, reported that 2,000 were killed including 196 women and 340 children. Gen. Pershing was later criticized for his actions but a Congressional investigation into the massacre never materialized. (Gowing, pp. 240-241).

The last of the gargantuan massacres was in Bud Talipao on Jolo island, as the Tausugs refused to pay the US imposed tax fortified themselves in Bud Talipao, where in the ensuing engagement the Goliaths prevailed.

The Sultan neither abdicated nor renounced his sovereignty or lost it to the U.S. by conquest. This became a great concern for Gov. Gen. Frank Carpenter who feared the issue might come to haunt the U.S. Thus, he wrote in his 1916 report: “it became necessary and opportune definitely to extinguish all claims of the Sultan to any degree of temporal sovereignty." And as many of the freedom fighters were already martyred, the Sultan was forced to sign the Carpenter Agreement; relinquishing his sovereign powers. The Sultan was reduced to a mere spiritual or religious head of the Tausug citizens.

‘Last Sultan’

Going by colonial decree, the last sultan of Sulu Darul Islam was Jamalul Kiram II who died of unusual circumstance in 1936. The president of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel L. Quezon, decreed that after Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, no other sultan of Sulu will be recognized. But the Philippine government has no absolute control over the Sultanate of Sulu Darul Islam. The de jure and de facto sovereignty of SSDI had only passed on to the next hold-over sultan. The only unfortunate act of the de facto sultan (Ismail Kiram I) was when he ceded the monarchial rights over Sabah to the GRP without the consent of the Tausugs in the Sixties.

Revival of the Sultanate

As the effectiveness of the sultanate was already on the decline, and the administrative machinery had become more of a clan business, the people lost faith in the monarchy. The colonial government’s outlook and propaganda was geared towards the Filipinization of the Moro psyche. So, almost every Tausug citizen then felt the need for individual survival and advancement of the family. Opportunism creep into the Moro psyche as no symbol of leadership by example could be gleaned from the datus and the sultans, which institution had become more of a free for all, in the absence of a controlling power and mechanism. The Kiram dynasty had held on to the helm perpetually as if it was a personal property.

The Second Heir

Going back to history, however, showed there had been two heirs to the throne: the First and Second heir. The First Heir had held the mantle of leadership since 1814 until the demise of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II in 1936. It effectively ended when his successor, Sultan Ismael Kiram I, ceded the Sultanate rights over Sabah to the GRP, without the consent of the other heirs to the throne. In which case, the Second Heir (from the lineage of Sultan Aranan Puyo or Maharaja Adinda) had reserved their rights, as Bantilans (savior), in the event the First Heir fails to deliver or defend the rights and prerogatives of the Monarchy. It has been observed that the Second Heir had not been very keen to claim their right to the throne for as long as the monarchy is being administered rightly. The role of Sultan Bantilan Muizzuddin I (1747-1763) was not a ‘coup d’etat’ of sort against his elder brother, Sultan Alimuddin I. But when the latter was involved in incorrigible liaison with the Spanish authorities resulting in his arrest and detention, Sultan Bantilan stepped in to save the situation from getting out of hand. As a sign of his trademark, of being only a savior of the Monarchy, Sultan Bantilan handed back the throne to his elder brother, upon his released by the Spanish, after nearly 16 years at the helm, leading the Sultanate to regain its magnanimity in the family of nations then. No other (if ambitious) leader of today would do as Sultan Bantilan did at the height of a glorious career.

Throne returns to Bantilans

The original Bantilan, Maharaja Adinda or Sultan Aranan Puyo, was a fine example of an un-ambitious monarch when he wholeheartedly turned over the mantle of the Sultanate to a younger and more energetic member of the royal family, Sultan Jamalul Azam @A’lam ibni Sultan Pulalon, after only a week at the helm in 1814. The reason was due to old age and lack of financial capability. The sultanate had always been monopolized by the Kirams and the Shakirullahs lineage since 1814. But in 2004, Sultan Aliuddin @ Haddis Pabila Ibni Datu Mohammad Sheikh/Seh/Sie Ibni Maharajah Adinda Sultan Mohammad Aranan/Adanan Puyo was proclaimed Sultan by the Rumah Bichara in Sulu, marking the return of the Monarchy to the Second Heir Apparent after nearly two centuries. After the death of Sultan Aliuddin @ Haddis Pabila, the throne passed on to Sultan Bantilan Muhammad Muizzuddin II who was crowned in Jolo in 2009 by popular demand.

Current Sultan also not ambitious

In spite of being the prime mover of the movement for the restoration of the sovereign Sultanate of Sulu Darul Islam, Datu Uda @ Sultan Bantilan Muhammad Muizzuddin II ibni Datu Wasik ibni Sultan Aranan Puyo, did not present himself as the likely sultan. In fact, he personally went to his cousins from among the Kirams to offer the leadership of the restoration movement for independence. But when none of them was willing to part with their allegiance to the GRP, he had to carry the heavy burden alone. Apparently, none of the other reigning sultans has the guts to test the resolve of the GRP who, many others believed, would not let go the Sultanate of Sulu without a good fight, on which none of them has the capability. But with the broad masses of the Tausug citizens and freedom fighters behind him, Sultan Bantilan M.M. II is confident the GRP would not dare disturb the hornet’s nest. From all indications, the GRP will not put any stumbling block for SSDI to reclaim her sovereign status by virtue of her pledge to support UN efforts and programs towards colonial peoples who wished to become independent.


“The Philippines will assist in providing the right of choice to territories under colonial domination on their future political status. We will support the work of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization in implementing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

We will encourage the Administrative Powers to comply with their international legal duties towards territories under their administration. We will support measures to accelerate economic and social progress in Non-Self-Governing Territories.”

Indigenous Peoples

“As an advocate for the rights of indigenous persons and as a key player in the passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Philippines will continue to institute policies and actions to operationalize its commitment to the indigenous population of the Philippines based on the universal principles of both human rights and development for marginalized communities.”

 With the above position of the Philippines as charter member of the UN General Assembly, it is incumbent upon them to abide by the UN Charter particularly on Decolonization and Indigenous peoples of which the Tausugs are among those concerned. 

(To be continued)