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One too many Sultans of Sulu
Publication Date : 28-04-2014
Last week I visited Sulu and Zamboanga City in southern Philippines, and guess who kept popping up during my trip? The Sultan of Sulu.
Two and a half of them, in fact.
On Wednesday, I was introduced to a man related to the late Jamalul Kiram III – the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu – at a fish market on Jolo island in Sulu province.
The 60-something man who spoke Bahasa Malaysia claimed to be Jamalul’s younger brother. However, he did not want to admit he was a Kiram.
"Perhaps he was afraid because his brother Azzimudie led the intrusion into Sabah," said my friend, referring to the Lahad Datu armed intrusion by the Royal Sulu Army to claim Sabah in March last year.
The next day I met Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram who claimed to be the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo. The 48-year-old sat on his wooden throne at his house in Jolo town while I asked him about the kidnapping on Jolo island.
Then, on Friday, I met a 62-year-old cardiologist in Zamboanga City in Mindanao who believed he was indeed the real Sultan of Sulu.
This man claimed to the Paramount Sultan Ibrahim Q. Bahjin-Shakirullah II.
"Are you Chinese?" asked the Paramount Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo.
"I’m Kadazan," I answered.
"What is Kadazan?" he asked.
"See, you don’t even know your own subjects," I said.
The cardiologist laughed heartily and said: "I have never been to Sabah. I have not received any invitation."
"Why don’t you invite yourself?" I asked.
"If I do, my people will gather in big numbers in Sabah and the (Malaysian) Government will be alarmed," he pointed out. "That is why I won’t go without an invite," he added.
"Who are the people who will gather in big numbers when you arrive in Sabah?" I asked.
"The rakyat," he said.
"And, who are these rakyat?" I enquired.
"The Tausug people," he said.
The Tausugs are called Suluks in Sabah.
"Who is the real Sultan of Sulu?" I then asked.
"Are you ready to listen from the beginning? This is not a short story but a long one," he said.
The Paramount Sultan told me a tale that began in 1936 and involved treachery, Spanish, Americans, Kirams, rivalry, Malacanang and the Sultan’s consort who was someone else’s wife.
I got lost midway through the history lesson — to be exact, his version of history.
Anyway, to cut his long story short, his line is the real Sultan of Sulu and not the Kirams.
"How many Sultans of Sulu are there?" I asked.
"So many. All of those who are invoking genealogical linkage to the Sultanate — even those who don’t belong to the royal houses," he said.
"Are the others claiming to be Sultans, your rivals?" I asked.
"They are not my rivals as I am the Paramount Sultan," said the cardiologist who was proclaimed Paramount Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo in 2004.
"So you are the No. 1 Sultan?" I suggested.
"I am equal with them. But some consider the Paramount Sultan as No. 1," he said with a satisfied smile.
Throughout the conversation, the Paramount Sultan insisted that Sabah belonged to the Sulu Sultanate and as a Sabahan, I argued passionately that the claim had no basis.
He argued that the 1878 agreement between Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck of the North Borneo Company and the Sultan of Sulu stated that the Sultanate had leased and not ceded North Borneo (what Sabah was called before 1963) to the British company.
"Malaysia is still paying the sultanate RM5,300 a year for leasing Sabah," he pointed out.
"Who gets the money?" I asked him.
"It is shared by the nine family members of the Kirams," he said.
In 1939, Chief Justice C.F.C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo ruled that "cessation money" was payable to the nine heirs of Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram II, who died childless in 1936.
"You are not getting any of the money?" I asked.
"I don’t want the money. The rental (money) is a curse. The one who receives it without spending a cent on the rakyat will be cursed to die in poverty," he said.
What the Paramount Sultan dreams of is to unite all the Sultans of Sulu so that they can claim what their ancestors have lost – North Borneo, Sulu, Tawi Tawi, Basilan, Sulu, Sibugay (part of Mindanao), Palawan and Spratly islands. "Geo political intrigue in South-East Asia will not allow us to be united.
"Malaysia, Philippines, United States, Australia and other countries don’t want the Sultanate to be united. Because if we are united, we can get back our historical rights."
"Why can’t you all unite?" I asked.
"I can spend a thousand pesos to call a Sultan for a unity meeting but the Philippines can pay a Sultan one million pesos and make him a puppet. The same with Malaysia, United States and Australia," he said.
"So you will never ever be united?"
"There is China," he said, with a knowing smile.
"China is interested in the Sulu Sultanate. Spratlys was the picnic ground of the Sultan of Sulu. China’s claim to it is that the Sultan of Sulu donated it to them."
"Some people think that those who are claiming to be Sultan of Sulu are a joke? Is it a joke?" I asked.
"They are right," he said.
"Why?" I said.
"Because they are too many claimants," he said.
Many claimants dream they can make billions of ringgit from Sabah, the property their ancestors lost.