Even President Aquino is unsure if Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is the rightful heir of the Sulu sultanate, whose dominion once encompassed the Sulu archipelago and North Borneo.
The President also doubted the sultan’s capability to finance an operation involving at least 235 followers who went to Sabah.
“We were given reports that they are not doing too well. And we are also told that there is quite a large amount of money involved in ferrying people on launches from Tawi-Tawi to Sabah,” he said.
Aquino asked: “Where did the funding come from? And who is funding them?”
“We are still collating evidence that this was not an action just on their part,” he added.
At a press conference in Malacañang, Aquino said the sultanate’s lineage appeared problematic since Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, whose reign ended in 1936, died without an heir.
He said he had ordered a study to establish the legal grounds for the claim of the sultanate over the oil-rich Malaysian state of Sabah. “It is quite an extensive study,” he said.
Sabah became part of Malaysia upon the formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963.
Amid the decades-old controversy hounding the royal house of Sulu, another question has cropped up: Was Jamalul’s order to send members of the sultanate’s royal army to Sabah valid?
The last sultan recognized by the Philippine government in 1974 was Ismael Kiram I. After his death, the government, along with other foreign states, declined to recognize the succeeding sultans even if they still commanded authority among the locals there, but in deference to their being royals, they were consulted on some issues hounding Sulu.
The sultanate drew public attention anew when Jamalul sent the “royal army” to Sabah on Feb. 12. However, questions, even those tossed by the foreign press, emerged over the validity of his order, as research showed that his reign as Sulu sultan supposedly ended in 1990.
In his stead, website sources cited by the foreign press—the Malaysian media included—pointed to his younger brother, Esmail Kiram II, as the reigning sultan. Even the website operated by the Sulu provincial government listed Ismael II as current sultan.
But Esmail told the Inquirer by phone on Tuesday that he was not the reigning sultan. He said his official title was “sultan bantilan (crown prince)” and Jamalul remains “Sulu ruler” and “ruler of Palawan and Sabah as well.”
“As far as the family is concerned, Jamalul is the reigning sultan,” he said.
Aided by a PowerPoint presentation, the President showed a slide containing the family tree of the Kiram clan that appeared to have suffered from a series of unfortunate events, triggering crises in royal succession because of the lack of a direct heir or death of the monarch.
“From Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, whose reign or term ended in 1936, I understand (that) he did not have any direct heirs,” Aquino said.
He cited research findings showing that Sultan Mawallil Wasit II, a younger brother of Kiram II, was the “next designated sultan who, unfortunately, died before he got crowned.” Jamalul III is a grand nephew of Sultan Mawallil Wasit (other translations use ‘Muwallil’).
The President did not mention Jamalul III’s father, but his deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, disclosed that the current sultan is the eldest son of the late Datu Rajah Muda Punjungan Kiram.
Lines of descendants
“So you have all of these lines of people who claim (to have descended from Jamalul II). You have all of these branches (competing) as to who should be the direct heir, or who should be rulers. And they have at least five people who are claiming to be the sultan of Sulu,” Aquino said.
“That is one of my first problems—who actually represents the sultanate of Sulu?” he asked.
Actually, the President said, two documents had yet to be studied. “So, it’s still a process that is still ongoing,” he said, referring to the agreements pertaining to the lease of Sabah to British North Borneo Co. by the sultanate in 1878.
During its heydays, the sultanate covered territory as far as North Borneo. Its warriors were feared for their swordsmanship. Brunei, which is also on Borneo Island, is ruled to this day by the Bolkiah clan, one of the Kiram clan’s relatives in the Malay Peninsula.
Abraham Idjirani, the sultanate’s secretary general and spokesman, said the statements of Kiram’s cousin Fuad Kiram and nephew Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram questioning the legality of Kiram’s reign could be the handiwork of “external forces” out to torpedo the negotiations regarding the Sabah issue.
“They are misrepresenting themselves as (the sultan of Sulu). They are confusing the minds of the people, especially the non-Muslims,” Idjirani said in a press conference in Kiram’s home in Taguig City.
“They are instigated by external forces to create controversy and provide a strong basis for the Malaysian government to tell the heirs, ‘Before we negotiate with you, the heirs must unite first,’” he said.
Asked if the “external forces” included the Malaysian government, he said: “It’s not only the Malaysians, but above all it’s the Malaysian government.”
Esmail took a potshot at Malaysian authorities for declaring members of the royal army “foreign invaders.”
Lahad Datu was never foreign soil for the Tausug, he said, and Agbimuddin, his younger brother, has lived there since childhood.—With a report from Marlon Ramos