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Jamalul Kiram III and the 'sultans' of Sulu

Contrary to what current developments in Sabah have led many to believe, there is more than one man claiming to be sultan of Sulu, a province located at the southernmost tip of the Philippines. In principle, a land under one's sultanate can be claimed by the heir of the last Sultan. But for some experts, confusion about who is the rightful sultan has slowed the resolution of the crisis that erupted in Sabah, a federal state in Malaysia that the present Sulu sultanate is claiming to be its homeland on the basis of historical right. Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, said there are probably more than 10 sultan-claimants in Sulu, four of them Kirams, a dynasty whose bloodline originated from the 33rd sultan Esmael Kiram I. The Kirams On the website Royal Sultanate of Sulu, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram said he is the rightful head of the Kiram family. And perhaps rightfully so – Muedzul is the son and anointed crown prince of Mahakuttah Kiram, the last recognized sultan before he died. But another Kiram has been described as the rightful sultan. According to an article in the Manila Times by Tausug news columnist Julmunir Jannaral, Mahakuttah's brother, Fuad Kiram, is the rightful sultan. “(B)y law of primogeniture of father to son and by the law of succession, Sultan Fuad is the Sultan because he inherited the ranks, titles and positions of his royal father, Sultan Esmael E. Kiram I,” Jannaral wrote. But these sultan-claimants are virtual unknowns if compared to Jamalul Kiram III, who lives in a modest house in Taguig City and may perhaps be the most visible and known Sultan of Sulu, Rasul said. Jamalul became headlines since he ordered his followers early February to hold a standoff in Sabah, resulting to a bloodshed with the Malaysian authorities that has claimed over 40 lives as of last count. Rasul said some of the members of the Kiram bloodline objected to Jamalul's leadership, since Jamalul is not a son of a sultan to begin with. Jamalul is the son of Datu Punjungan Kiram, who was the crown prince of Sultan Esmael Kiram I but was later stripped of his title. Even Jamalul's brother Esmail is claiming to be sultan, Rasul said. On whether or not the title should only be used by a direct descendant of a sultan, Rasul said “there is no fast rule” on who would be heir to the throne. “Hindi kailangang anak all the time,” Rasul said in a phone interview with GMA News Online. “[It only] depends on who the sultan declares a crown prince. As long as it's in the bloodline.” Masideng Marohombser Salic, director of the Bureau of Muslim Cultural Affairs in the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, affirmed this, saying an heir only needs to be the closest kin to a sultan. “Ang nearest kin ang susunod na heir of the sultan,” Salic, himself a sultan from Tuboc, Lanao Del Sur, told GMA News Online in explaining the succession to the throne. Based on the Kiram family tree, Jamalul is the closest living kin to a sultan – he is the nephew of 33rd sultan Esmael Kiram I, and at the same time the son of crown prince Punjungan Kiram. “He is the son of the crown prince at the line... The heir of the crown prince can be sultan,” Salic said. Rasul noted that Jamalul is the most visible Sultan in Sulu. “Kinausap na ni [United Nations secretary general] Ban Ki-Moon si Jamalul. How's that for visibility?” she asked rhetorically. Why the 10 or so sultans? Rasul said the 10 or so sultans started when Mahakuttah's crown prince Muedzul-Lail Kiram failed to step into his dead father's shoes for being underage. “Kaya nagkaroon ng maraming sultan kasi nga 'yung crown prince, hindi naging sultan,” Rasul said. Many members of the Kiram bloodline claimed to be the next heir to the throne, but only Jamalul was proclaimed sultan that time, Rasul added. “[Muedzul] couldn't become sultan. 'Dun tumayo si Jamalul as sultan. Many disagreed so many came out claming to be sultan,” she added. Muedzul later claimed a right to the throne when he became of age to be sultan. But somehow, since the death of the 34th sultan, Mahakuttah, Jamalul – born merely from a crown prince and not from a real sultan father – was soon established as the recognized 35th Sultan of Sulu. Even the sultan himself Salic said he grew up knowing Jamalul as Sulu sultan. “Jamalul Kiram III is the popularly known sultan of Sulu. 'Yun lang ang naririnig ko na sultan after the death of the husband of Merriam (Kiram),” Salic said. Lack of coherence For Professor Julkipli Wadi of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies laments the disarray in the succession to the Sulu throne, saying the lack of “coherence” on who is sultan's heir added up to the confusion on the Sabah claim. “Ang kanya kanyang pamilya may kanya-kanyang geneology,” Wadi told GMA News Online in a separate phone interview. “Hindi siya healthy. Wala nang coherence.” He added that the government should go back to the 1939 Macaskie Judgment – a ruling from the Court of Sandakan, Malaysia ,which named the nine principal heirs of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II — Dayang Dayang Piandao Kiram, Dayang Dayang Sitti Rada Kiram, Princess Tarhata Kiram, Princess Sakinur-In Kiram, Dayang Dayang Putli Jahara Kiram, Dayang Dayang Sitti Mariam Kiram, Mora Napsa, Datu Esmail Kiram — and lastly Datu Punjungan Kiram, the late father of Jamalul III. “Nakalagay roon kung sino ang tatanggap ng lease na Kirams ang karamihan 'dun. Internal na matter 'yun ng sultanate,” Wadi said, referring to the rent paid to the Sulu sultanate by Malaysia as part of its lease agreement that goes back to the British rule in Borneo. The court ruling shows that Jamalul III is but one of the claimants to Sabah. Rasul said all of the principal heirs have died, leaving behind thousands of heirs of heirs. A unified sultanate Descendant of a sultan or not, Jamalul III has been established in Sulu as the real sultan of Sulu, according to the experts. Instead of bickering, Rasul said what the sultanate should now do – ideally with help from the government – is to convene all those claiming to be heirs to the throne and come up with a single – and official – sultan of Sulu. “Obviously not,” Rasul said when asked if the members of the royal blood ever met up to discuss the issue. “All the royal house must come together and make a decision,” Rasul said. But for now – at a crucial time when Jamalul III's supporters are in Sabah sacrificing their lives in the fight for a territorial stake based on an ancient, historical agreement – “Jamalul is the sultan,” Rasul said. “He is recognized already in the world and by his constituents,” she pointed out. — KBK, GMA News