Sulu Sultan hounded by controversy

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Alleged heirs are questioning the ascension to the Sulu throne of Jamalul Kiram III, but he was chosen because of his influence in the Islamic community and to give Muslims better representation in the Senate, a top official said yesterday.

“This administration believes that an alliance with our Muslim brothers will result in the unity of our country,” presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio said in an interview.

“We believe that he will fit the position to give ample and sufficient voice to our brother and sister Muslims all over the country.”

Kiram wore a white barong Tagalog and a traditional black putong for yesterday’s formal launching of Team Unity. He joined former presidential chief-of-staff Michael Defensor; former opposition Senators Tessie Aquino-Oreta and Vicente Sotto III; re-electionist Senators Joker Arroyo, Ralph Recto and Edgardo Angara; Reps. Juan Miguel Zubiri of Bukidnon and Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur; and Govs. Vicente Magsaysay of Zambales, Luis Singson of Ilocos Sur, and Jericho Petilla of Leyte.

Kiram’s wife, Fatima Selya, said her husband was the “legal and real” sultan of Sulu and of the contested island Sabah, which is now being governed by Malaysia.

“The others who have come up are not the legal heirs,” Fatima said.

“He is the real Sultan, and what better recognition can the Philippine government give than his inclusion in the ticket of the administration?”

In his 1939 ruling, Chief Justice C.F.C. Makaskie of the High Court of North Borneo recognized nine rulers of Sulu, including Kiram’s father, Datu Punjungan.

In 2002 Malacañang feted some heirs to the Sulu throne, and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo acknowledged Kiram III as the Sultan of Sulu.

Among those questioning Jamalul’s legality as sultan are the heirs of the late Princess Denchurain Kiram, who in 1993 was the oldest of the surviving nine heirs and acknowledged three claimants: Datu Muedzul-Lail, Datu Terona al-Shariff Kiram, and Sultan Aguimoddin Abidin.

In 2004 Aguimoddin Abidin went to the Department of Foreign Affairs to reiterate his position as the legal sultan of Sulu and claimant to Sabah, for which the Malaysian government still pays about $1,500 in annual rental.

Sabah, originally a part of the Sultanate of Sulu until it was leased to a British trader in 1878, accounts for almost 50 percent of Malaysia’s gross domestic product. Malaysia expropriated the island in 1963, when the British colonial government turned it over to the newly created Federation of Malaysia—now simply Malaysia—without notifying the Sultanate of Sulu or the Philippine government.

Fatima said they did not know Aguimoddin Abidin, and that he was “not even in the genealogy of the heirs.

“My husband is the real and recognized sultan. There are only seven heirs, and he is one of the seven. I don’t know where these other people are coming from,” she said.

But she said the Sabah issue should not be tied up with her husband’s candidacy because Jamalul’s platform was simply to improve the Muslims’ economic condition.