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‘Muslims want Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi as one federal state’

Muslim leaders and various stakeholders in Mindanao are pushing for
the separation of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi from the Autonomous
Region in Muslim Mindanao and instead include the provinces in
Zamboanga Peninsula to form a federated state should Congress approve
the proposed federalism government which President Rodrigo Duterte is
strongly advocating. Former Sulu Governor Dr. Sakur ‘Datu ShahBandar’
speaks during the Bangsa Sug Consensus held in Zamboanga City on May
9, 2018. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

A Muslim woman shows a manifesto from a huge group in Tawi-Tawi
province in southern Philippines expressing its strong support to the
Bangsa Sug Consensus held in Zamboanga City on May 9, 2018. Muslim
leaders and various stakeholders in Mindanao are pushing for the
separation of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi from the Autonomous Region
in Muslim Mindanao and instead include the provinces in Zamboanga
Peninsula to form a federated state should Congress approve the
proposed federalism government which President Rodrigo Duterte is
strongly advocating. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Sulu Governor Toto Tan during the Bangsa Sug Consensus held in
Zamboanga City on May 9, 2018. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

Five influential Sulu sultans, Ibrahim Bahjin, Muizuddin Jainal
Bahjin, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, Mohammad Venizar Julkarnain Jainal
Abirin and Phugdalun Kiram with the Grand Muftii, His Eminence
Abdulbaqi Abubakar; and Sulu Governor Toto Tan and father former
governor Dr. Sakur ‘Datu ShahBandar’ Tan during the Bangsa Sug
Consensus held in Zamboanga City on May 9, 2018. (Mindanao Examiner
Photo)

 

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Muslim leaders and various stakeholders in Mindanao are pushing for the separation of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and instead include the provinces in Zamboanga Peninsula to form a federated state should Congress approve the proposed federalism government which President Rodrigo Duterte is strongly advocating.

The three neighboring provinces were originally part of Region 9 in Western Mindanao which comprised of Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte, and now the addition of Zamboanga Sibugay.

In a consensus held on Thursday afternoon, stakeholders from Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Maguindanao trooped here to read their manifesto as a show of strong support to the proposal for the creation of ‘Federal State of ZamBaSulTa’.

Justifications

Among the valid justifications for the proposed Federal State of ZamBaSulTa are Economic Viability and to ensure this is to group together Zamboanga Peninsula with Zamboanga City as the center, and Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; Historical Reality as the shared history of the area and proposed federal state is a strong argument for its unity as one federal state. This history stems from the once dominant force exerted by the Sulu Sultanate over these areas, including Southern Palawan and the islands of Sulu and South China Seas, but the consensus also maintained that this is not to say the Sultanate of Sulu will again lay claim to these areas, instead, the region is now witness to different operative local government units that wield the real power and that cannot be changed.

It also cited other justification for the union such as Geographical Proximity because the provinces and Zamboanga City is contiguous to each other by land, and Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are situated next to each other like a chain of island south of the Zamboanga Peninsula. And Demographic and Cultural Identity because of similarity in culture and peoples – Muslim and Christian relationship, education and interfaith engagements have strengthened this identity in the region.

At least 5 influential Sulu sultans, Ibrahim Bahjin, Muizuddin Jainal Bahjin, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, Mohammad Venizar Julkarnain Jainal Abirin and Phugdalun Kiram who are part of the Royal Council of the Sulu Sultanate, also attended the event dubbed – “The Bangsa Sug Consensus – ZamBaSulTa. A People of Significance.” – and threw their all-out support for the proposal along with Muslim religious leaders led by the Grand Mufti, His Eminence Abdulbaqi Abubakar.

Zamboanga City Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde, who represented Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, read a message in front of some 1,500 people.

Christian and Muslim political leaders, among them former Sulu Governor and a strong ally of Duterte, Dr. Sakur Tan – also called Datu ShahBandar – and his son, Totoh Tan, the current governor of Sulu, spoke in the event.

Consensus

The Tan patriarch, in a position paper he read before the huge crowd, enumerated several concerns and reaction of Muslims to the proposed Bangsamoro Bill and federalism. He said the main objections of the people of Sulu through its Sultanate to the proposed Bangsamoro law center on the provisions on Territory that would change the historical name of the Sulu Sea to “Bangsamoro Waters.” He said Sulu Sea should retain its name.

Tan said the constituents in the provinces under the ARMM (including Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao) should be given the option to vote against inclusion in the new Bangsamoro entity. “The position is anchored on the principle of democratic consultation which is an essential element of plebiscites and a basic concept in Islam, as embodied by the principle of Shura (or consultation) in the Holy Qur’an.”

“The method of plebiscite and the counting of votes should be based on real democratic consultation and should not be hampered by what may be considered as the tyranny of the majority,” the elder Tan said.

He said the present version of the bill provides that the establishment of the Bangsamoro and the determination of the Bangsamoro territory shall take effect upon ratification of the Basic Law by majority votes cast in plebiscite. The present bill, Tan said, takes for granted that all five constituent provinces favor inclusion in the new Bangsamoro entity.

“This should never be presumed because presumption destroys the democratic essence of plebiscites. Precisely for the reason that the Bangsamoro entity is new, and is not just an amended version of the ARMM, the consent and option of the ARMM constituent provinces should be respected,” he said.

Tan said when the constituent provinces voted for inclusion to the ARMM in past plebiscites, they consented to be included in the ARMM, and not in the Bangsamoro which is completely new legal entity. “Ratification therefore should be on the basis of the majority votes of each constituent province and not of the entire geographical area of the present ARMM,” he said.

He said the territorial lines of federalization should not be dictated by religious dogma for this would be limiting, counter-productive and contrary to the spirit of nationhood. “The federal territorial divide is not a divide of peoples and religions; it is a realistic and practical divide of administration and governance, so that the people get the best and most viable governance that befits their needs and circumstances,” Tan said, adding, a copy of the consensus would be submitted to the House of Representatives and Senate, and the Palace.

Representatives from various sectors from the academe to business groups also read their own manifesto supporting the consensus.

Consultations

Muslims have been urging Duterte to consult all different tribes in southern Philippines in drafting the Bangsamoro bill that will be part of the new Federal government lawmakers are proposing.

There are over a dozen Muslim tribes in the region, mostly in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao and also in Palawan.

An estimated 11 million Muslims or approximately 11 percent of the Philippine population, but their leaders are not well represented in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission or BTC the government has put up to draft the BBL. Majority of the Muslims do not even know the provisions in the BBL and previous consultations in the time of the Aquino administrations were mostly staged with Muslim leaders saying they were not consulted.

And to make matter worse, Christian lawmakers continue to challenge the provisions in the draft law by saying they are unconstitutional.

Separate Region

Even provincial governors of the Muslim provinces were not part of the BTC which was chaired by Mohagher Iqbal, the vice chairman of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014. The MILF – whose influence is concentrated only in Maguindanao – now wanted to rule over the proposed new Bangsamoro homeland that would replace the Muslim autonomous region.

Muslims in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and Palawan belong to the majority Tausug which is the native inhabitants of Sulu and two ethnic tribes – the Yakan and Samal – and they do not want to be ruled by the MILF, of majority of its tribe and members. They wanted a separate autonomous region with Tausug as their leader; and for the revival of the Sultanate of Sulu and give political powers to their sultans.

“We do not know what the entirety of the BBL. But we want to manage our own affairs,” said one Muslim resident in Zamboanga City.

Sabah Claims

In May 2016, Duterte said he will press the Sultan’s claim to Sabah, now one of the states of Malaysia. The Sultanate of Sulu, up to this time, continues to lay claim to the mineral-rich Sabah which Malaysia strongly rejected, although it is paying the Sultanate of Sulu every year.

Also in April the same year, for the first time in the rich history of the Sultanate of Sulu, five influential sultans signed a covenant in an unprecedented move aimed at consolidating and strengthening their unity.

The signing ceremony held in Zamboanga City brought together Sultans Ibrahim Bahjin, Muizuddin Jainal Bahjin, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, Mohammad Venizar Julkarnain Jainal Abirin and Phugdalun Kiram to form the Royal Council of the Sulu Sultanate. It was attended by hundreds of supporters and members of the different Royal Houses of the Sultanate of Sulu, and religious leaders and representatives of various sectors not only in the province, but in the autonomous region.

The elder Tan, a key figure in the unification of the sultans, commissioned many respected Muslim scholars and educators from the University of the Philippines to help in crafting the unity covenant. The sultans also thanked the Tan for his efforts in unifying the Royal Houses of the Sultanate of Sulu. Tan, a philanthropist, is strongly advocating the revival of Sultanate of Sulu and promoting the rich and colorful tradition and culture of the Tausug people.

And in November 2016, Tan was conferred as Datu ShahBandar by the Royal Council of the Sulu Sultanate and designated as Special Envoy.

Sulu Sultanate

The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1457 and is believed to exist as a sovereign nation for at least 442 years. It stretches from a part of the island of Mindanao in the east, to Sabah, in the west and south, and to Palawan, in the north.

It continues to lay claim to North Borneo, now Sabah in Malaysia after obtaining it from Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion on Borneo Island.

The British leased Sabah and transferred control over the territory to Malaysia after the end of World War II. But the sultanate said it had merely leased North Borneo in 1878 to the British North Borneo Company for an annual payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars then, which was increased to 5,300 Malayan dollars in 1903.

North Borneo was annexed by Malaysia in 1963 after a referendum organized by the Cobbold Commission in 1962 saw the people of Sabah voting overwhelmingly to join Malaysia, but Kuala Lumpur continues paying the Sulu Sultanate some 5,300 ringgits a year on the basis of the Sulu royals’ ceding the Borneo state.

Malaysia

In February 2013, the ailing Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, sent about 200 followers headed by his brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram to Sabah to assert their claim to and supposed historical rights over the oil-rich state.

Jamalul’s group rejected Malaysian demand for them to surrender peacefully and fighting erupted in Lahad Datu town where more than 60 of the sultan’s men were killed and over 300 Filipinos arrested on suspicion that they were aiding the group of Raja Muda Agbimuddin.

Malaysia also put Jamalul and his brother on its wanted list and branded them as terrorists for intruding into Sabah and killing and decapitating 10 policemen and soldiers in separate clashes on the island.

Agbimuddin managed to escape the Malaysian assault in Sabah, while Sultan Jamalul died in October the same year from a lingering illness at age 75. Agbimuddin died from cardiac arrest in 2015 in Tawi-Tawi province. (Mindanao Examiner)

 

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