The sultan’s younger sister Dayang Dayang Sitti Krishna Kiram-Idjirani (seated) with 43-year-old nephew Datu Shayeed Abubakar O. Kiram (standing), eldest son of Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram now leading Sulu people occupying a coastal village in disputed territory Sabah.

MANILA, MARCH 4, 2013 (PHILSTAR) WILL SOON FLOURISH By Wilson Lee Flores - The sultan’s younger sister Dayang Dayang Sitti Krishna Kiram-Idjirani (seated) with 43-year-old nephew Datu Shayeed Abubakar O. Kiram (standing), eldest son of Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram now leading Sulu people occupying a coastal village in disputed territory Sabah.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. — George Bernard Shaw

What past and future scenarios for our unresolved, festering claim to Sabah? Who really is this elderly and ailing man Jamalul Kiram III, who styles himself with defiant dignity as His Royal Highness Sultan of Sulu in our 21st century republican democracy?

On Feb. 12, news headlines reported that 235 relatives and followers of this Sultan of Sulu landed on the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah to “reclaim their homeland” after a six-hour sea voyage. The Malaysian and Philippine governments have repeatedly ordered them to leave, but they vowed to stay there to the death “leaving everything to the will of God.”

This old problem caused by colonial history was Britain’s giving to the newly independent Malaysia in 1963 the territory of Sabah, which the British North Borneo Company had on Jan. 22, 1878 leased from the Sultanate of Sulu. The Malaysian government continues to pay an annual token rent to the Sulu Sultan. North Borneo — now known as Sabah — was given by the Sultan of Brunei in 1704 to the Sultan of Sulu due to gratitude for the latter’s help in suppressing a rebellion in Brunei.

The 75-year-old ailing Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III recently gave the Philippine STAR an exclusive interview in his home in Taguig City. Excerpts:

PHILIPPINE STAR: Was the so-called “invasion” of your followers led by your younger brother to Sabah your idea or instigated by others?

SULTAN JAMALUL KIRAM III: The idea to go to Sabah was the idea of my younger brother Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and his followers, because napapahiya na sila (they’re already losing face).

His people wanted to invade and they had told me about it, but I told them not to make it an invasion. They would have no chance to win any military conflict against Malaysia, which has warplanes and even submarines.

I told them it would be very difficult, but they replied to me “Anong mahirap sa Almighty (What is difficult for the Almighty)?”

Some of your followers in Sabah are armed, couldn’t you have prevented bloodshed by heeding the orders of the Philippine and Malaysian governments and asking them to leave?

We don’t want bloodshed. Our people shall not initiate any violence. My relatives and followers went there to Sabah not to fight, but to peacefully settle in their homeland. They are just reclaiming what is rightfully ours.

Your reactions to possible imprisonment?

All of us are ready to go to jail, with my family and supporters. I am not afraid, I am already old. I am doing what is right not only for our people, our family but also for the Philippines. What laws have I violated in reclaiming what is rightfully ours? I respect the Philippine constitution. I have not broken any law.

Your reaction to some government officials and others questioning your claim to the hereditary title as the Sultan of Sulu?

The problem with some of our politicians and their advisers is they do not understand the history and traditions of the Sulu Sultanate. The ascension to the throne of Sulu Sultan is different from the style or system in England where the kingship is passed on from the father to the eldest son.

In our Sulu Sultanate, our ascension to the throne is from the father down to the younger brothers up to the youngest brother, then it passes on to the eldest son of the next generation. This is the same as the royal succession in Saudi Arabia.

So you follow what they call the “agnatic seniority” system of patrilineal principle of inheritance where succession is to the monarch’s younger brothers. I heard two relatives of yours are also claiming to be the rightful sultan?

They’re just pretenders.

Your younger brother in Sabah is your crown prince or successor? What is his profession, a politician or a warrior?

My younger brother there in Sabah, his nickname is Datu Puwing, he’s the third among us male siblings. He is 72 years old and a public school elementary teacher.

Any message for President Noynoy C. Aquino?

I wish he gains wisdom in order to help resolve this issue fairly. He’s very young and unfortunately keeps sending people who don’t understand the Sultanate of Sulu.

Your reactions to President Noynoy describing this “invasion” of Sabah as a “lost cause”?

We are sad because the President doesn’t fully know the history of Sulu and Sabah. We’re Filipino citizens and it’s sad that he said that.

Will the situation of your relatives and followers turn desperate when they run out of food, because they’ve been there over two weeks and surrounded by Malaysian authorities?

They were already able to catch fishes and eat foods, so I am very relieved and happy. I feel as happy as if I’m dining on beef at Shangri-la Hotel Makati.

What are the hobbies of a sultan?

Swimming, tennis, playing baseball or basketball. The basketball athlete I admire the most is Jaworski. When he once went to Jolo, we played basketball together.

I heard you love to dance and sing.

Yes, I dance well and I was once a member of the Bayanihan from 1958 to 1959, ahead of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza; I danced nangmaya and sakuting dances of the Igorot tribes, plus the western dances too.

What was the happiest moment of your whole life?

When I married my first wife.

If you were not Sultan of Sulu, what profession would you want for yourself?

I’d want to be a businessman. I used to own a factory, and I was the first in Sulu to export live fishes to Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. I used to export live lapu-lapu (grouper) fishes.

President Diosdado Macapagal was most vigorous in claiming Sabah, did you get to meet him?

We did not meet. The Sulu Sultanate had a special power of attorney given to the Philippine government under Macapagal and also President Marcos to help us pursue our Sabah claim. Senator Jovito Salonga, Vice President Pelaez and others helped our Sabah claim too.

You personally met President Ferdinand Marcos?

Yes, he invited my late father the Sultan, Princess Tarhata and others of our family to Manila Hotel. I couldn’t forget Marcos even gave a formal honor guard welcome ceremony for our late father at Malacañang Palace. That’s how Marcos respected the Sultan of Sulu. Then First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos had three changes of clothes per day.

What about P-Noy’s father Senator Ninoy Aquino, who exposed Operation Merdeka and the Jabidah Massacre, did you get to meet him?

Yes, not only did I get to meet Ninoy. Please tell President Noynoy na minsan ako naging bata ng tatay niya (I was a follower of his dad once). He gave me a car, I think it was an official car of Ninoy. He also gifted me with a .45 gun which I hid in the home of my father-in-law in Carmona, Cavite.

It was the Sultan of Brunei who in 1704 gave North Borneo or Sabah to your ancestor. Have you met the present-day Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah?

Yes, we met already when he visited me in Brunei. I was then chef de mission of the Philippine delegation. He called out to me: “Mr. Sultan.” I told the Sultan of Brunei to repeat what he just said again; I told him that my name is not “Sultan” and that it’s a title which is the same as his.

Then he asked me: “Is this your first time to visit Brunei?” I replied that I’ve visited several times already. He then said: “Why not tell us?” I used to be with his cousin, and I even gave his cousin a title as a “datu.”

Any family anecdotes about your forebears?

The richest sultan in the world at that time was the Sultan of Sulu. When going to Saudi Arabia, our ancestors would throw coins at the people. That was before, now we live only simple lives. You know how much is my personal share from the rent being paid to us by the Malaysian government every year? Two hundred pesos a year.

I hope President Noynoy Aquino, the Philippine government and others can help resolve this Sabah claim, matagal na kami nagtitiis (we’ve suffered for so long already)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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