Wednesday March 13, 2013
Deadly dance of the ‘sultan’
Along the Watchtower
By M. VEERA PANDIYAN
The probe has begun to expose the choreographers behind the moves of the self-styled ruler of Sulu.
WILL the real sultan of Sulu stand up? Or in this case of a dubious one, stand down and give up?
By now, most Malaysians and Filipinos must be confused by the numerous “sultans of Sulu”.
There’s a joke going around that the hordes of Datuks in the country can be compared with the multitude of self-proclaimed “sultans” in the Philippines.
Some are doing rather well in the regal business, thanks to the number of shallow but showy Malaysians who are suckers for the “prestige” that comes with a title, never mind if it is a phony one from a non-existent sultanate.
With the going rate at RM300,000 a piece for their dubious datukships and the current rate of 13 pesos to the ringgit, life can’t be too bad for these so-called royals.
As my colleague Philip Golingai noted recently, there are so many claimants to the Sulu sultan’s throne that every other Datu (Sulu chieftain) in Sabah seems to be a sultan-wannabe.
All pretenders to the throne are either identified as Kiram I, Kiram II, Kiram III, Kiram IV or Kiram X.
The “standard operating procedure” is to trace their lineage to Esmael Kiram I, the 33rd Sultan of Sulu.
Sabah’s self-styled Suluk leader Datu Mohd Akjan Ali Muhammad, who dramatically declared that Filipinos could only claim the state over his dead body on Sunday, is, by the way, another claimant to the throne although he is not a Kiram.
The businessman, who was once detained under the ISA from 1995 to 1997 over fake ICs, was reportedly “installed” in February 2011 as “His Majesty Paduka Mahasari Maulana al-Sultan Sharif ul-Hashim II, Dr Sharif Mohammad Akjan Mu’izzuddin Waddaulah ibni al-Marhum Sultan Sharif Ali Muhammad Pulalun” or in short, Sultan Shariful-Hashim II.
Akjan, however, denied that the coronation took place, saying the event was only a majlis doa selamat dan kesyukuran (thanksgiving ceremony).
According to Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, there are probably more than 10 claimants to the throne of the Sulu sultanate with those named Kiram being four of them.
One even has a Chinese link to his surname. Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, the son and anointed crown prince of Mahakuttah Kiram, the last sultan recognised by the Philippine government before his death, claims he is the legal sultan of Sulu.
Mahakuttah’s brother, Fuad Kiram, who claims he inherited the ranks, titles and positions of his father, Sultan Esmael E. Kiram I, says he is the rightful heir.
But the man of the moment is Jamalul Kiram III, who ordered his “army” of about 180 to invade Sabah, resulting in the deaths of 63 people so far.
His status as sultan, however, is subject of much dispute among the clan, and the detractors include his brother Esmail, who incidentally, also claims to be the legitimate ruler.
Their father Datu Punjungan Kiram was named crown prince by his brother Sultan Esmael Kiram I, who was later stripped of his title.
Punjungan claimed to be the “interim sultan” after fleeing to Sabah in 1974 at the height of the Muslim Mindanao conflict, but then president Ferdinand Marcos decided to recognise Esmail’s first-born son, Mahakuttah, as the successor.
Jamalul, who is a lawyer by training, also worked as a radio announcer before venturing into politics as an ally of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
He was in Arroyo’s team for the Senate in 2007 as the sole candidate from a party led by Norberto Gonzales, her adviser on national security, but lost.
He used to be a dancer too and was apparently good enough to be a member of the Bayanihan, the country’s national folk dance troupe.
He appears to be performing his last deadly dance of disgraceful steps but, whose tune is he dancing to?
By his own admission, Jamalul is “the poorest sultan in the world”, whose twice weekly kidney dialysis treatment is paid for by a lottery operator, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
His “sultanate” is run from a rundown two-storey house in the predominantly Muslim Maharlika village in Taguig, Manila.
It is clear that there are rich and powerful forces pulling the strings behind him but who are they?
We can try to narrow down the list of likely choreographers with two more questions in Latin, the language used in legal reference: Cui bono? (Who benefits?) Cui patitur? (Who suffers?)
The looming general elections in both Malaysia and Philippines hold the clues to the answers.
The Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has begun its probe into what the Benigno Aquino Jr administration believes is a conspiracy.
The NBI has summoned Pastor “Boy” Saycon, a political strategist and secretary-general of the Council for Philippine Affairs (COPA), who is one of Jamalul’s key advisers.
Gonzales has also been included in the list of suspected colluders but he has denied the allegations.
Aquino believes that the conspiracy was hatched by those who want to undermine his government’s historic peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which was brokered by Malaysia last year.
It is no secret that the bulk of Jamalul’s “army” comprises Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters, whose leader is its founding chairman Nur Misuari.
As we know, Misuari has powerful friends in Malaysia or at least one such.
But then again, it is not advisable to mention names because these days, journalists can be threatened with RM100mil suits even if they just ask questions.
> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Niccolo Machiavelli: The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.