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CRUCIBLE: Duterte’s Dilemma on Sulu (2)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 2 Sep) – President Duterte “sealed with a kiss” the “sacred” ground of Jolo, the heart of the Sulu Archipelago.

His detractors view it as a political antic. No, it was authentic. It was his expression of reverence and homage to soldiers and civilians, men and women who died during the twin bombings in the street of Walled City last August 24.

PRRD reads history

He should know why that place is called Walled City. It was the last vestige of Spanish colonialism in Jolo – the scene of countless sabilillah known to Spaniards and Americans as Juramentados launching their resistance against the Conquestadores.

Even after the area had been “walled,” sabilillahs used to rush with the “swish of the Kris” against Spanish and American forces leading the latter to order the manufacturing of Colt .45 Caliber as it was found to be more lethal and effective against rampaging Tausug warriors.

With peace in Sulu remaining erratic until the ’50s and ’60s, the area was the scene of rido (feud) among political and business families, including the killing of the late father of Sulu Governor Abdulsakur Tan.

In February 1974, the area was the battleground between AFP and MNLF forces. The war was fierce until the whole town was razed to the ground.

In the same area, blood continued to spill among warring families, protracted hit-and-run attacks against military and police, including assassination of politicians and religious leaders in subsequent years until the series of terrorist bombings like the Jolo Cathedral bombing last year.

The Jolo Cathedral is located at the southern edge of Walled City. The two mini-towers that serve as gateway into the walled area are still intact. They are walking distance into the Church via our old elementary school, the Notre Dame of Jolo Walled City – already transformed into the Office of Sulu Vicariate, a socio-civic conglomerate of the Oblates, the pioneer of Christian missionaries in the Sulu Archipelago.

It is thus understandable why many Tausug empathized with Mayor Digong with his selfless, somber act in kissing Jolo’s soil.

Anyone who has visited the place could see from above the sky the stunning beauty of Sulu Archipelago unmatched in other places – with her white beaches, blue sea, green tropics with rich and rare flora and fauna.


Yet, PRRD could not help but raise what he called irony of history.

In his speech, even as he already recognized Lapu-Lapu as a national hero with award made on his name and acknowledging him as spin-off of Tausug warriors assigned in Mactan by the Sulu Sultanate, the irony of it all, as Duterte expressed with his usual unfinished thought, Lapu-Lapu’s descendants in Sulu continued to fight those Bisayah who are supposedly their Malay brethren and whose only “sin” is that their latter’s forbears succumbed to Spanish might and bowed to the religion of King Philip II.

It is, indeed, ironic because whereas Spanish propensity in building “walls” in their occupied lands had been successful as early as 16th century in Manila and 17th century in Zamboanga and elsewhere; in Sulu, the “Walled City” remained as a war theater from sabilillah to Tausug resistance, from hit-and-run attack to assassination, and from AFP-PNP misencounter to modern-day terrorism.

Perhaps, the irony may be extended that even as Spanish colonialism was already ended by the Spanish people themselves, in southern Philippines particularly in the Sulu Archipelago, the psychological vestige of Spanish colonialism continued to be replayed in the current saga of Moro struggle again and again.

Today, even as many Spanish value their Moorish heritage like the Alhambra Mosque while they now look at Islam with new light with considerable number of Latinos embracing Islam, Islamophobia remains in the Philippine South – not only due to ingrained misconception from the others but to war image with the prevalence of un-peace in places like Sulu and elsewhere.

Duterte sounds exasperated with how he could address the problem in Sulu given his barely two years in office. He could only invite Governor Tan to visit him as they still might be able to do something. Aware of his term gradually coming to end, PRRD could only hope that his children would become politicians and that they could do something to solve his enigma on Sulu. There was no mention of federalism, Charter Change, and Rev Gov as these have just been shot on the foot few days before the Jolo twin bombings. Neither was the proposed martial law in Sulu mentioned.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines].

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