by Mehol K. Sadain

In a development that qualifies for Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”, the quincentennial committee on the landing of Magellan and the coming of Christianity to the Philippines sent a marker to Jolo, with the inscription “Suluan”, expecting the Tausugs to erect it in their Lupah Sug. The Jolo Municipal Council was prudent enough to call a group of Tausug historians for their opinion on the matter, and the historians were straightforward enough to call for its rejection.

For there is no justifiable reason for the installation of such a marker in Jolo, or the province of Sulu for that matter. Magellan and his crew did not land in any part of Sulu. In fact, as one Tausug historian says, Magellan feared to sail across the Sulu Sea and had to ask the Brunei Sultan to intercede in his behalf with the Sulu Sultan so he can be granted safe passage. Sulu also remained unconquered by the Spaniards until they were forced out of the country by the Americans.

If the quincentennial was meant to celebrate the coming of Christianity to the Philippines, that will still be inapplicable and inappropriate to be commemorated in Sulu. The Tausugs spent almost that equal number of years protecting their Islamic faith and resisting the intrusion of other faiths, from the Catholicism of the Spaniard to the Protestantism of the Americans. Christianity was only able to take root in Sulu in the 1900s, with the coming of the Americans, and as fate would have it, the Tausugs extended welcoming arms to the Christians, to the point that many Christians of pre-martial law Jolo call themselves Tausug, instead of the ethnic identity they used to have outside Sulu. And except for isolated cases of kidnappings and bombings by unlawful elements unsanctioned by majority of the Tausugs, and exacerbated by past military atrocities and the rise of violent extremism, the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Sulu have been amiable and amicable until the present.

Just the same, however, the fiercely independent Tausugs will not accept the anachronistic absurdity of a “Suluan” quincentennial marker in their land. In fact, there is no such word as “Suluan” in use in Sulu. The natives of the place call themselves Tausugs or Bangsa Sug or Ra’ayat Sug or Ahlu s-Suluk, because that is how they have called themselves for a long time now. At times the people of Jolo call themselves Joloanos, but they never called themselves “Suluans”.

 The quincentennial marker therefore is a product of either an absolutely ignorant brain or a tricky and wily predisposition. The first one insults; the second one injures, and the Tausugs will not tolerate such insult and injury.

If the purpose of the quincentennial committee was to unite the people of the Philippines, or to be more inclusive towards the Muslims in Sulu, the committee must be made to realize that unity is not achievable by conformity. It is tyrannical of the majority to expect conformity from the minority through the false expedience of sending and accepting markers for what it thinks should be a national commemoration. Neither is unity achievable through subservience. It is despotic to impose a unity that is servile and subject solely to the will of those in power.

Unity can only be achieved by recognizing diversity instead of conformity, and partnership instead of subservience. It is not diversity to expect everybody, including those who consider themselves “unconquered” to subscribe to a conquistadores’ mentality. Likewise, it is not a situation of partnership where one treats the other as second rate, and expects him to be constantly ready and willing the accommodate the whims and caprices of the former.

Unity in diversity and partnership is something that grows from the seeds of sincere good intentions, inherent goodwill and equality among men. MKS

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