Issue of sultanate in BBL

The sultanate system among the Bangsamoro people is one of the most cherished institutions in their history; and if not for them, there is no such thing as Moros today. There could have been a different narrative, probably, an unusual one. Indeed, the sultanates especially the Sulu, Maguindanao, and Buayan did splendid jobs by spearheading the resistance against the Spaniards from the 15th to the 19th century.

This is the reason why the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) excessively paid tribute to their role in history and in the life of Moros, in general, by assigning at least three sections, 23, 24, and 25, in Article 1X on Basic Rights. Besides, the BBL also give one slot or representation for Traditional Leaders in the Council of Leaders and in Parliament.

In the hierarchy of traditional leaders, as put in the BBL, the context is that sultans occupy the first billing, while datus, rajahs, panglimas, etc. are also in the loop. The Bangsamoro Parliament will enact a law providing for the manner of electing this representation.

Section 23 of the original BBL, which the Senate virtually adopted, provided that to preserve the history, culture, arts, traditions, and the rich cultural heritage of the Bangsamoro people and their sultanates, such as but not limited to, the Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, Kabuntalan, Buayan, the Royal Houses of Ranao, and of the Iranun, and the non-Moro indigenous peoples of the Bangsamoro, there shall be created a Bangsamoro Commission for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.

Currently, however, there is no possible legal way to provide in the BBL any specific grant of nobility or blunt recognition of nobility, because the 1935, 1973, and 1987 Constitutions all prohibited such action. Any direct reference will mostly likely be shut down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. In addition, any dilution of the dignity of the sultanate, such as assigning only ceremonial function, is doing injustice to the person and the institution. It is a blunt let-down.

The other reasons are, first, there is an increasing number of sultanates and sultans. Even in Christian areas of Luzon and Visayas, new or self-anointed sultans are on the rise and are sprouting up. If left as such, we are heading towards an uncharted zone that we are not yet conscious of its consequence. And second, we are now in the 21st century where equality of peoples are the benchmark of governance. Competence is given more weight.

It is time that Moros should stop looking for prerogatives or special treatment. In long term consideration, they do not offer any help. Why can’t we not fight squarely, instead of always asking for privileges?

Truth is that if we are asking for more genuine autonomy, this is not a matter of asking for special treatment, per se. We are just asking the government to restore some of those birth rights which were deprive of us when they forcefully or cunningly annexed Mindanao and Sulu into the Philippine state.

It is also time to affirm the ultimate truth that all men are born equal. We should not consider ourselves superior to another because we all are equal according to Almighty Allah. The only distinction which Allah recognizes is the distinction in piety, and the only principle which Allah applies is the principle of goodness and spiritual excellence. In the Quran, Allah says: “O mankind, verily We have created you from a single (Pair) of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Almighty Allah is the most righteous” (Quran, 49:13).

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action….”