Sultan Tomas Reyes Cabili, Jr.

Declaration of Ownership signed by 16 sultans in Mindanao serves timely ‘ammunition’ on the sovereign claim of the Philippines over the Spratly Islands and support for the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration

Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, July 21, 2023: The descendants of the Bai sa Condor and Anta sa Tebouk, on behalf of the Iranun in the Philippines composed of 16 sultans, formally declares ownership of the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoals as patrimony from their ancestors. The move is spearheaded by Sultan Tomas Reyes Cabili, Jr. as part of the advocacy of the Tomas Ll. Cabili Foundation (TLC Foundation). In this endeavor, the TLC Foundation had teamed up with the PMTC Institute of Iranun Studies and the Southeast Asian Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry. At the NMS Convention Center in Marawi City, various datus, sultans, council of elders, genealogists, historians, literati, and academe were assembled to uphold the historical dimensions of the Spratlys Islands and Scarborough Shoalsas belonging to the Iranun.

Sultan Cabili, Jr. said in a statement that the movement was made by the Iranuns after having watched from the sidelines for too long the endless debate of the claimant countries of the disputed islands in the South China Sea. “It’s about time that the world knows who had made full use of the Sulawan and the Panakot over the centuries as avenues for trade, relays, raids, and steerage of immigrants and refugees from mainland Southeast Asia to various regions in island Southeast Asia.” Sulawan is the Iranun name for the whole group of Spratly Islands, while Panakot is the Scarborough Shoals.

“TLC Foundation is doing this for our country’s sake as a whole on our claim for what is ours. Not just for our Muslim brothers and the Moro Origins of Mindanao (IRANUN), BUT for all the Filipinos – and the next generations to come. All the Philippines’ descendants of the Iranun are unfurling the historical dimension of the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoals to strengthen the Philippines’ claim on them and complement the theoretical frameworks already presented in the United Nations.

“Our noble purpose is to provide the Philippines a timely ‘ammunition’ on the sovereign claim of the Philippines over the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal that have never been brought to the argument. So far no claimant country has provided a convincing explanation — let alone a cohesive narrative — for a historical stake in the disputed islands. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan espoused historical arguments to legitimize their claims. The rest choose to be silent on this aspect. Apparently, since countries like the Philippines have been generally mum on the historical claim, China views this as a weakness and keeps reiterating its so-called ‘sovereign historical’ right, even while all along has been purposely vague on its Nine-dashed Line. Chinese writers also wantonly press on with the ‘sovereign’ right while the Philippines sidesteps and presses instead with the theoretical frameworks as defined by the UNCLOS. Thus, the need arises to lend the historical narrative on our claim to solidify the Philippines’ position on the South China Sea dispute. In doing so, while we call China at their bluff, we are also revealing historical details of our country that have, heretofore, been absent in our school textbooks,” he added.

Dr. Norma M. Sharief, who chairs the PMTC Institute of Iranun Studies said that there could not be a better time to reveal this unknown facet of Philippine history than when everything is coming to a head in the South China Seas. “As an aside, this is also an opportunity for the national leadership in Manila to make amends of their attitude towards the Iranun and the so-called Moro of the Philippines. A greater part of Philippines’ history has been straitjacketed to make way for the ‘nation-building’ histories of the short-lived revolutions of 1898. It is about time that our historians take a broader look at the experiences of the Philippines in Southeast Asia. Highlighting the history of the Iranunin the national narrative made countries like China gain the impression that in the 333 years of Spanish colonial rule, Filipinos were confined to mere coastal fishing. This is the very reason that the Chinese have been particularly aggressive in laying claim to their so-called ‘sovereign historical rights’ over the South China Sea dispute as they suspect, however wrongly, that we are wanting in this sphere, so they can manipulate the narrative every which way they like.`

Contrary to the official nomenclature of the Philippine government, the Iranun are not just the sub-group of ethnic groups sandwiched between Lanao and Maguindanao but include most of these two provinces, including Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan as history bares, Dr. Sharief added.

Amanoding Esmail, the President of the Southeast Asian Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that the affirmation by the present descendants of the Bai sa Condor is the very key to reclaiming and establishing the provenance of the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoals. A Declaration of Provenance had been signed by the descendants present in the event, including the16 Royal Houses of Lanao, the 28 Legislative Body, Federation Royal Sultanates of Lanao, the Marawi Sultanate League, and other datus and elders to formalize the claim.

Nasser S. Sharief

According to Nasser S. Sharief, who researched and wrote the monograph “The Iranun and Philippines’ Claim in the South China Sea: the binding tie of place, meaning, and memory”, only the Iranun had made good use of the Spratlys over the millennium in their unorthodox approach to mainland Southeast Asia, nixing the traditional roundabout coast-hugging western trade routes.”

One of the main feature of the monograph is the Carta Indigena Filipina, which unlike Murillo Velarde Map of 1734, is an indigenous Filipino map that portrays the South China Sea. The map is an Iranūn-Ugi Portulan donated to the Madrid’s Museo de Naval in 1847. It is formally designated by the curators of the Museoas “Carta Indigena Filipina”. The map was contained inside a bamboo tube taken from the breastwork of a “Moro pirate” ship captured near the waters of the Sulu archipelago. Until now the map which encompasses the South China Sea had never been used by the Philippines in laying claim to the disputed islands.

Scarborough and Spratly

Among the items available for examination at the convention hall is the genealogy of over 58,000 known direct descendants of the Bai sa Condor. Pulo Condor, an island situated off the southern coast of Cambodia and Vietnam, is vital to the Philippines’ claim on the Spratlys because it is intrinsic to the Iranūn’s activity in the South China Sea. To them Pulo Condor is an inextricable node of their network that connects mainland Southeast Asia to Borneo, the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia.

Sharief noted that the exclusion of the Pulo Condor from the very outline of China’s Nine-Dash Line, denies more than a millennium of history of relationship and cultural exchanges between and among island Southeast Asia and mainland Southeast Asia. “The exclusion from the so-called Nine-Dashed Line of the key islands that formed part of the trade and communications network among peoples of Southeast Asia is a glaring demonstration of sheer ignorance — or deliberate ignoring — of key events and happenstances that shaped Southeast Asia as a region across the centuries.”

Activity — historical activity at that — as defined by a backdrop of the circumstance of the age is what makes for a historical claim. In their heyday, the Iranūn Orang Laut and their Rajas were the only masters of these disputed islets of the South China Sea. They had made use of their full potential on the now disputed islands. Not for fishing or just plain curiosity but for their logistic network in ferrying untold numbers of Chams fleeing the onslaught of the Die Viet over the centuries.

According to Sharief in his presentation, the mere planting of late markers on protruding rocks and flags are just semaphore symbolism that has no bearing on actual usage. Seasonal fishing camps and intermittent commercial guano mining do not qualify as occupation, at least not by a state.

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