Tawi-Tawi the home of the gentle and peaceful people of the South

Batanes to Tawi-Tawi

WITH JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL

Prior to 1972 back in my home province of Sulu, I often heard the name Tawi-Tawi as the farthest islands belonging to Sulu. Hence, even the municipality of Bongao when one writes an address it was written as Bongao, Sulu up to September 26, 1973.

When I was a young kid and we used to play different kinds of games that children in the neighborhood play and when there was disagreement among the playmates we can easily resolve the issue by invoking the name Tawi-Tawi. 

That is for example when one has a missing toy and he has a suspect then to erase the suspicion the aggrieved boy will let the suspect swear-in “in the name of Tampat (shrine of holy men) Tawi-Tawi” that he did not get the toy of his playmate. If the suspect has the courage to swear then he is absolved or set free from an obligation or consequences thereof.

Hence, as a defendant he is absolved of whatever crime he has committed. That is our belief in Tawi-Tawi that it is enchanted and so powerful.

However, I did not realize that I will be educated in Tawi-Tawi that is when I set foot in the then Bongao, Sulu on June 1972 with my two other siblings after we passed and awarded with the Full Scholarship Grant from the then Mindanao State University-Sulu College of Technology and Oceanography (MSU-SCTO). 

Our elder Sister, now Dr. Radzma Jannaral-Suhaili was ahead of us by one year. The MSU-SCTO had limited number of courses and the most popular ones were the degrees on Fisheries and Education. Our sister Radzma finished her Bachelor of Science in Education and upon graduation she joined the MSU Community High School in Tampakan, Simunul in Tawi-Tawi. 

Since we have no choices, I and my other sibling, Hadja Palma I. Jannaral had no other choices but to enroll in the College of Fisheries. She took up Bachelor of Science in Inland Fisheries, whereas I myself took up Bachelor of Science in Marine Fisheries.

I narrated here in this Column our educational history because we owe it to Tawi-Tawi where MSU-SCTO and now MSU Tawi-Tawi is located. Somehow, I still believe, can attest and corroborate that Tawi-Tawi is indeed the home of the gentle and peaceful Sama people with a number of Tausug residents where some have been in Tawi-Tawi for quite so long before the creation of this province in 1973.

In fact there are 4 Tausug politicians who got elected as Provincial Governors of Tawi-Tawi like Jerry Matba, Sadikul Sahali , Rashidin Matba, and the incumbent Gov. Yshmael “Mang” Sali.

It was on September 27, 1973 when President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Presidential Decree No. 302 that called for the Creation of the Province of Tawi-Tawi separate and distinct from the Province of Sulu. 

Some bright boys of Tawi-Tawi argued that the Province of Tawi-Tawi was created as a result of an “Act of War.”  From the layman’s point of view it appears that the People of Tawi-Tawi waged war or invaded Sulu. As a result of the invasion Tawi-Tawi won the war and consequently established immediately the Province of Tawi-Tawi and already out of the jurisdiction of the Province of Sulu.

However after reading the provisions of the P. D. 302 nowhere in the said decree it is stipulated that the creation of the Province of Tawi-Tawi was by virtue of an “act of war.”

On the other hand, P. D. 302 says the fundamental aim of the government is the economic development of the entire country; the islands comprising the Tawi-Tawi group are so distant from the seat of the provincial government of Sulu and communication facilities so inadequate that it is extremely difficult to set and administer the government affairs in the area; and it is the avowed policy of the government to uplift the socio-economic well-being of the inhabitants in the area that is generally known as the Tawi-Tawi group.

Likewise, the following municipalities in the Tawi-Tawi group are as follows: South Ubian; Tandubas; Simunul; Sitangkai; Balimbing; Bongao; Cagayan de Sulu; and Turtle Island.

Thus originally the Province of Tawi-Tawi was composed only of 8 municipalities and the Provincial Capital of the Province of Tawi-Tawi was originally Bato-Bato, Balimbing, and now known as Panglima Sugala. In a nutshell, it was Admiral Romulo Mercader Espaldon, who was then the Commander of the Southern Command (Southcom) based in Calarian, Zamboanga City who recommended to the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos the creation of Tawi-Tawi. 

Admiral Espaldon was the first military Governor of Tawi-Tawi. Upon the creation of the province, he emphasized that “it is the province for all.” As long as there is harmonious coexistence among its people (Sama and Tausug), I am happy our province is moving forward.”

Be that as it may, in celebrating the annual anniversary of the Province of Tawi-Tawi, I would like to ask my readers, is 

it appropriate to call the celebration as “Kamahardikaan sin Tawi-Tawi (Freedom or Liberation of Tawi-Tawi)  or just a mere ” Tawi-Tawi Provincial Day”?

Tawi-Tawi the home of the gentle and peaceful people of the South.

Are the Sama of Tawi-Tawi the most deprived among the tribes under the BARMM? I got this question from my former MSU-TCTO Professor, the former DILG Assistant Secretary Hamid Ladjakahal posted in his Facebook Account: Hams Ladjakahal Tanjong Awal, which he said, and I quote: “Of all the tribes in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the most deprived in terms of opportunities are the Sama.” ASec Ladjakahal outrightly answered his question by saying, “Because Sama are the most peaceful.”

This Batanes To Tawi-Tawi Columnist has agreed with the observation of my former Professor at MSU-TCTO. Is there anyone from Tawi-Tawi now occupying a post as a Minister in one of the Ministries under BARMM? If none, I hope Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim will be fair and invoke an equal representation to his Sama brothers from Tawi-Tawi. (JIJ)

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