The Province of Sulu (Lupah Sug—land of the sea current) traces its rich historical origin to the coming of Islam to the Philippines. Its history is shaped by the arrival of Muslim missionaries, traders, scholars, and travelers foremost of which was Karim-ul Mahkdum, an Arab missionary and learned judge who established a strong Islamic foundation for governance and life in what once the principality of Buansa Sumatra and the reign of Rajah Baguinda.


The marriage of Rajah Baginda’s daughter Paramisuli to the Arabian scholar Sayid Abubakar saw the birth of the Sultanate of Sulu. In the years that were the golden year era of the Sultanate of Sulu, Abubakar the first Sultan, brought Sulu, the Zamboanga Peninsula, Palawan, and Basilan under the Sultanate. Sabah followed in 1704 in recognition of the Sultans help in ending the long-running Brunei civil war.


The coming of Spanish colonization, Christianity, and a neo political system sparked fierce resistance in Sulu and started the Moro wars of 1578-1899. The ceding of the Philippines to the United States by Spain ended the 23 year’s (1876-1899) of Spanish occupation and ushered in the American era. The Bates Agreements signed Sultan Jamalul Kiram II and Brigadier General John Bates marked the start of the declined of the Sultanate. In March 1915, the Sultan gave his temporal powers in the Carpenter Agreement. This Agreement ended all opposition to the American government of Gov. Frank W. Carpenter.


With the enactment by the US Congress of the Jones Law (Philippine Autonomy Law) in 1916, ultimate Philippine independence was guaranteed and the Filipinization of public administration began.  Sulu, however, had an appointed American governor until 1935 and the Governor General in Manila had a say in Sulu affairs.


But one thing was evident; centuries of colonial presence could not erase the legacy of local governance left by Rajah Baguinda, a legacy that shapes Sulu politics to this day.


The word Sulu was derived and written before as Suluk or Soolook. The Malayos (Malays, Malaysians) have always been using the term “Orang Suluk” to refer to the people of the area, which correspond to the present term Tausug. Suluk was transformed into Sug. It is very common among Tausugs to drop the letter “l” in a word or syllable, especially during snappy conversation. On the other hand, the letters k and g at the end of the word can easily be mistaken for each other depending upon the accuracy of the speaker’s tongue, the keenness of the listener’s ears and the distance one is from the other. Suk could have been interchangeably used with Sug but the latter permanently took an irreversible hold on some people psyche and lingual habit. By derivation, therefore, Suluk and Suk (Sug) should assume the same meaning, and finally landed to the word Sulu[1].


Sulu became a province on March 10, 1917 through Commonwealth Act No. 27-11. Sulu celebrates a special day-the foundation of local governance and public administration on every September 18-per Provincial Ordinance No. 01 series of 1993 proudly signifying that local government in Sulu antedates similar system in the country.


The province is composed of nineteen (19) municipalities, divided into two (2) congressional districts and with a total population of 718,350 as of the 2010 Census of Population and Housing.

[1] The origin of names Sulu and Sug by Dr. Benj S. Bangahan published in the PEACEMAKER REPORT Vol. II, No. III.


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