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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

The way we were, the way we are

/ 01:07 AM January 28, 2013

It was with a sense of relief, yet with some sadness, that I watched the last episode of “Lee San” (Wind in the Palace), the Korean telenovela I have been addicted to for months.

Relief, because now I can go back to my normal sleeping hours, having lost so much of them staying up till or even past 1 a.m. just to watch this very beautiful series. The series was shown after the regular documentary that would come after the nightly news aired many times later than scheduled.

I didn’t mind sitting through the GMA 7 “docus” as they are very well produced and are very informative. But during the last two weeks of “Lee San,” GMA 7 squeezed in the Tim Yap show and I found it quite incomprehensible why images of Tim Yap cavorting on a bed and pillow-throwing with Hayden Kho should be inflicted on me before I could watch “Lee San.” Why GMA 7 couldn’t wait for the series to end before airing the Yap show is beyond me. They could have scheduled it after “Lee San,” and I’m sure Yap’s fans, the party-going crowd, wouldn’t have minded at all.


Yes, there was also sadness because the series is too wonderful—story, scenery, acting, the entire production—a single viewing was not enough.

“Lee San” is a story about nobility, leadership and tradition, interwoven with enduring friendship and selfless love, all for the love of country and in the service of its people. The story, whether it is based on a true story or is pure fiction, was of special interest to me because of this growing movement among the Tausug to revive the sultanate, about which I hope to write in a later piece.

“Lee San” offers a good study on small Asian monarchies that are different in many ways from the more powerful “empires” that ruled with absolutism. The difference is probably the reason some of these small monarchies have endured to this day.

These small monarchies that ruled most of the countries in Southeast Asia were, we can assume, the models for the sultanate that was established in these islands that now constitute the Philippines. The sultanate was reportedly referred to in Chinese annals as the “Sulu Kingdom.”

The Sultanate of Sulu, it is claimed, was the first organized government of the country; and although the different tribes that inhabited the islands had their own structure of ruling hierarchy, their system of law and order and concepts of crime and punishment derived from a belief system based on mystical and natural forces—unlike the Sulu sultanate which was established by Arab missionaries as part of their Islamization of the Orient.

Perhaps it was because of this that none of the indigenous datu systems came up to the level of the Sulu sultanate that was based on Islam, as could easily be verified in the Koran, the basis of its system of laws, the Shari’ah which, along with Sulu’s strategic location and insular geography, made it powerful enough to engage in trade and diplomatic relations with other countries.

One can find many commonalities between monarchy in “Lee San” and the sultanate, particularly the concept of honor, nobility, devotion to tradition, the protocols of succession and a legal and justice system with its concept of crime and punishment based on written law. Both maintained a meticulously compiled and strictly secured library and, believe it or not, even a whole department of artists who, like photographers, rendered, in real time, visual records of the highlights of events in the monarchy. Thus drawings and paintings complemented their documents and, indeed, painted more than a thousand words.

In the present scramble for legitimacy among the many pretenders to the throne of the Sulu sultanate, it is truly lamentable that unlike ancient Korea, the Tausug did not give much value to their sultanate’s records and documents. Some royal families do keep their own tarsilas or genealogies which they jealously hide from public view, and many of which are just self-serving, differing as they do from clan to clan.


But why would the Tausug now want to revive the sultanate? Why only now, long after the colonizers have left and after eight decades of their experimenting with American (Jeffersonian) democracy?

Based on the present litany of complaints, they have finally realized that American democracy does not work for a people who practice the Islamic faith and the Shari’ah laws, and who adhere as well to their own cultural traditions. The movement’s advocates blame American democracy for their alienation from the Christian government and their marginalization in the body politic; and worse, for the continuing oppression, through military offensives and the militarization of communities, by the majority non-Muslims. It seems they fail to see that the Islamic countries in the Middle East, caught in the clamor for democratic reforms, are now in turmoil and have lost thousands of their citizens. Does this mean that Islam has failed and that the democratic system is the option?

We can find so much relevance in “Lee San,” which is set centuries ahead of the American concept of governance, because the main character is also confronted with the same problems: corruption in government; oppression of the poor and marginalized; crimes like treason, even smuggling and economic sabotage, plunder by the wealthy and powerful; political opposition; palace intrigues; plots and counterplots.

Yes, many things never change, simply because we never change.

It is not the system.  It is us.

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TAGS: culture, Korean telenovela, Lee San, Sultanate of Sulu, Tausog, Tradition
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