By BING PAREL
This Sulu princess thought he was an overbearing military official, and could not even stand him at first. But when tragedy struck, she began to see him in a different light – with dislike turning into friendship that eventually blossomed into love. NewsFeed 360 discovers the heartwarming story of Princess Jacel Kiram and Lt. Col. Moh Yusop Hasan.
If anyone would have predicted about a decade ago that Princess Jacel Kiram would be marrying 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion (of the 3rd Infantry Division) Commander Lt. Col. Moh Yusop Hasan, she would have laughed in that person’s face.
The daughter of the late 33rd Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, Princess Jacel (also known as PJK) was working in Makati when the opportunity came to establish a non-government organization that would serve as a channel for cooperation between Muslims and Christians to foster development.
Called Kristiyano’t Islam Repormang Aagapay sa Mamamayan or KIRAM, the NGO was conceptualized by then Major Hasan who also saw the need for an interfaith organization that would help push for livelihood and sustainable development in Muslim communities.
PJK and Yusop had to work closely together, drawing up plans and programs to drum up support and funding for the fledgling organization. Colleagues were thus under the impression that they were becoming familiar with each other, being both Tausugs from the province of Sulu. But underneath the harmonious professional veneer was simmering exasperation because she found him “grumpy.”
“I was feeling degraded because I had a high position in our office but he was treating me like his staff, and even making me wait,” the princess shares, adding that there came a time when she did not even want to meet with him anymore.
Being a military man, Yusop was focus oriented and presented a serious mien. “Having been a junior officer at the time, I didn’t really care about the feelings of civilians. All I wanted to do was accomplish the tasks and finish the job. So I think she was feeling some pressure,” he explains.
But just when she was about to throw in the towel and tell him she couldn’t work with him anymore, tragedy struck.
“I just arrived from Baguio and was planning to talk to him when someone texted me asking if I have heard from Major Hasan. So I thought, ‘Oh my God, he already knows what I’m planning!’ Then two more people texted from his office, and one called me up, telling me about the bad news that happened to his family.”
Major Hasan’s wife and child – who were in the Middle East and were set to go back to the Philippines – both perished in a car accident.
Naturally compassionate, the princess rushed to his office. What she saw put her at a loss for words. “Yung napakayabang na Major Hasan – tingin ko kasi sa kanya dati super yabang so ayoko talaga to even talk to him – ang nakita ko when I went there was like a little boy, so helpless.” (The very arrogant Major Hasan – because I really thought he was super arrogant that’s why I didn’t even want to talk to him – what I saw when I went to his office was like a little boy, so helpless.)
All the anger melted away, replaced by pity and compassion.
Because they were under the impression that the princess and the military official were close friends, Yusop’s colleagues asked the princess for help because they were also at a loss on what to do, aside from the fact that they were also unfamiliar with Muslim culture.
“As Muslims, we become responsible for those who experience the loss of a loved one. We were not close during that time; and I was just doing my obligation to a brother Muslim. People were under the impression that I knew everything about him, but in reality, I knew nothing. I didn’t even know if he had siblings, or what their names were, or even his parents’ names. So I called up my mom and dad for help, and they sent an Imam,” she narrates.
“I think the accident made her see me not as ‘Major Hasan’ but as a father, as a human being who also knew how to cry, who also felt pain,” he discloses.
PJK helped sort things out, talking with Yusop’s siblings when they arrived from Mindanao. It took eight months before they saw each other again, with the princess paying him a visit to console him because she had become part of his support group since he had no family in Manila.
They started exchanging text messages and calling just to ask how the other one was doing, engaging in small talk. And when he started courting a fellow soldier, he would consult her on what kind of flowers would be good and other things that women would like.
In fact, Yusop even had the audacity to ask Princess Jacel to take a trip to Davao just to see the lady and tell him if she was pretty. “So I told him, ‘There’s Facebook! Just send her picture!’ Mang-iistorbo pa (What a bother)!” the princess laughs in recollection.
She allowed him to recount the things that were happening to him because she felt he had no one else to talk with, and she was helping him that way. But when the text messages became more frequent, at times even about inconsequential things – but mostly also about the girl he liked – she began ignoring him. And when he stopped texting her and did not call for two days, it was her turn to become uneasy. She admits that she was already starting to feel a change in how she felt towards him.
Yusop’s pursuit of the female soldier did not pan out, as he was also beginning to see the princess in a different light. She was a member of the royal family of Sulu, but he was struck by her humility and her lack of airs, not minding if she had to ride in a top-down jeep with people staring at her while she slept after a tiring day of NGO work. “To the Tausugs, the name Kiram is like an institution,” he avers.
Unknown to her, he had been quietly seeking the help of some elders as well as common friends and military superiors to act as go between for a marriage proposal to the princess, and get her parents’ blessing. She actually thought he was joking when he told her that he would visit her on New Year’s Eve of 2012 and that they would be getting married, but to him, it was serious business.
They had originally planned to get married on Valentine’s Day in February 2013, but Princess Jacel’s mom, Dr. Celia Kiram – who is a Commissioner at the Philippine Sports Commission – felt one month’s preparation was too soon, so they decided to get married on April 28, or after three months which was the customary waiting period after pamamanhikan (a Filipino tradition where the bride’s family is asked for approval).
“We decided to get married in Zamboanga instead of Manila because we have a lot of relatives and it would really cost him if he had to pay for the airfare of everyone to Manila!” the princess heartily laughs.
Asked if his work in the military ever became an issue, Princess Jacel says that she has come to accept that duty comes first, and that wives come second. “I can easily adjust because I am the head of an organization, while his work has layers so he has to get along with others and be where he is assigned,” she says. “I do not ask when (he can come home); only once in a while, but I do not demand,” she adds.
The differences in their backgrounds also served as a strong anchor, with each one recognizing that their experiences helped mold them into becoming the strong and resilient personalities that they are today. “He may present a tough façade, but in reality, he has a big heart,” Princess Jacel notes. When Yusop was a kid, he helped his mother arrange everything in a cart that they would push to the marketplace where she rented space. And instead of playing with other boys after school, he would help her carry back her wares. Being an only son, he learned how to take responsibility early in life.
Both strong minded, there are times when they would have differences in perspective. “He would look at a situation from the right, while I would approach it from the left. But when he explains his point, I get convinced, and I would be left thinking that this man is intelligent and has a lot of good ideas. He always has a point, and I am learning so much from him,” the princess remarks.
One of the things they are passionate about is to correct the stereotypes people may have about Sulu, the Tausugs and Muslims in general.
“I grew up and studied in Manila, but I have a responsibility on my shoulder for the Tausug people of Sulu. It’s a beautiful and promising place, and if you learn about its history, you will fall in love with it. And you will realize that it has made a big contribution to the Philippines. But why is Sulu forsaken? And it’s so bad that when you hear the word Tausug, or mention Sulu, people only think of the Abu Sayyaf. Yusop and I are both Tausugs. There are also good Tausugs, and we want to be an example and show that Tausugs can also excel,” she says, the passion apparent in her voice.
She narrates the first time she set foot in Tawi-Tawi, which used to be a part of the Province of Sulu. “My tears really fell. They were saying that Tawi-Tawi was one of the territories of the Sultanate of Sulu but I have never been there. I have never been to Sabah… We had a palace in the past, but now all that was left were remnants. That was all I saw, the posts and the burial ground. Just that,” Princess Jacel laments.
No surprise therefore that the couple is passionate about reviving Sulu, so to speak, and bring awareness not only to its glorious past but its contribution and its place in the history of our country. To this end, they launched the ICPRD – the International Center for Peace, Reconciliation and Development. As explained by the princess during the NGO’s formal launch in December 2017, she envisions ICPRD to become “a conduit, a bridge, a collaborator or a center with the goal of Unity in Diversity” as its core regardless of religion and beliefs.
At the center of the advocacy is the empowerment of women, children and the youth through programs that focus on health, education and leadership. Sports is also a core, which falls in very well with the role of Princess Jacel as president of the Philsilat Sports Association, the national sports association of Pencak Silat Coaches and Athletes in the Philippines. (Pencak silat is a form of martial arts that originated in Indonesia. It is a full-contact sport that incorporates strikes, grappling and throwing as well as weaponry.)
While recognizing the existence of divergent ideologies with people coming from different races, faith, color, nationalities and status in life, she believes peaceful coexistence is possible through “involvement, understanding, collaborative dialogues leading to empowerment at the grassroots level in order to achieve sustainable peace.”
In his line of work with the Philippine Army, Lt. Col. Hasan is also finding ways to advocate peace and development while incorporating environmental preservation and protection. This was evident in his transformation of an abandoned compound full of trash into a resort-like camp, dubbing it as Kapayapaan Resort-Panay (Peace Resort-Panay) as opposed to the insurgent New People’s Army’s reference to the area as Kilusang Rehiyon-Panay (loosely translated as Panay Regional Movement).
Like most couples, the onset of the covid-19 pandemic made their work and their situation even more challenging especially since they now have two young children, Aleeya and Jamar.
“I wasn’t able to go home for nine months, but we try to cope and find solutions to these challenges. I was able to bring them to my camp and make them enjoy what was in Panay, and allow them to roam around and jibe my schedule so I can also bring them to Boracay. The pandemic became an opportunity for us to be together,” Yusop discloses.
“We had the opportunity to bond as a family, to be together in one place,” Princess Jacel agrees. “Imagine, I lived in Iloilo for four months, and I had to withstand bites from this tiny, unknown insect that gave me allergies,” she laughs at the memory.
The biggest realization, both say, is that you derive strength from your family. At the end of the day, they are our strong tower and pillar of strength that can help us through difficult moments in our lives.
About the Writer
Bing Parel is a Senior Vice President for the Editorial Department of WSP Incorporated, a Filipino-owned communications firm. In her past life, she was a travel magazine writer and associate editor for a glossy, and was also involved in the national campaign of a presidential candidate. She describes herself as a domestic diva on weekends and confesses that one of her frustrations is the inability to solve a Rubik’s Cube despite her teenage son’s patient encouragement and tutorial attempts.
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