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Special Features | National

PROFILE | Jacel Kiram shows what being a Sulu princess means

The princess in the eye of the storm: Princess Jacel Kiram talks to journalists her parents' home in Taguig City in this March 6, 2013 file photo. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON.COM
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines – Her face is sweet, she speaks and projects well, and she is courteous to the hundreds of visitors and well-wishers who have packed their modest home in Taguig City since the Feb. 12 standoff in Sabah. But Jacel Kiram, eldest child of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, leaves no doubt she is a princess in the most sublime meaning of the word---a bright, noble servant leader on whose shoulder falls the task of caring for, sometimes representing, an aging leader caught in extraordinary times.

Though she has been brought to tears at times, she is best remembered for her tough, but measured words, as when she challenged, on national TV, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II to explain why he sounded more like the spokesman of Malaysia than a Filipino leader.

At 35, the eldest daughter of Kiram III,  74, and Dr. Fatima Cellah Kiram, had been trained for years to be the all-around go-to person in the Kiram household---learning to drive for her parents, cook and do other manual work. She had a sense, early on, a time like this may come when she would have to do more extraordinary things as her parents fulfill what they deem a historic mission: reclaim the resource-rich North Borneo as part of the homeland of Suluanons.

She talks of herself, speaking mostly in Filipino: “I am Jacel because my parents are Jamalul and Cellah. I got my father’s remarkable patience---well, you may still consider me patient---and from my mother, the combativeness in times of crisis.”

The title “Princess” is certainly remotely reminiscent of a fairy tale. “I cook, I drive, I’m the butler of my father and mother. If you’re talking of sacrifice, there’s a lot, in my personal life. But all that is nothing compared to the sacrifice of our fellowmen who are now in Sabah.”

The sultan, under threat of criminal persecution for sanctioning the sojourn of over 200 of his followers to Sabah, gives interviews every day in between twice-weekly dialysis sessions. Princess Jacel alternates with her mother and the sultanate’s spokesman, engineer Abraham Idjirani, in filling in media outfits with details .

Early Thursday morning, she flew to Sulu and Tawi-tawi on a humanitarian mission, as hundreds of families there were reported to be running out of provisions, most of which are traded by boat from Sabah, where an estimated 800,000 Filipinos live.

She says she has to be strong, both for her parents and the cause they represent. “Sino pa ang lalaban kung hindi kami kami din [Who else will fight for this cause besides us]?”

The brave princess was nearly moved to tears when her father joined in the conversation and said half-jokingly, “my first-born is stubborn.” But there was no mistaking the glint of pride in his eye, as he expressed amazement at how she has carried her share of the burden through this crisis. “I’ve always been proud of her. Keep it up!” he added.

Jacel says that, besides the awareness of the extreme sacrifice of those in Sabah, she is sustained these days by her father’s constant reminder, that everything happens because it is willed by Allah.

Extremely difficult this battle may seen, Princess Jacel says it has taught her to stand up and remind the whole world of the history of the country and the sultanate, and of stories long ignored in history books.

To those amazed that a woman like her now serves as the bulwark of the family, she calmly says: courage has nothing to do with gender.

Such timely words, indeed, as the world marks International Women’s Day, and International Women’s Month in March.