Jamalul Kiram III, a descendant of the sultan of Sulu who led a quixotic military effort to regain part of the island of Borneo for his family this year, died Sunday in Manila, Philippines. He was 75.
The cause was multiple organ failure, his daughter Jacel Kiram said. In February, Mr. Kiram directed a younger brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, to lead several hundred fighters in an armed incursion into Borneo to regain part of island, now the Malaysian state of Sabah, that his ancestors once ruled. More than 60 people died in the fighting, which caused the most serious security crisis in Malaysia in more than a decade and strained the country's relationship with the Philippines.
For more than 400 years, the Sultanate of Sulu, which preceded both the Philippine republic and Malaysia by centuries, ruled over vast stretches of territory -- including parts of the island of Borneo -- from opulent palaces in what is now the southern Philippines. The sultanate was recognized as a sovereign state through treaties with nations around the world. In recent years, however, the sultanate was reduced to a modest two-story house in a Muslim enclave on the outskirts of Manila where the frail, partly blind Mr. Kiram struggled to fulfill his limited royal duties while receiving dialysis.
"I'm the poorest sultan in the world," Mr. Kiram said in an interview in March.
Mr. Kiram was born July 16, 1938, in Maimbung, Philippines. He holds a law degree from Manuel L. Quezon University in Manila and ran unsuccessfully for the Philippine Senate in 2007.
Survivors include his wife, Fatima Celia, and eight children.
Mr. Kiram is expected to be succeeded by his younger brother Esmail Kiram II, who supported the Sabah incursion. Historically, successions to the sultanate have been marked by violence among factions within the family and in later years by multiple claimants to the title of sultan.
First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM