Sulu’s Samuel Tan succumbs to COVID-19; leaves “a void no historian can fill”


DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 January) — Historian Dr. Samuel Kong Tan of Siasi Sulu, professor, author of several books, the first Moro to chair the University of the Philippines’ Department of History and the National Historical Institute and honored in 2019 with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History, succumbed to COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, exactly a week after he turned 88. 

Tan’s son, Ray, told MindaNews on Friday that his father “succumbed to COVID” at 2:35 p.m. on Thursday. He “passed away peacefully in the presence of family”  Ray noted that his father had co-morbidities. He was a diabetic and had a cardiovascular disease.  

The Philippine National Historical Society (PNHS) honored Tan with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History during the 40th National Conference on Local and National History in 2019 for his life-long work on Philippine historical studies. 

The eldest of 11 siblings, Tan left behind three children, eight  grandchildren and five great grandchildren, Ray said. 

“Sorry I don’t know the exact number of his books and publications. That’s a\ll we would like share at this time,” Tan told MindaNews

For Amina Rasul, President of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, Tan was “the premiere historian of the Sulu Archipelago, devoting his life not just to the study of history of the Philippines but the local history of his home province.”

Rasul’s mother, former Senator Santanina Rasul, also hails from Siasi, Sulu. To close family friends, Tan was known as “Seng,” but in the UP Department of History, he was “Sir Sammy.” 

“While in the Senate, Mama valued his advice not just on history but on governance and the peace process. I did, too. As a Tausug, thank you, Dr. Seng, for showing the world our heritage and the value we bring to the Philippines. You have left a void no historian can fill,” Rasul said. 

“If you’re studying history, or if you’re reading the history of the Sulu archipelago,” Bangsamoro Member of Parliament Amir Mawallil wrote on his Facebook page, “it is unlikely that you won’t encounter his name, his books and his narratives. The Tausug lost another precious treasure. Rest in eternity, Dr. Samuel Tan, historian and keeper of memory.”

Voices, Vantage points and ‘National Belonging’

In a statement on Friday, the UP Department of History described  “Sir Sammy” as the leading expert on the role and contribution of Filipino Muslims to the country’s history. 

It recalled that during his chairmanship from 1977 to 1982,  Tan promoted research on local and oral history  that led to the launching of the International Conference on Oral and Local History in UP Diliman in 1979. It was also under his term when the Asian Festival was launched.  

In recognition of his contribution to the discipline, he was appointed President of the National Historical Institute (NHI) ) from 1997 to 1999. The NHI is the forerunner of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). 

A prolific writer, Tan wrote at least 20 books, among them The Muslim Armed Struggle In The Philippines, 1900-1941 (1973); The Filipino Muslim Armed Struggle, 1900-1972 (1977), A History of the Philippines (1987), Decolonization and Filipino Muslim Identity (1989); the three-volume Surat Sug: Letters of the Sultanate of Sulu (2005); Internationalization of the Bangsamoro struggle (1993); The Socio-Economic Dimension Of Moro Secessionism (1995), Annotated Bibliography of Jawi Materials of the Muslim South (1996), The Filipino-American War, 1899-1913 (2002), Filipino Muslim Perceptions of their History and Culture (2003), Ferdinand E. Marcos and the Filipino Military Tradition (2006), and The Muslim South and Beyond (2010)

In honoring Tan with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History in 2019,  PNHS chair Bernardita Churchill described him as a champion of the value of local history and importance of oral sources and he “championed the voices and vantage points of those marginalized and obscured by national(ist) historiography.”

“As a public historian, Samuel Tan’s writings have long nurtured not only a spatial perspective and cultural sensibility, reflective of his familial roots deeply sown in Siasi, but have also pioneered and sustained a new way of seeing and sensing the Muslim South as an integral part of the national narrative in modern Philippine history,” the PNHS said. 

 “Prof. Tan has restructured how we teach and study the makings of the modern Philippines and, as a result, he has fostered and facilitated the ethos of ‘national belonging’ across publics, regions, cultures and religions,” it said.

In its statement on Friday, the NHCP said that as soon as Tan assumed the post of chair and executive director of its forerunner, the NHI, in 1997, he “enriched the curatorial content of the Museum of Philippine History” which opened in Manila in 1995. That library has since evolved into the  current NHCP Museo ng Kasaysayang Pampulitika ng Pilipinas in Casa Real Shrine, Malolos, Bulacan. 

Multicultural Philippine history; the marginalized in national history discourse

“An advocate of a multicultural Philippine history and the appraisal of the marginalized in the national history discourse (i.e., indigenous peoples, Muslim Filipinos), he supported the massive local history conferences and publications conducted throughout the country by the Philippine National Historical Society and the Philippine Historical Association in 1998. Moreover, by virtue of his office, he served as Commissioner of the National Centennial Commission and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts,” the NHCP said. 

It said Tan is remembered fondly by employees during his tenure for “immersing himself in the work of each division and for ensuring that each project the Institute undertook were properly implemented.”

A tribute posted on the website of the University of the Philippines said Tan “leaves behind a legacy of scholarly works, books, and writings exploring the History of the Philippines, especially of the Muslim South.”

According to the tribute, Tan was born in Siasi, Sulu, on December 30, 1933, finished Elementary at the Jolo Tong Jin School in 1949 as Valedictorian and high school at the Zamboanga City High School in 1953, also as Valedictorian.  Tan finished History at the Zamboanga A.E. College in 1963, graduating Summa Cum Laude, and completed his MA in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman in 1967. He went to  the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at the Syracuse University in New York for his PhD in Social Science, completing it in 1973. 

Mindanao Studies Program 

Dr. Tan taught at the UP Department of History from 1963 to 1994, served as chair from 1977 to 1982 and in 1994 was Director and Convenor of the Mindanao Studies Program of the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies, a post he held until 2002.

According to the UP article, he also served as a Research Fellow and Consultant of the Tadhana Special Research Project under the Office of the Philippine President from 1974 to 1985, was a Consultant for the Region IX Commission in 1976, and was consultant of Senator Rasul from 1987 to 1992, of Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) Administrator Almarin C. Tillah in 1999, and of Congressman Nur G. Jaafar from 2001 to 2002.

Aside from serving as chair-Executive Director of the NHI in the late 1990s, he also served as  Commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) from 1997 to 1998; and Commissioner of the National Centennial Commission from 1997 to 1999. 

He was a Research Fellow, coordinator, and Consultant of the Regional Histories Project of the National Library from 1981 to 1983 and Consultant for History and Culture of the SPDA. He served as a lecturer in various academic institutions such as the National Defense College of the Philippines, the Development Academy of the Philippines, Sophia University, Silsilah Dialogue Institute, De la Salle University, and Mindanao State University. (MindaNews)