Population: 824,731 (2015 census by Filipino government)
Area: 1,600.40 km² (2011 estimate by Filipino government)
Language: Tausug, Zamboangueño, Filipino, English and Malay
Religion: majority of Muslims with a Christian minority
The Sulu Foundation of Nine Ethnic Tribes Inc. (SUFONETI) was created in San Fernando, the Philippines, with the aim of bringing development and peace to the people of Sulu. The organization aims to restore the rights and independence of the Sulu people, enabling them to manage their own economy and governing their own territory.
The Sulu people are a Muslim community living in the Sulu Archipelago, a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean in the south-western Philippines with around 700 thousand inhabitants. They are part of the Malay community and became Muslim when the Sultanate of Sulu was established in 12th Century, which included portions of Borneo, Palawan, Mindanao and other islands in the region. During the Spanish control of the region, which started in the 16th Century, the sultanate had limited self-governance. Following the Spanish-American war, the United States took control of the Philippines in 1898. In 1915, an agreement between American commanders and the Sultan Jamalul Kiram was signed. This agreement, called the ‘Carpenter agreement’, relinquished all temporal power of the Sultan over the territory. During World War II, the Sulu archipelago was occupied by the Japanese. In 1946, the Sulu archipelago became part of the Philippines. According to the Sulu, the Carpenter Agreement only places limitations on the Sultan’s functions meaning that the Sultan of Sulu can still act as Head of the state, of the religious order and still has power over the people of Sulu.
Today, Sulu is an autonomous chain of islands and a part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The large grass roots support for the Sultanate system illustrates its continued relevance and acceptance by the Sulu people today. The capital of Sulu, Jolo, has suffered from heavy fighting during the military operations against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a movement founded by the Moro against the Philippine government, in 1973. Moreover, the region has been considered as unsafe after the war. This has resulted in a decrease in economic relationships with other regions, which has left the Sulu Archipelago region with internal conflicts and increasing poverty due to the economic, social and educational problems. The SUFONETI is looking to end these conflicts of the region, while strengthening the independence and the rights of the Sulu people.