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March 22, 1915, the Sultan of Sulu relinquished his sovereignty over Sulu

On March 22, 1915, the Sultan of Sulu, Hadji Mohammad Jamalul Kiram, in behalf of his adherents and people of the Sulu Archipelago, signed in Zamboanga, a mutual agreement with the Governor General, represented by the governor of the Department of Mindano and Sulu, Frank W. Carpenter, renouncing his sovereignty over the Sulu archipelago.

The Sultan agreed “without any reservation and limitation whatsoever, ratifies and confirms his recognition of the sovereignty of the United States of America, and the exercise by his excellency the Governor General and the representatives of the government in Mindanao and Sulu”.


Being the complete renunciation by the latter of his pretensions of sovereignty and a definition of his status.

Zamboanga, March 22, 1915.

NOTE: Prior to American occupation the Sultanate of Sulu had been for more than three hundred years an independent sovereignty; during the latter portion of the Spanish regime the Sultanate had partially relinquished the exercise of that sovereignty as to foreign relations and to a lesser degree as concerned the port of Job and the four other points occupied by Spanish military garrisons; a temporal sovereignty, partial but nevertheless de facto, existed and was recognized by the “Bates Treaty” in the term “the government of the Sultan” to whom the American authorities were by that agreement required to turn over for trial cases “where crimes and offenses are committed by Moros against Moros” (Article IX). The abrogation of the Bates Treaty was premised upon other matters than the de jure sovereignty of the Sultan who subsequently neither by conquest nor otherwise lost or relinquished his claims to sovereignty so far as concerned internal affairs of government of the Sulu Archipelago until he signed this Agreement of March 22, 1916 (sic’ 1915) at Zamboanga.

(On the original copy the above title and note are in the handwriting of Governor Carpenter, See photographs.—H.O.B)


23In this Agreement the Sultan of Sulu relinquished his temporal sovereignty “in American territory and dependencies.” On the other hand, the American Government reconized that “the Sultan of Sulu is titular spiritual head of the Mohammedan Church in the Sulu Archipelago with all the Mohammedan rights and privileges winch under the government of the United States of America may be exercised by such an ecclesiastical authority.” But it was made “clearly of official record the fact that the termination of the temporal sovereignty ofthe Sultanate of Sulu within American territory is understood to be wholly without prejudiceor effect as to the temporal sovereignty and ecclesiastical authority of the Sulatanate beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the United States Government especially with reference to that portion of the Island of Borneo which as a dependency of the Sulatanate of Sulu is understood to be held under lease by the chartered company which is known as the ‘British North Borneo Government’.” (Letter of Governor Carpenter to the Director of Non-Christian Tribes, dated May 4, 1920.) The “Governor-General of the Philippine Islands” referred to in the title and body of the Agreement—American Governor General Francis B. Harrison—made even more explicit that the agreement “did not interfere with the Sultan’s status of sovereignty over British North Borneo lands.”

Source: Philippine Claim to North Borneo, Vol. I


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