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  • Samuel K. Tan1933–2022
  • Ma. Luisa T. Camagay

There is truth to the cliché that one does not know the value of someone until he/she has passed on. This reality became so real when we—I, as president of the Philippine Historical Association, and the president of the Philippine National Historical Society (PNHS)—were looking for a scholar who would write an annotated bibliography on the history of Muslims in the Philippines for a particular project. The demise of Dr. Samuel K. Tan has left a stark void in the historiography of Muslims in our country. Luckily or fortunately, this void is filled by the body of works that Dr. Tan has bequeathed us.

I first met Tan as a young faculty member of the Department of History at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. The encounter was brief as he was invited to become a member of the Tadhana (literally, destiny) project, a multivolume historical account of the Filipino people that was initiated by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, and later became director and chair of the National Historical Institute (NHI) (1997–1999), now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. We next met when I became a member of a panel constituted by the NHI in 1998 to investigate where the first mass in the Philippines was celebrated. [End Page 307]

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Tan was a member of the National Centennial Commission, which oversaw the centennial celebration of the 1896 Philippine Revolution. He was also a member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Tan’s keen interest in including the Muslims in the historical narrative of the country will forever be etched in my memory. Addressing the perennial criticism of Philippine history as biased in favor of lowland Christian Filipinos, he introduced a new framework in his book A History of the Philippines. Tan (1987, ix) explained in the preface: “This small volume is more of an approach to the study of Philippine history rather than a classroom text.” He further added:

One concern I have tried to fulfill in this modest offering is to give the cultural communities, the “other Filipinos,” a space they deserve in Philippine history. They have lost practically all the wherewithal for social, political, and economic progress of modernization whose erosive impact on traditional rights to resources has resulted in social marginalization. Unless a new spirit of nationalism and Filipinism changes the neocolonial tendency to ignore the legitimate cries of cultural communities, the foundation of national unity and peace will [End Page 308] remain fragile. The least that can be done by those in the academic and intellectual community is to give equal importance to their history and culture. I hope I have contributed in a small measure to this aim.


Tan’s framework includes three communities: the Moros representing the Filipinos in Mindanao; the indios, who are the lowland Filipinos; and the infieles (non-Christians), the Filipinos of the Cordillera. He documents the responses of these three communities to colonialism and imperialism, and the interaction of these communities with one another. The framework, in short, provides space to the “other Filipinos,” using the words of Dr. Tan, in the national historical narrative.

This slim volume was first published by the PNHS in 1987, under the leadership of Bernardita Churchill. The UP Press reprinted it as part of the student edition series (Tan 1997).

A seeming obsession of Tan was his search for indigenous sources about the Muslims in the Philippines. It helped that the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP-CIDS) instituted the Mindanao Studies Program in 1994 with Tan at its helm. With the support of the UP-CIDS, he launched a pioneering endeavor to locate, transliterate, and translate Jawi materials. Tan (1996a, vii) defined Jawi as “a generic term covering correspondence and other forms of discourses, which express personal opinions and sentiments or official policies and recommendations directly written by or scribed in behalf of individuals comprising the Sultanate hierarchy.” The Jawi materials are written using an Arabic script often referred to as Old Malay script. This Jawi script was used by the sultans...