Sakur Tan rival Ben Loong hosts Sara Duterte, Hugpong in Sulu

Pia Ranada
Sakur Tan rival Ben Loong hosts Sara Duterte, Hugpong in Sulu
Will former Sulu governor Benjamin Loong unseat the Tan family? In May, he is up against Sulu kingpin Sakur Tan, a party mate of President Rodrigo Duterte.

MANILA, Philippines – In a political move that has sent waves through Sulu, Benjamin Loong, rival of Sakur Tan for the island province’s governorship, hosted a campaign rally for presidential daughter Sara Duterte and Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) senatorial bets.

Loong, wearing his campaign color green, stood with Sara onstage before a packed gymnasium inside the Notre Dame Jolo campus on Thursday, April 25.

A former Sulu governor himself, Loong is challenging the decades-old hold on power of Tan and his family. Sakur, Sulu kingpin and family patriarch, was Sulu governor for two terms and vice governor for one term. His son, Abdusakur “Totoh” Tan II, is the current governor, while his wife, Nurunisah Tan, is vice governor. The Tans have held sway over Sulu since 2001, Sakur’s first term as governor.

Tan is also seen as an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte and is even chairman of PDP-Laban’s ARMM chapter. 

So why is the President’s daughter supporting the gubernatorial bid of Tan’s rival?

Sara said it’s part of HNP’s strategy to make as many friends as possible among local politicians.

Isa din sa strategy na ginagawa ng HNP is maghanap ng maraming allies, iba’t ibang allies sa local (It’s one strategy of HNP’s to look for many allies, different local allies),” she said in an interview with reporters in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.

PACKED. Sulu residents pack the Notre Dame Jolo gymnasium to listen to Sara Duterte and HNP candidates. Photo courtesy of HNP media pool

LOW ATTENDANCE OF CANDIDATES. Only two HNP senatorial candidates make it to the Sulu rally. Photo courtesy of HNP media pool

She added that HNP is “also friends with Governor Tan.”

“We also approached Governor Tan but he opted not to have a rally for the senators so that the attention of the people will no longer be divided, so just one rally in Jolo,” said Sara.

Sara has a track record of endorsing the candidacies of local politicians running against her father’s party mates. In Quezon City, for example, she supports the mayoral bid of Joy Belmonte and not that of Vincent Crisologo, PDP-Laban’s candidate. (READ: When Sara’s politics departs from her father’s: Boon or bane?)

In a Manila Standard report, Sulu 2nd District Representative Munir Arbison spoke of an alliance of Sulu politicians to “unseat” the Tans over supposed failure to stop kidnapping and spread of illegal drugs.

The group included Loong, former governor and congressman Yusop Jikiri, former governor Munib Estino, former congressman and mayor Hussein Amin, Tapul Mayor Nasser Daud, Tongkil Mayor Wahid Sahidulla, former Tapilao mayor Tambrin Tulawie, former Siasi mayor Abdel Anni, Omar Vice Mayor Juddin Pantasan, and Pangutaran Vice Mayor Salam Asta, reported the Manila Standard.

Bringing candidates closer

Sara Duterte, on Thursday, said HNP decided to hold rallies in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, despite security and logistical concerns, because they wanted to bring their senatorial candidates closer to residents there.

“We also wanted them to meet the candidates and for them to hear their plans…That has been the strategy of this campaign from the start, to bring them closer to the people,” said Sara.

But only 3 senatorial candidates showed up in person in Sulu – Ronald dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, and JV Ejercito. In the Tawi-Tawi rally, only Dela Rosa and Tolentino were there.

In Tawi-Tawi, Sara and HNP candidates were hosted by Languyan Mayor Yshmael Sali. It was held at the Amilbahar Jaafar Convention Center. –


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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at