She’s a princess, he’s a soldier.
She is a member of a royal family in Mindanao, daughter of the late 33rd Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III. He is 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalion Commander of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Princess Jacel Kiram and Lieutenant Colonel Moh Yusop Hasan sound like the kind of characters Korean drama romances are made of. You just know that no matter the odds life throws their way, they will end up together.
And they did, actually. They ended up marrying each other. But if you ask them 12 years ago if that’s an eventuality that crossed their minds, they would say no. They would say a romance seemed far-fetched. “We hated each other,” Lt. Col. Hasan says with straight face, you can’t tell if he’s joking.
Princess Jacel and Major Hasan’s worlds collided in 2009 when the nature of the latter’s work was organizing different sectoral groups. His boss, Col. Dominador Lim, wanted Princess Jacel, then quite a popular figure among the Muslim youth, to head one of the advocacy groups they would like to espouse.
They named the NGO after the Princess—KIRAM, which stood for Kristyano’t Islam Repormang Aagapay sa Mamamayan. Its core mission was to foster peace among Muslims and Christians as well as promote sustainable development in the Muslim communities. Since both were Tausugs, the advocacy happened to be close to both their hearts.
Princess Jacel’s first encounter with then-Major Hasan was in a meeting to form the concept behind the organization. The soldier briefly appeared at the conference room and they were introduced to each other. Hasan jokingly suggested a meaning for the acronym KIRAM. “It goes something like Kabataang Islam Rebolusyonaryo ganyan,” the Princess recalls, aghast at the memory.
That day, everyone in the room laughed, but Jacel was not amused. “Ang naging impression ko nun—kaya pala lagi tayong talo sa giyera kasi ganito pala ang mga sundalo,” the Princess recalls to ANCX, laughing.
In their succeeding encounters at his office in Camp Aguinaldo, Hasan never gave the princess any sort of VIP treatment. If she wanted to have a proposal approved, she’d have to wait like the others. “Yung boss ng unit nila very accommodating. Pero pag si Major Hasan na yung naiwan, parang, ‘Maghintay kayo dyan.’ Ganun yung dating sa akin,” she recalls. It was always hard to pin him down even for a 10- or 15-minute meeting. And because of these reasons, she found him “bossy and mayabang.”
Wait, isn’t Jacel the Princess in this story?
Hasan explains that he really had a lot on his plate at that time, with the scope of his work covering the entire country.
Still, the Princess wasn’t comfortable with the work setup. She felt constricted because her projects were subjected to Hasan’s approval. “Mahirap na parang may nagmamando. Magpo-propose ka lang tapos hindi mo alam kung i-approve o hindi, parang mas matagal yung galaw,” explains Jacel. “Sabi ko, if it’s his brainchild, he’s the one who created that, e di kanya na. Ako mag-concentrate na lang ako sa trabaho ko.” The Princess was then working in a private company. Frustrated with how things are going with KIRAM, she made the decision to quit the group.
But then tragedy struck.
Jacel remembers receiving a text from the Major’s secretary. It said, “Mam nag-usap na po ba kayo ni Major?” The Princess assumed it was about her resignation. “Hala, nalaman nya na agad [that I was planning to quit],” Jacel thought.
She received another SMS from one of Hasan’s colleagues asking the same question. She replied that she’d be dropping by her Makati office first and then she will proceed to Camp Aguinaldo. She intended to formally talk to Major Hasan about her resignation.
Sensing the Princess knew nothing of what has transpired, the Major’s colleague gave the Princess a call to tell her the news. Major Hasan’s wife and child, who were based in the Middle East, had perished in a car accident.
Upon learning of the tragedy, Princess Jacel rushed to Major Hasan’s office in Camp Aguinaldo. “Lahat ng inis ko kay Major Hasan that time napalitan ng awa,” she recalls. “Niyakap ko siya that time kasi yung pagtingin ko sa kanya na super super yabang, nawala lahat. Ang tingin ko sa kanya that day parang baby boy yung itsura na sobrang helpless.”
It’s in the Muslim culture to always help a brother or sister in need. So since Hasan’s family were based in General Santos City, the Princess took it upon herself to help the Major in whatever way she can. She enlisted the help of her own parents to make the arrangements with an Imam to lead a prayer service.
Meanwhile, Hasan’s sisters arrived in Manila to take their brother home to GenSan. After a month, Major Hasan went back to Manila to fetch the bodies of his wife and child and bring them to Mindanao. When the funeral was done, Hasan called Princess Jacel to thank her for her assistance. “Sabi nya, salamat daw sa Mommy at Daddy ko,” the Princess recalls. He told her it was good to have found family in Manila during that tough period. He meant her, of course. “I found a sister in you,” he said to Jacel.
The two lost touch for a few months. Major Hasan went through a recovery period, and they only started communicating again during the latter part of that year.
From foes to friends
Princess Jacel remembers checking her phone one day in November of 2011 and seeing six missed calls. She left her phone in her room. When it rang again and she finally picked up, the voice on the other line said, “Pang ilang beses ko ng tawag ito sa iyo. Ia-unfriend na sana kita.” It was Hasan. His tone was demanding, but there was also a touch of charm in it.
From then on, there was hardly a day Jacel didn’t hear or read a text from Hasan. In a year’s time, a friendship blossomed. They became really close to the point where Hasan would even ask the princess’ opinion about a lady soldier he was planning to court. “Tinanong nya ako kung maganda daw ba, sabi ko hindi,” Jacel laughs at the recollection.
The phone calls allowed them to know each other on a deeper level. “Sa pag-uusap namin for more than a year about what he was doing at work, how he handled people, masasabi mong kahanga-hanga naman ito. Ang galing pala nito,” Princess Jacel shares. “Na-gain nya ang respeto ko because of how he thinks, how he sees things. Napaka intelihenteng tao nya pala. Magaling pala syang sundalo.”
As for Hasan, he realized how down-to-earth the Princess was. “To the Tausugs, the name Kiram is like an institution,” he said in an interview with Newsfeed 360. But Jacel never hesitated riding a top-down jeep or mingling with ordinary folk while in NGO work.
“Kung ikaw tulad ko, parang hindi mo papangarapin na liligawan ko ito or magkaka-girlfriend ako ng ganito. Kasi she’s a royalty,” Hasan admits. “But in our conversations, I realized hindi pala ito yung princess na mahirap abutin. Normal lang syang babae.”
While their upbringing may be different, their chemistry was palpable. They also happen to have the same values and convictions, which was what brought them together in the first place to the advocacy group KIRAM. They are both working for peace and unity in Sulu.
When Jacel started missing Hasan’s calls and text messages, that’s when she started to realize she already had romantic feelings for him. Little did she know, the widower has also developed romantic feelings for her.
After a couple of days without communication, Hasan messaged to ask what she was planning to do on New Year’s Eve of 2012. “Sabi nya he’ll take a break from work, so pupunta daw sya ng Manila. Kakausapin nya yung Mommy at Daddy ko kasi magpapakasal daw siya,” the Princess recalls. “Sabi niya,’Basta intayin mo ko dyan, darating ako.’”
Hasan arrived in Manila in time for New Year’s Eve. That night, he asked permission from Princess Jacel’s mother to take her daughter to a dinner invite of an AFP superior. “Pinayagan ako ng Mommy,” says Jacel. “Sabi [ng Mommy], ibalik daw ako bago mag-New Year. Pero naligaw kami [going to the venue of the party]. So naabutan kami ng midnight sa Edsa.”
During a quiet moment during in the car, the princess recalls Hasan telling her, “Last na ito na lalabas tayo na walang blessing ng parents mo. Matured na tayo parehas. Alam mo na kung ano ibig ko sabihin.” He was going to ask for her hand in marriage. Without hesitation, she answered, “Yes, sir.”
On January 6, 2013 the pamamanhikan took place. And on April 28, 2013, they tied the knot in a private ceremony in a hotel function room in Zamboanga.
The two have been married eight years now and they have two children. They are not only married to each other but to the goal of achieving peace and reconciliation in Mindanao. KIRAM has evolved into ICPRD, or International Center for Peace, Reconciliation and Development. The acronyms, says the princess, are meant to impart that Sulu is already on the brink of death. “Naghihingalo na sya, need na i-CPR,” the Princess says, stressing the last four letters. “But we are claiming that we can achieve it, so we made it past tense—ICPRD.”
Hasan says ICPRD is a product of his frustration on how the country can address the problem in Sulu. “Kasi 50 years na tayo magulo sa Sulu, and we keep on resolving the problem militarily,” he says. “Kailangan din talaga na i-address natin yung economic and socio-cultural issues. Princess and I are one in that vision. That’s what’s in our heart. Pangarap naming dalawa yan.”