In pre-islamic times, the political leadership office was vested in a Rajaship in Manila and a Datuship elsewhere in the Philippines.
Datu in Moro and Lumad societies in Mindanao
A Map of Mindanao c. 1900, made by the US Army in the Philippines, showing the different indigenous tribes of Mindanao, and their respective Ancestral Domains and traditional homeland.
In the later part of the 1500s, the Spaniards took possession of most of Luzon and the Visayas, converting the lowland population to Christianity from their local indigenous religion. But although Spain eventually established footholds in northern and eastern Mindanao and the
Zamboanga Peninsula, its armies failed to colonise the rest of Mindanao. This area was populated by Islamised peoples ("
Moros" to the Spaniards) and by many non-Muslim indigenous groups now known as
The Moro societies of Mindanao and Sulu
In the traditional structure of Moro societies, the
sultans were the highest authority followed by the datus or rajah, with their rule being sanctioned by the
Quran. The titles Datu and Rajah however, predates the coming of Islam. These titles were assimilated into the new structure under Islam. Datus were supported by their tribes. In return for tribute and labor, the datu provided aid in emergencies and advocacy in disputes with other communities and warfare through the Agama and Maratabat laws. During the Spanish colonization of the Archipelago, the Datus of Moro Principalities in Mindanao and Sulu gave a very strong and effective resistance to the Catholicism of that southern Island, and were able to successfully defend their identity and Islamic faith for over 300 years.
The Lumad societies of Mindanao
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Lumad peoples controlled an area that now covers 17 of Mindanao’s 24 provinces—but by the 1980 census they constituted less than 6% of the population of Mindanao and Sulu. Heavy migration to Mindanao of Visayans, who have been settling in the Island for centuries, spurred by government-sponsored resettlement programmes, turned the Lumads into minorities. The Bukidnon province population grew from 63,470 in 1948 to 194,368 in 1960 and 414,762 in 1970, with the proportion of indigenous Bukidnons falling from 64% to 33% to 14%.
There are 18 Lumad ethnolinguistic groups: Ata people, Bagobo, Banwaon, B’laan, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaonon,
Mansaka, Subanon, Tagakaolo,
Tboli, Teduray and Ubo.
Lumad datus have involved themselves in protecting their homeland forests from illegal loggers during the past decades. Some have joined the
New People's Army (NPA), a communist rebel group in the Country, for the cause of their people.
 Others have resisted joining the Moro and Communist separatist movements.
A datu is still basic to the smooth functioning of Lumad and Moro societies today. They have continued to act as the community leaders in their respective tribes among a variety of
Indigenous peoples in Mindanao. Moros, Lumads and Visayans now share with new settlers a homeland in Mindanao.
Datu in pre-colonial principalities in the Visayas
In more affluent and powerful territorial
principalities in Visayas, e.g., Panay,
 Cebu and Leyte
(which were never conquered by Spain but were accomplished as vassals by means of pacts, peace treaties, and reciprocal alliances),
 the "Datu" Class was at the top of a divinely sanctioned and stable social order in a Sakop or Kinadatuan (Kadatuan in ancient Malay; Kedaton in Javanese; and
Kedatuan in many parts of modern Southeast Asia), which is elsewhere commonly referred to also as barangay.
 This social order was divided into three classes. The Kadatuan (members of the
Visayan Datu Class) were compared by the
Boxer Codex to the titled Lords (Señores de titulo) in Spain.
 As Agalon or Amo (
 the Datus enjoyed an ascribed right to respect, obedience, and support from their "Oripun" (Commoner) or followers belonging to the Third Order. These Datus had acquired rights to the same advantages from their legal "Timawa" or vassals (Second Order), who bind themselves to the Datu as his seafaring warriors. "
Timawas" paid no tribute, and rendered no agricultural labor. They had a portion of the Datu's blood in their veins. The above-mentioned
Boxer Codex calls these "
Hidalgos. The Spanish conquistador, Miguel de Loarca, described them as "free men, neither chiefs nor slaves". In the late 1600s, the Spanish Jesuit priest Fr. Francisco Ignatio Alcina, classified them as the third rank of nobility (nobleza).
To maintain purity of bloodline, Datus marry only among their kind, often seeking high ranking brides in other Barangays, abducting them, or contracting brideprices in gold, slaves and jewelry. Meanwhile, the Datus keep their marriageable daughters secluded for protection and prestige.
 These well-guarded and protected highborn women were called "Binokot",
 the Datus of pure descent (four generations) were called "Potli nga Datu" or "Lubus nga Datu",
 while a woman of noble lineage (especially the elderly) are addressed by the inhabitants of
Panay as "Uray" (meaning: pure as gold), e.g., Uray Hilway, and by the inhabitants of Palawan as "Dang" -a contraction of "Dayang" which means princess in Sulu Archipelago.
Datu in pre-colonial principalities in the Tagalog region
royal couple in red, the distinctive colour of their class.
The different type of culture prevalent in Luzon gave a less stable and more complex social structure to the pre-colonial Tagalog barangays of Manila, Pampanga and Laguna. Enjoying a more extensive commerce than those in Visayas, having the influence of Bornean political contacts, and engaging in farming wet rice for a living, the Tagalogs were described by the Spanish Augustinian Friar Martin de Rada as more traders than warriors.
The more complex social structure of the Tagalogs was less stable during the arrival of the Spaniards because it was still in a process of differentiating. In this society, the term Datu or
Lakan, or Apo refers to the chief, but the noble class (to which the Datu belonged, or could come from) was the
Maginoo Class. One could be born a Maginoo, but could become a 'Datu by personal achievement.
- the common weapon of the pre-colonial warrior class.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Jesuit missionary Francisco Colin made an attempt to give an approximate comparison of the social stratification in Tagalog culture with that in the Visayan culture. While social mobility was possible in the former, in the Visayas, the Datu (if had the personality and economic means) could retain and restrain competing peers, relatives, and offspring from moving up the social lader.
The term Timawa came into use in the Tagalog social structure within just twenty years after the coming of the Spaniards. The term, however, was being applied to former
Alipin (Third Class) who have escaped bondage by payment, favor, or flight. The Tagalog Timawas did not have the military prominence of the Visayan
Timawa. The warrior class in the Tagalog society was present only in Laguna, and they were called the
Maharlika Class. At the early part of the Spanish regime, the number of their members who were coming to rent land from their Datus was increasing.
Unlike the Visayan Datus, the Lakans and Apos of Luzon could call all non-Maginoo subjects to work in the Datu’s fields or do all sorts of other personal labor. In the Visayas, only the Oripuns were obliged to do that, and to pay tribute besides. The Tagalog who works in the Datu’s field did not pay him tribute, and could transfer their allegiance to another Datu.
The Visayan Timawa neither paid tribute nor performed agricultural labor. In this sense, they were truly aristocrats. The Tagalog Maharlika did not only work in his Datu’s field, but could also be required to pay his own rent. Thus, all non-Maginoo in Luzon formed a common economic class in some sense, though this class had no designation.
In other parts of the Archipelago, even though the majority of these
barangays were not large settlements, yet they had organized societies dominated by the same type of recognized aristocracy and Lordships (with birthright claim to allegiance from followers), as those found in more established, richer and more developed Principalities.
Pre-colonial Filipino Nobility and Nobilities of Other Nations: Distinction and similitarities
One should take into consideration that the ideas of Principalities, Lordship, aristocratic rule, realms, and alliances in the Archipelago were not conceived and practiced in the same manner as it was in the West, at the time the people in this Islands had their first contact with Europeans.
Since the culture of the Pre-colonial societies in the Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Luzon were largely
influenced by Hindu and Buddhist cultures, the Datus who ruled these Principalities (such as Butuan Calinan, Ranau Gandamatu,Maguindanao Polangi, Cebu, Bohol Panay, Mindoro and Manila) also share the many customs of royalties and nobles in Southeast Asian territories (with Hindu and Buddhist cultures), especially in the way they used to dress and adorn themselves with gold and silk. The
Boxer Codex bears testimony to this fact. The measure of the prince's possession of gold and slaves was proportionate to his greatness and nobility.
 The first Westerners, who came to the Archipelago, observed that there was hardly any "Indian" who did not possess chains and other articles of gold.
Datu during the Spanish period
The Datu Class (First Estate) of the four echelons of Filipino Society at the time of contact with the Europeans (as described by Fr.
Juan de Plasencia- a pioneer Franciscan missionary in the Philippines), was referred to by the Spaniards as the Principalía. Loarca,
 and the Canon Lawyer
Antonio de Morga, who classified the Society into three estates (ruler, ruled, slave), also affirmed the usage of this term and also spoke about the preeminence of the Principales.
 All members of this Datu class were Principales,
 whether they ruled or not.
 San Buenaventura's 1613 Dictionary of the Tagalog Language defines three terms that clarify the concept of this Principalía:
1. Poón or Punò (chief, leader) - principal or head of a lineage.
2. Ginoó - a noble by lineage and parentage, family and descent.
3. Maginoo - principal in lineage or parentage.
The Spanish term Seňor (Lord) is equated with all these three terms, which are distinguished from the nouveau riche imitators scornfully called Maygintao (man with gold or
Hidalgo by gold, and not by lineage).
Christianization of most parts of the Philippine
Archipelago, the Datus retained their right to govern their territory under the
Philip II of Spain, in a law signed June 11, 1594,
 commanded the Spanish colonial officials in the Archipelago that these native royalties and nobilities be given the same respect, and privileges that they had enjoyed before their conversion. Their domains became self-ruled
tributary barangays of the Spanish Empire.
Costume of a family belonging to
during the 19th century. Picture taken from the exhibit in Villa Escudero Museum in San Pablo Laguna, Philippines.
The Filipino royals and nobles formed part of the exclusive, and elite ruling class, called the
Principalía (Noble Class) of the Philippines. The Principalía was the class that constituted a birthright aristocracy with claims to respect, obedience, and support from those of subordinate status.
With the recognition of the Spanish monarchs came the privilege of being addressed as
 - a mark of esteem and distinction in Europe reserved for a person of noble or royal status during the colonial period. Other honors and high regard were also accorded to the Christianized Datus by the
Spanish Empire. For example, the
Gobernadorcillos (elected leader of the
Cabezas de Barangay or the Christianized Datus) and Filipino officials of justice received the greatest consideration from the Spanish Crown officials. The colonial officials were under obligation to show them the honor corresponding to their respective duties. They were allowed to sit in the houses of the Spanish Provincial Governors, and in any other places. They were not left to remain standing. It was not permitted for Spanish Parish Priests to treat these Filipino nobles with less consideration.
The Gobernadorcillos exercised the command of the towns. They were Port Captains in coastal towns.
 Their office corresponds to that of the
alcaldes and municipal judges of the Iberian Peninsula. They performed at once the functions of judges and even of notaries with defined powers.
 They also had the rights and powers to elect assistants and several lieutenants and
alguaciles, proportionate in number to the inhabitants of the town.
By the end of the 16th century, any claim to Filipino
hidalguía had disappeared into a homogenized, hispanized and Christianized nobility - the Principalía.
 This remant of the pre-colonial royal and noble families continued to rule their traditional domain until the end of the Spanish Regime. However, there were cases when succession in leadership was also done through election of new leaders (Cabezas de Barangay), especially in provinces near the central colonial government in Manila where the ancient ruling families lost their prestige and role. Perhaps proximity to the central power diminished their significance. However, in distant territories, where the central authority had less control and where order could be maintained without using coercive measures, hereditary succession was still enforced until Spain lost the Archipelago to the Americans. These distant territories remained Patriarchal societies, where people retained great respect for the Principalía.
The Principalía was larger and more influential than the pre-conquest
nobility. It helped create and perpetuate an
oligarchic system in the Spanish colony for more than three hundred years.
 The Spanish colonial government's prohibition for foreigners to own land in the Philippines contributed to the evolution of this form of oligarchy. In some provinces of the Philippines, many Spaniards and foreign merchants intermarried with the rich and landed Malayo-Polynesian local nobilities. From these unions, a new cultural group was formed, the
 Their descendants emerged later to become an influential part of the government, and the Principalía. .
Present day Datus
The present day claimants of the title and rank of Datu are of three types. The two types are found in
Mindanao, and the third type are those that live in the Christianized parts of the Philippines. They are:
1.) The Datus of the Muslim territories 2.) The Datus of the
Lumad Tribal territories 3.) The descendants of the
Principalía e.g. The royal datus of the Cuyunon Tribe of Palawan
The rights of the present day Datus are protected by a special law in the Country, known as "The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997".
Present day Datus of Mindanao
In some indigenous Lumad and Muslim societies in Mindanao, titular Datus of ancient royal and noble families still exist. Some of them are active government officials of the Republic of the Philippines, while continuing their cultural and tribal roles as community leaders of their people. Some, although do not have official duties in the Republic, exercise some leadership roles in their tribes. Still others are claimants to these titles.
Heirs to the rank of Datu in the Catholic parts of the Philippines
In the Christian parts of the Philippines, descendants of the
Principalía are the rightful claimants of the ancient sovereign royal and noble ranks (and their corresponding rights and privileges) of the pre-conquest kingdoms, principalities, and barangays of their ancestors. These descendants of the ancient ruling class are now among the landed aristocracy, intellectual elite, merchants, and politicians in the contemporary Filipino society. These people have had ancestors holding the titles of "
Don" or "Doña" (which has also been used by Spanish royalties and nobilities) during the Spanish colonial period, as a compromise by the Spanish Crown to their previous indigenous titles.
The title of "Honorary Datu" has also been conferred to certain foreigners and non-tribe members by the heads of local tribes and Principalities of ancient origin. During the colonial period, some of these titles carried with them immense legal privileges. For example, on 22 January 1878, Sultan Jamalul A'Lam of Sulu appointed the Baron de Overbeck (an Austrian who was then the
Austro-Hungarian Empire's Consul-General in Hong Kong) as Datu Bendahara and as Rajah of Sandakan, with the fullest power of life and death over all the inhabitants.
 At present, arrangements such as this can not carry similar legal bearing under the Philippine laws.
The various tribes and claimants to the royal titles of certain indigenous peoples in the Philippines have their own particular or personal customs in conferring local honorary titles, which correspond to the specific and traditional social structures of some indigenous peoples in the Country.
(N.B. In unhispanized, unchristianized and unislamized parts of the Philippines, there exist other structures of society, which do not have hierarchical classes.)
Modern legal prohibitions
A 1926 photograph of
(Manobo) warriors in full war regalia. The Bagobo are one of several
tribes in Mindanao.
Article VI, Section 31 of the
1987 Constitution explicitly forbids the creation, granting, and use of new royal or noble titles.
 Titles of "Honorary Datu" conferred by various ethnic groups to certain foreigners and non-tribe members by local chieftains are only forms of local award or appreciation for some goods or services done to a local tribe or to the person of the chieftain, and are not legally binding. Any contrary claim is otherwise unconstitutional under Philippine law, but exceptions are granted to some members of indigenous tribes, as traditional social structures are protected by the
Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997. This special law allows among tribal members to be conferred with traditional leadership titles as specified under the Law's Implementing rules and guidelines (Administrative Order No. 1, Series of 1998 of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples specifically under Rule IV, Part I, Section 2, a-c), which read:
- a) Right to Confer Leadership Titles. The ICCs/IPs concerned, in accordance with their customary laws and practices, shall have the sole right to vest titles of leadership such as, but not limited to, Bae, Datu, Baylan, Timuay, Likid and such other titles to their members.
- b) Recognition of Leadership Titles. To forestall undue conferment of leadership titles and misrepresentations, the ICCs/IPs concerned, may, at their option, submit a list of their recognized traditional socio-political leaders with their corresponding titles to the NCIP. The NCIP through its field offices, shall conduct a field validation of said list and shall maintain a national directory thereof.
- c) Issuance of Certificates of Tribal Membership. Only the recognized registered leaders are authorized to issue certificates of tribal membership to their members. Such certificates shall be confirmed by the NCIP based on its census and records and shall have effect only for the purpose for which it was issued.
fons honorum (source of honour) in the modern
Philippine state is the sovereign Filipino people, who are equal in dignity under a democratic form of government.
 The Philippine government grants
state honours and decorations, and through the system of awards and decorations of its
Armed Forces of the Philippines and the
Philippine National Police. These honours do not grant or create titles of royalty or nobility, in accordance with the Constitution.
Deducing from the theory of
Jean Bodin (1530–1596), a French jurist and political philosopher, it could be said that ancient Filipino royalties, who never relinquished their sovereign rights by voluntary means (according to opinions of some historians), of whom the sovereign powers over their territories (de facto sovereignty) passed on to the Spanish jura regalia through some disputed means, retain their "fons honorum" as part of their "de jure" sovereignty. Therefore, as long as the blood is alive in the veins of these royal houses, "de jure" sovereignty is alive as well—which means they can still bestow titles of nobility. However, the practical implications of this claim is unclear, e.g., in the case of usurpation of titles by other members of the bloodline.
Heads of Dynasties (even the deposed ones) belong to one of the three kinds of sovereignty that has been existing in human society. The other two are: Heads of States (of all forms of government, e. g., monarchy, republican, communist, etc.), and Traditional Heads of the Church (both Roman Catholic and Orthodox). The authority that emanates from this last type is transmitted through an authentic Apostolic Succession,
 i.e., direct lineage of ordination and
succession of Office from the Apostles (from St. Peter, in case of the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church - the
These sovereign authorities exercise the following sovereign rights and powers: “Ius Imperii” (the right to command and rule a territory or a juridical entity); “Ius Gladii” (the right to impose obedience through command and also control armies); “Ius Majestatis” (the right to be honored and respected according to one's title); and “Ius Honorum” (the right to award titles, merits and rights). Considering the theory of
Jean Bodin, that "Sovereignty is one and indivisible, it cannot be delegated, sovereignty us irrevocable, sovereignty is perpetual, sovereignty is a supreme power", one can argue about the rights of deposed dynasties, also as "fons honorum". It can be said that their "Ius Honorum" depends on their rights as a family, and does not depend on the authority of the "de facto" government of a State. This is their "de jure" right. Even though it is not a "de facto" right, it is still a right.
But again, in case of conflict of norms on "fons honorum" in actual situations, the legislations of the "de facto" sovereign authority have precedence. All others are abrogated, unless otherwise recognized under the terms of such de facto authority.
This is the view to reconsider when we study the sovereignty based political impact of this 1986 law of the
Republic of the Philippines, to the long established
Sultanate of Sulu, the
Sultanate of Maguindanao and the various
kadatuan communities of the