Filipino historian Dr. Samuel K. Tan passes away, 88

| Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

Dr. Samuel K. Tan. Photo from The Sulu Cultural and Historical Society on Facebook.

Renowned Filipino historian and academician, former Chair of the Department of History, University of the Philippines, and former Chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Dr. Samuel Kong Tan, passed away on January 6 at 88. He leaves behind a legacy of scholarly works, books, and writings exploring the History of the Philippines, especially of the Muslim South.

A proud son of the South with Chinese-Tausug-Sama parentage, Dr. Tan was born in Siasi, Sulu, on December 30, 1933. He was a consistently outstanding student, completing his elementary education at the Jolo Tong Jin School in 1949 and his secondary education at the Zamboanga City High School in 1953, both as valedictorian. He earned his AB degree in History at the Zamboanga A.E. College in 1963, graduating summa cum laude. He completed his MA in History from UP in 1967 and his Ph.D. in Social Science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, New York, in 1973.

Dr. Tan taught at the UP Department of History from 1963 to 1994, training and mentoring generations of historians and history educators. He became Department Chair from 1977 to 1982. In 1994, he became Director and Convenor of the Mindanao Studies Program of the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies, which he held until 2002.

He also served as a Research Fellow and Consultant of the Tadhana Special Research Project under the Office of the Philippine President from 1974 to 1985. He was a Consultant for the Region IX Commission in 1976 and served as a consultant of Senator Santanina T. Rasul from 1987 to 1992; of Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) Administrator Almarin C. Tillah in 1999; and of Congressman Nur G. Jaafar from 2001 to 2002.

Dr. Tan served as Chairman-Executive Director of the National Historical Institute (NHI) and as Commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) from 1997 to 1998; and Commissioner of the National Centennial Commission from 1997 to 1999. He was a Research Fellow, coordinator, and Consultant of the Regional Histories Project of the National Library from 1981 to 1983 and Consultant for History and Culture of the SPDA. He served as a lecturer in various academic institutions such as the National Defense College of the Philippines, the Development Academy of the Philippines, Sophia University, Silsilah Dialogue Institute, De la Salle University, and Mindanao State University.

Dr. Tan authored more than 20 books, including The Muslim Armed Struggle in the Philippines, 1900-1941 (1973); A History of the Philippines (1987); Decolonization and Filipino Muslim Identity (1989); Internationalization of the Bangsamoro Struggle (1993); The Critical Decade, 1921-1930 (1993); The Filipino-American War, 1899-1913 (2002); and the three-volume Surat Sug: Letters of the Sultanate of Sulu (2005) and The Muslim South and Beyond (2010). The Philippine National Historical Society (PNHS), through its President Bernadita Churchill, noted that “Tan’s writings long nurtured not only a spatial perspective and cultural sensibility, reflective of his familial roots deeply sown in Siasi, but also pioneered and sustained a new way of seeing and sensing the Muslim South as an integral part of the national narrative in modern Philippine history.”

Dr. Tan is a recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1970-1973). He also received the Chairman’s Award of Region IX Commission for outstanding achievements and service (1980),  the UP Professorial Chair for History (1988), the Fulbright Hays Research Grant (1984), the Ford-Rockefeller Grant (1993), the Chiang Ching Kua Foundation Research Grant (1995), the UP Alumni Association Outstanding Award for History (1998), the NHI Distinguished Service Award (1998), the NCCA Distinguished Commissioner Award (1999), and the Toyota Foundation Research Grant (2002). In 2020, the PNHS awarded Dr. Tan the Lifetime Achievement Award for History during its 40th National Conference on Local and National History for his life-long work on Philippine historical studies.