Datu is the title for chiefs, sovereign princes, and monarchs in the Visayas and Mindanao Regions of the Philippines. Together with Lakan (Luzon), Apo in Central and Northern Luzon, Sultan and Rajah, they are titles used for native royalty, and are still currently used in the Philippines. Depending upon the prestige of the sovereign prince, this title of Datu could be roughly equated to the European dukes, marquesses, counts, or barons. In big barangays, which had contacts with other southeast Asian cultures through trade, some Datus took the title Rajah or Sultan.

The word datu is akin to the Malay word Dato' or Datuk, which are royal titles of the Malay people, and to the Fijian title of Ratu. It came into use in the Philippines during the pre-colonial period through the migrations of Malays to what is now the Philippine Archipelago. During the 11th century several exiled datus of the collapsing empire of Srivijaya led by Datu Puti made a mass migration to the central islands of the Philippines, fleeing from Rajah Makatunao of the island of Borneo. The Malays reached the island of Panay, which in ancient times was known as the island of "Aninipay". Purchasing the island from the Negrito chieftain Marikudo, they established a confederation of polities and named it the Confederation of Madyaas, centered in Aklan.

From Panay, they settled the surrounding islands of the Visayas, bringing along with them their culture, and social structure and system of government. This confederation reached its peak under Datu Padojinog. During his reign the confederations' hegemony extended over most of the islands of Visayas. Its people consistently made piratical attacks against Chinese imperial shipping.

Proofs of Filipino royalty and nobility (Dugong Bughaw) must be demonstrated only by blood descent, that is, one has to have Filipino blood in his veins, and must be a descendant of ancient Filipino royal or noble families.