Hornbill Unleashed

February 11, 2010

Sarawak gov’t credibility strained over NCR policies

By Keruah Usit

NONEPenan chief Pada Jutang of Long Pakan, Baram, laughed when he heard that land rights lawyers Baru Bian and See Chee How had won two breakthrough Native Customary Rights (NCR) court cases on Jan 21. The High Court had found for Agi anak Bungkong and Mohd Rambli Kawi, against the Sarawak government.

Pada said that the news was both encouraging, and somewhat amusing. On the same day as the landmark NCR decisions, timber company Samling had been trying to persuade Penan villages in Baram to withdraw their own NCR lawsuit, telling the villagers they had no chance of victory.

Five Penan villages, Long Pakan (Top right), Long Lilim, Long Sepatai, Long Kawi and Long Item, have begun legal action against loggers and the state government. The Penan communities claim they have traditional customary rights to the forest, and that the loggers are trespassing on their ancestral land.

“Samling’s (community affairs officer) Stewart Paran and the camp manager paid a visit to Tua Kampung (headman) Ngot Laing, from Long Lilim. They claimed that Bian and See had filed many NCR land cases against the government, but were always unsuccessful,” Pada said.

“They told the Long Lilim headman that the company wanted to apologise (for taking timber from the disputed area). They asked him to follow them to Miri to withdraw the court case. They said they felt ‘kasihan‘ (pity) for us Penan, because Bian had taken several NCR cases to court, but could never win,” Pada said with a smile.

Baru and See represent over a hundred communities from throughout Sarawak in NCR lawsuits, still awaiting adjudication.

“The company will be angry”

“The company told us that if we do not go with them to Miri to strike off the court case, the company will be angry with us,” Pada said. “They told us that our own people will be angry with us as leaders, too, They threatened that they would not allow us to hitch rides on the company transport, to seek medical help or to get to school, if we went on with the court case.”

NONEPada (left ) reported harrowing experiences trying to seek humanitarian assistance from the logging company, to transport sick villagers to clinic.

“Last week Jung Ijah, an elderly woman from Long Item, fell ill in the afternoon and became unconscious for over an hour. Her fellow villagers went to Samling to ask for transport to the hospital. The manager refused. They went to the Interhill camp, but they also refused. Then they went back to the Samling camp, and they finally provided transport to Long Kevok around nine at night, then Miri the next day.

“It’s not that they had no transport in the camps, the company simply refused,” Pada shook his head.

According to Samling’s website, “For remote villages without road access, travel to schools, healthcare facilities and between villages can be challenging, sometimes taking hours, days, and sometimes weeks to get from one place to another…we help communities by providing transportation to schools, clinics among others and annual fuel provision.”

Massive influx of timber workers

NONEPada also told Malaysiakini of the upheaval caused by the huge influx of timber workers into Penan lands.

“Some Interhill people come to the villages, and intrude into people’s homes, looking for girls, sometimes after people are asleep. They bring arak (alcohol) and try to get people drunk, and make trouble.”

Pada has complained to the camp manager, and warned against logging workers coming into the village.

“My son, Peliman Pada, was assaulted with a piece of wood by an Interhill man.” he said.

“There was a village wedding party in Long Kabeng, and after dinner there was some dancing. The Interhill man came up to Peliman from behind and struck him on the back of the head with a two-by-three foot plank.”

Pada says the alleged assault took place without any warning or apparent reason.

“Peliman had a fracture on the back of his skull. He went to Marudi. I made a police report in Long Lama. The police officer at the station wrote down the report, but did not give me a copy. He kept the piece of wood. He said ‘come back only when I ask you to’.

“But the police have not investigated the assault.”

Government defends land policies

Although Sarawak’s land policies have come under fire over the past 25 years, the government’s land acquisition policies, supporting wealthy timber and plantation companies, have proceeded apace.

However, recent court victories for NCR landowners have shaken the government.

NONEThe Sarawak government recently issued a press release condemning the Jan 21 High Court judgment in favour of Iban and Malay landowners. It announced it would appeal the finding.

The press release created a storm, by stating that Article 153 of the federal constitution does not protect land rights for Sarawak natives, including Ibans and Malays.

“Article 153, in its plain language, has no application to land or land rights,” the statement argued.

The communal Sarawakian blog Hornbill Unleashed posted the government statement in full.

According to the blog, that the press statement had been prepared by the State Attorney-General’s office, and the fax had been sent from the office of Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, the state’s second minister for planning and resource management.

Since the uproar over the statement, the mainstream media, including the docile Borneo Post and Eastern Times, have removed the press statement from their online news sites – a mystifying “disappearing act”.

The timing of the press statement appeared to coincide with the government’s application to the High Court for a stay on the Jan 21 ruling. The High Court judgment had stipulated that the government and its business partners must return the NCR land to its rightful owners, including 15 Iban longhouses in Bintulu.

Arguments on the stay of the High Court judgment are scheduled to continue in court on Feb 12. But whatever the outcome of the court cases, the credibility of the state government’s land policies, and of the logging companies it champions, is vanishing fast.


  1. Who are the Government? The government are the very dayak leaders who supported the land grab policies. In other words the Dayak Leaders such as Jabu, Masing and Mawan are the very people who “KILL” their own race. In time to come all the Dayaks are squatters in their own land. inspite of all that the Dayaks are too stupid to keep voting for the very leaders that grab their land. What a shame…

    Comment by Anak Dayak — February 14, 2010 @ 12:16 PM | Reply

  2. Is there or is there not…an order(circular) from the AG’s office that forbid the recognition of the NCR by any Govt officers (especially L&S)? Pls enlighten…anyone.

    Was it or was it not the AG, a non native that crafted the NCR land grab policy? Does this former AG, now SLA have high stakes and interest in the BIG 6? We Dayaks are hungry for answers.

    What an ungrateful gomen, robbing and strangling the very Dayaks who voted it into power. Just accept the court’s verdict quietly and peacefully. Dont be a ‘cry-baby’ when you lose. The gomen is going to lose more in time…

    Comment by batulawi — February 11, 2010 @ 6:12 PM | Reply

    • Anak Dayak….Yes 101% correct on waht you said….why blame others when they themselves to be

      Comment by fe — February 15, 2010 @ 6:35 PM | Reply

  3. Power to the Penan ! Justice has finally arrived at the Land of the hornbill.

    Comment by PH Chin — February 11, 2010 @ 1:52 PM | Reply

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