In Sabah, villagers' land applications are just recorded but never approved, says a village spokesman.
KOTA KINABALU: Villagers from Kota Marudu who opened up agriculture lands in nearby Beluran more than 20 year ago at the behest of the government have been chased out three times by the Sabah Forestry Department.
Infuriated villagers are now venting their frustration on the state Umno-led Barisan National government, and especially their MP, Dr Maximus Ongkili, for not standing up for their rights.
Spokesman for the group of 150 affected families, Jaipin Mohigal, said they started opening up agriculture lands in the area in 1989 and soon after applied for titles for the 1,500 acres of land in Kampung Koiboton .
“But as is the usual case in Sabah, the villagers’ land applications were only recorded but never approved.
“This despite years of hard work and toiling the land in planting rubber trees and other fruit trees,” said Mohigal.
Mohigal, 61, said by virtue of the many years they had toiled and lived in the area, they had established native customary rights (NCR) over the land.
They even had burial sites on the land. But despite this, they have been chased out of their homes and cultivated lands three times.
“We expected the Sabah government to help us, instead they burnt our houses,” he said when met by FMT here.
“The first time was on Oct 3, 2006, during the Muslim fasting month when forestry officers came while we were away in Kota Marudu to buy our food stocks.
“They burnt down 33 houses and poisoned our young rubber trees.
“This was most shocking. We didn’t know Sabah officers would dare do this kind of thing against the natives,” said Mohigal.
Musa protecting Forestry Department
According to old news reports, the Forestry Department director had said those razed houses were merely huts and not houses.
But the villagers claimed otherwise and showed pictures of their houses.
Their case was even highlighted on television.
But no compensation was ever given to them. The villagers did not even receive an apology.
The state government under Chief Minister Musa Aman went ahead to support the Forestry Department’s swift action in “protecting” (from villagers but not from companies) Sabah’s forest reserves.
Kampung Koiboton is adjacent to the Paitan Second Class Forest Reserve.
Mohigal, who is a father of nine, said soon after the first incident, the natives regrouped and rebuilt their houses as they felt they had established NCR over the land.
“During the 2008 general election, Ongkili promised us that our case was his utmost priority.
Mohigal pointed out that Ongkili had said: “Please vote for me, your problem is my goal (to resolve)…”
“But after he won, he never cared to meet and hear us anymore. His people around him were telling us not to bother their boss as our case was not under his jurisdiction (as the incident happened in nearby Beluran district).
“Beluran MP is Ronald Kiandee but he has been quiet on this issue,” Mohigal said .
Better support for companies
What irked Mohigal more was when the forestry officers entered a forest reserve area.
Mohigal said the Beluran district office had informed them (the villagers) they were applying for state land in the Koiboton areas for agriculture purpose.
“We went there in 1989, but sometime in 2000 when Yong Teck Lee was the chief minister, an FMU (Forestry Management Unit ) was said to have been approved for large areas including our areas.
“But who came first? Us or the company?” asked Mohigal, who claimed he heard land surveys are still being carried out, sometimes with the aid of a helicopter.
According to Mohigal, in 2007 the forestry officers came again to Koiboton and for the second time they destroyed their houses, using chainsaws.
“Luckily we exercised restraint and maintained peace… God knows what could happen in other countries…
“We went to Ongkili for help but all he told us was to make sure he won in 2008, and that it was his goal to resolve our land problems, which was never the case till now…” he said.
No leader supportive
Helpless Mohigal, who ironically is Ongkili’s neighbour in Kampung Bunsadan, Kota Marudu, together with the others, rebuilt their houses in Koiboton but was met with another “chainsaw incident” last year.
“This time, even the house of a son of the state assemblywoman of Tandek, Anita Baranting, who is a strong supporter of Ongkili, was among the victims of the brute action of the Forestry Department,” he said.
Together with two others (one had since died), Mohigal went to the High Court last year but in the end he was told by the court that he had “showed the wrong map”.
He filed an appeal through counsel Seibing Gunting, and they are now awaiting for hearing to be fixed.
“I am astonished at how things are happening… it seems we the villagers are fighting to move a mountain, but for the big companies it is smooth sailing.
“No government leaders dare to stand up for us in this fight.
“I, for one, would not give up, and we shall see how our appeal fare,” Mohigal said.