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‘Don’t politicise illegals issue’

 | January 15, 2013

The first hearing of the Sabah RCI was told that the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) had in 1985 ordered the ceasing of the registration of Filipino immigrants.

KOTA KINABALU: The first sitting of the much anticipated Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry into illegal immigrants in the state which began yesterday heard a suggestion for the matter not to be politicised.

Historian Ramlah Adam said the illegal immigrants issue in Sabah should be viewed as a national issue and not as a political one.

She said viewing this issue in any other way would only mean that the commission was not sincere in resolving the problem.

“Any party that looks at it as a political issue is not sincere in wanting to resolve it,” said Ramlah, a former lecturer at Universiti Malaya who had written numerous books and conducted research on history.

She was responding to a question by conducting officer Manoj Kurup.

Earlier she said the Filipinos came to Sabah because of various factors, among them, genealogical and religious similarities, for employment and also because they shared the same ocean.

“I believe this unwritten and unexpressed relationship existed in the name of religion, brotherhood and ancestry,” she said.

Ramlah was testifying at the hearing to investigate the decades-long allegations that the government had helped thousands of illegal immigrants gain citizenship in return for votes to the ruling coalition.

(Umno entered Sabah in 1991 and has since been accused of legalising the tens and thousands of illegal immigrants to ensure it stays in power in Sabah.)

Also at yesterday’s hearing, Prof Emeritus Dr Ranjit Singh said that the state had seen a sudden “jump” in population in the 1991 consenses.

Exponential increase in 1991

Testifying before RCI chief, former chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Steven Shim, he said in the 1970 Sabah Census, the population was noted as 651,000 and there was no category for non-citizens.

But in 1991 the population consensus indicated that there were 1.7 million people in Sabah, of which about 423,000 were non-citizens.

He said this was not because of “a natural population increase but due to non-citizens.”

He said the census did not mention “who” these non-citizens were.

Ranjit also disagreed with RCI panel member Herman Luping that the non-citizens recorded in the 1991 census were “transient people”

“With due respect, to my understanding transient people are those coming in and out using boats and ships. As far as I am concerned when a government takes a census, it is the people who are residing at the place.

“I think they were residing in Sabah but without citizenship,” added Ranjit, who has written four books and 50 articles said the history of Sabah.

His book “The Making of Sabah” (1865-1991) third edition, which offered a detailed rundown of the demographic development of Sabah’s population, was tendered as an exhibit.

According to the book, the first official consensus in Sabah was taken in 1891 and that time the total population in Sabah was 67,000.

The Dusun tribe formed the majority with 34,000 people. The rest comprised Bajaus (11,000), Chinese (7,000), Suluks (3,700) and Brunei (3,700).

Other indigenous communities were lumped together at 6,000 while the numbers of the Orang Sungai tribe was unknown.

PBS ordered end to registration

Ranjit explained extensively the population migration and demographics roots of Sabahans.

Meanwhile the third witness for the day, Abdul Jaapar Alip testified that the government set up a Settlement Division in the Chief Minister’s Department in 1976 to deal with Filipino refugees in the state.

Abdul Jaapar said he headed the unit from 1983 until 2008.

“To be accepted into the settlement, the refugees must fulfill five conditions. They must be from the southern Philippines, were directly affected by the civil war in the area, had arrived in Sabah between 1970 and 1984, were Muslims, and were willing to reside permanently in the state,” he said.

He said between 1976 and 1985, Muslim and displaced non-Muslim refugees had registered with the Chief Minister’s Department.

Explaining the process, he said refugees would first be interviewed and if they qualified to be categorised as refugees, the unit would apply to the Immigration Department for temporary visit/work passes, now known as IMM13, for them.

“A registration receipt with a photograph and serial number would be issued to each of them,” he said.

But in September 1985, the state government which was then under Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), ordered the registration of refugees to cease.

He said he was not aware of the reason.

Yesterday’s first round of public hearing ended abruptly at 2.47pm, as Abdul Jaapar was testifying, because of a bomb hoax.

The RCI is scheduled for five days until Jan 18, and again from Jan 28. The RCI is expected to call 48 witnesses to give testimony before four commissioners appointed by the government to conduct the inquiry.


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