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Let’s show solidarity with the Dayaks this Nov 13

November 7, 2017

Dayaks are gathering to stage a protest to register their disappointment at the long-unresolved issue of native customary rights land.

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By Francis Paul Siah

Nicholas Bawin and Nicholas Mujah are two Sarawak Dayaks whom I’m proud to call well-meaning friends.

I have known them for years, have watched them in action fighting for the rights of the Dayak community in Sarawak, both in and outside the court of law as well as in the political arena.

I have great respect for their humility and perseverance and the dignified manner in which they carry themselves. They are certainly men of principles and good faith.

Bawin is the former president of the Sarawak Majlis Adat Istiadat, a state agency handling customary matters, and now an opposition politician.

Mujah is the secretary and face of Sadia (Sarawak Dayak Iban Association), a well-known local NGO dedicated to protecting the rights of indigenous groups in the state.

The two Nicholases are now spearheading a major Sarawak push to get the government to resolve two outstanding Dayak land issues – Pemakai Menua (territorial domain) and Pulau Galau (communal forest reserve). Collectively, they are known as PMPG.

They will lead Sarawak NCR (native customary right) landowners in a peaceful protest on Nov 13 outside the State Legislative Assembly Complex in Kuching while the assembly is in session.

Allow me to make an honest and sincere declaration about my Dayak brethren. I should know them well.

I grew up with them and shared a roof with them as a kid. I studied with them in school. They were office colleagues too. I also fought alongside them during my days in politics and crossed swords with some Dayak ministers as well.

Let me say this: “As a Chinese, I also feel for the Dayak community. As the majority race in Sarawak, I feel sad knowing that they have been left far behind when they should have been in front. They are the real sons and daughters of Sarawak soil. They deserve better.”

Same assurances but no action

Today, many of them are saying that they have been let down by their own Dayak leaders. The long line of Dayak politicians whom they have voted into office have failed them miserably. I am with them on this.

There is one question which the Dayaks must ask themselves. Why do they continue to vote such politicians into office, election after election, despite knowing that they have failed the Dayak community? This is one question only they themselves have the answer to.

On the PMPG protest, Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah, a Dayak himself, advised the NGOs and landowners not to take to the streets, saying, “that would not help to bring about any solution”.

“Solutions will only come through dialogues and solutions”, said Uggah who heads the PMPG Committee set up by the Sarawak government.

He also said that the biggest challenge faced by the PMPG Committee was that different groups have different definitions for the two land types and that “we need to find one definition which everyone can agree upon and that takes time”.

Uggah also noted that Chief Minister Abang Johari Abang Openg had assured the Dayak community many times that the state government will find a solution to the PMPG issue and “we will”.

Many NCR landowners have heard such assurance all too often, so much so that it has become the same old tune repeated over and over again. It is no longer music to their ears.

Although fully aware of the urgency to come up with a definition for PMPG, Uggah refused to set a time frame only promising to find a solution as soon as possible. Yet another old record playing?

Take a look too at the many court battles that have been fought over the NCR issue. The landowners won some and lost some but those must have been such long, tedious battles which cost them much time and money, something which they could ill afford.

I understand the police have issued a permit to the organisers of the Nov 13 protest in Kuching. I applaud the police for making a wise and just decision in allowing the event to take place.

Why the Nov 13 protest is important

In my peaceful hometown of Kuching, I must proudly state that it is quite absurd to think that any form of violence will break out. My fellow Sarawakians are men and women of peace. We do not have instigators and “political goons” like in Kuala Lumpur.

Most importantly, the event’s main objective is merely a public expression of the Dayaks’ disappointment and disillusionment of the long-unresolved PMPG issue. There is nothing threatening here, is there?

They also want to tell the government that the wishes of the people of Sarawak are not the same as the super-rich oil palm and timber giants who are enriching themselves on the resources of ordinary landowners. That also sounds like a valid reason to protest.

I hope to be back in Kuching to join my Dayak brethren on Nov 13. All of Sarawak should show their solidarity with the Dayaks on this issue. It is about their homes, livelihood, dignity and future. Certainly, they deserve better.

I also believe that many of us can still recall the warning from Rajah Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak, when he wrote about land rights:

“Unless you follow this advice, you will lose your birth right, which will be taken from you by strangers and speculators who will in their turn become masters and owners, whilst you yourselves, you people of the soil, will be thrown aside, and become nothing but coolies and outcasts of the island”.

Sadly, what Charles Brooke saw happening almost two centuries ago is still prevalent in Sarawak today.

At the end of it all, what the Dayak landowners want is to live in a state where they can feel secure in their homes.

Don’t we all want that, whether we are Dayak or not?

Francis Paul Siah heads the Movement for Change Sarawak (MoCS).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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