Call on Federal and Kelantan State Governments to set up a joint Commission of Inquiry to ensure just and equitable solution to the anti-logging grievances of the Orang Asli Temiars in Gua Musang

The Orang Asli Temiar in Gua Musang are rebuilding their anti-logging blockades at the Balah Forest Reserve less than a fortnight after the destruction of the anti-logging blockades by the Kelantan State Forestry Department and the Police, which also saw the arrest of 54 protestors.

In my visit to the area and discussion with Orang Asli Temiars affected and Orang Asli NGO representatives, it is clear that the grievances of the Orang Asli Temiar kampongs in the area over the destruction of their resources and water source, which caused them to first set up the blockades in September, have not been taken seriously by the authorities.

I call on the Federal Government and the Kelantan State Government to set up a joint Commission of Inquiry to ensure that there is just and equitable solution to the anti-logging grievances of the Orang Asli Temiars in Gua Musang.

The Orang Asli Temiar community must not be regarded or treated as criminals or bad people when they are only peacefully protecting their legitimate rights as Malaysian citizens.

Both the Federal and State Government should not forget that the Orang Asli, in particular the Temiars, played pivotal role in the war against communist insurgents.

Hundreds of Temiars were recruited by the British and later the Malayan government to form the Senoi Praaq force, which is a special unit in the Malaysian police tasked with tracking down Communists guerillas in the dense forest along Thai-Malaysian border.

Today, it is still common to meet with Senoi Praaq veterans among the elders in Temiar villages in Kelantan, as they are in their 60s and 70s.

The Temiar people are one of the largest sub-ethnic group of the Orang Asli population in Malaysia. There are about 25,000 Orang Asli who identified themselves as Temiar, mainly residing in the headwaters of Perak and Kelantan.

They are mainly swidden farmers, planting hill rice for subsistence. In recent decades, rubber and oil palm smallholdings are increasingly common, thus integrating their economic livelihood with national and global commodity cycle. For instance, the depressed global commodity prices since 2014 had a deep impact on many Temiar small holders.

Access to forest resources are crucial for both economic and socio-cultural reasons. Gathering non-timber forest produce (e.g. rattan, bamboo, etc.) provides supplementary incomes. From the socio-cultural and spiritual perspective, the Temiars rely on the forest as places of recreation and for practising religio-cultural rituals.

Until about 10 – 15 years ago, the forests surrounding the Temiar settlement in Gua Musang district remain relatively intact and not exposed to large scale timber logging.

This is due in large part to the difficult geographical terrain and also, unknown to most, the Temiars settlement were security area off-limits to the public until the early 1990s. Before that, communist insurgents active in the Thai-Malaysian border kept potential miners and loggers away from this vast Temiar-occupied customary land.

Between 1950 – 1989, huge changes have taken place in the Temiar society in upper Perak and Kelantan. Because of the Emergency, traditional hamlets and settlements were regrouped into larger settlements protected by troops and barbwire, usually named as a Fort.

After Emergency ended, the jungle Forts mentioned above were renamed Pos (English: Post) and there remains some 20 such Pos in Kelantan today, e.g. Pos Pasik, Pos Simpor, Pos Belatim, Pos Bihai, Pos Pulat, Pos Tohoi, etc. Normally, there are basic public amenities such as a clinic, a primary school and sometimes a police post in a “Pos” today.

According to government records, there are 118 Orang Asli (OA) villages in Kelantan today (in Malaysia, total 853 OA villages). Only 45 have access to electricity. Government records said all of these villages have access to treated water, but ground report suggest otherwise.

The quality of water supply in many Gua Musang villages has deteriorated in recent years, as the indiscriminate clear-fell logging destroyed the previously forested water catchment areas. Indeed, many villages now rely upon polluted and silted river as water source.

Large scale deforestation in the Gua Musang districts started around 2008 – 2010 and has accelerated since 2012 – 2015, driven by logging and latex timber clone plantation (forest plantation). Collectively, these were mostly under the Kelantan State Government “Ladang Rakyat” programme.
Each year, large tract of primary or secondary forests (10,000 hectares or more) were given out to Kelantan state-owned companies as timber concessions and after timbers extracted, the land converted to rubber plantation. On paper, the land remains categorized as “Forest Reserves” or known as “Forest Plantations” because it was claimed that as the rubber trees mature 20 – 30 years later, they could be harvested as timber.
The logging concessions were given out without any form of tender, and with no or selective consultation with the local Orang Asli Temiar.
“Selective representation” is a key strategy of both the state and federal government agency (mainly: Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli, JAKOA) to obtain legitimacy of and consent to allow timber logging on the Temiar customary land. It means, only certain groups, or only certain pro-establishment Orang Asli figures were given the privilege to be consulted. These selected few would claim to represent the majority, in exchange for patronage and rewards.

Native customary land, or tanah adat, of the Orang Asli is well recognized by the common law as its concept and practice are repeatedly affirmed by our judiciary, such as by the Federal Court in Kerajaan Negeri Selangor vs. Sagong Tasi.

Unfortunately, however, apart from the Selangor government post-2008, none of the state governments has taken steps to adopt policies and/or enact new laws to protect Orang Asli customary land in line with the court rulings and common law developments.

Under the Federal Constitution, Orang Asli matters is in the Federal list. Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA, under the Rural Affairs Ministry) is a federal agency, but land matters are strictly under the state jurisdiction.

This has given rise to occasions where JAKOA accused the state government as the main hindrance in protecting Orang Asli land rights. In actual fact, JAKOA has done little to none to negotiate with state governments. Furthermore, JAKOA officers from top to bottom, work closely with timber companies to facilitate loggings activities.

To date, there are very very few Orang Asli holding senior positions in JAKOA, and indeed in the entire civil service.

According to a recent parliamentary reply, out of a total 998 staffs in JAKOA, only 111 are Orang Aslis. Only One is in the “Management and Professional” rank, the rest are all supporting/lower rank staffs.

In the entire civil service, there are 1,352 Orang Asli, but only 172 of them are in the Management/Professional rank (mostly in the teaching service). Only One is in the Top Management position.

In less than nine months, Malaysia will be celebrating the 60th National Day Anniversary on August 31, 2017.

The Federal Government should make up for the neglect and failures to uplift the socio-economic position of Orang Asli for the past six decades by coming out with a New Deal for Orang Asli.

F0or a start, the Federal Government should ensure that by before August 31 next year, an Orang Asli is appointed to head JAKOA and that over 50 per cent of the nearly 1,000 posts in JAKOA are occupied by Orang Asli.

(Media Statement during a solidarity visit to Pos Bihai, Gua Musang on Sunday, December 11 at 11 am where Orang Asli Temiar are rebuilding anti-logging blockades at the Balah Forest Reserves)

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