30 March 2013
It has taken the Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) a week and a half to react to the Global Witness video. SDNU’s Vice President Anthony Banyan, in a statement published in the Borneo Post last February, was quite clear that“SDNU has no political affiliation and this is how it should always remain,”and I applaud him for his neutrality (see http://www.theborneopost.com/2013/02/25/no-place-for-politics-in-sdnu/). And today, Banyan has kept his word by coming out strongly against the allegations made in the Global Witness video (see http://www.theborneopost.com/2013/03/30/dayak-ngos-demand-apology-over-disparaging-remarks/).
Based on the report published today, SDNU issued its statement following the SDNU supreme council meeting on Wednesday, which we presume must have been chaired by its President William Mawan, whose other hat is, of course, President of the Sarawak People’s Democratic Party (SPDP), a Sarawak based party in the BN ruling coalition with a Dayak majority membership. However, the eye-brow raising statement was released and signed by its Vice-President, Anthony Banyan, and not by William Mawan. Which is intriguing, to say the least.
Why do I say intriguing? Well, SDNU did not mince its words. In fact, SDNU used very strong words, and the underlying message behind those words is even stronger. Just to quote several sentences from the SDNU statement:
“Whether the remark was designed to put a wedge between the Dayak community, particularly the Iban and the ruling government or uttered naturally by the subjects in the video, we still view such remark asdemeaning and deplorable.”
Thank you SDNU for standing up for the Dayak community and calling a spade a spade. The remarks in the video were indeed demeaning, deplorable, disgusting, humiliating and most shockingly, uttered nonchalantly by subjects related very closely by blood to the Chief Minister. It must have taken SDNU a lot of courage to actually tell the Chief Minister off, in a roundabout sort of way, that it.
However, the real meat of the statement came blazing through loud and clear:
“We also condemn the remark suggesting that the Dayaks are squatters on state land as it is baseless.”
SDNU was being polite in using the word ‘suggesting’. Datin Norlia Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub did not ‘suggest’ that Dayaks are squatters. She said it outright. But let’s not quibble. The point is that SDNU has publicly declared that Dayaks living on state land are not squatters, and this in itself is a milestone and one that should be applauded by all sensible Dayaks. To put it in a nutshell, SDNU condemns anyone who is saying that Dayaks who live on so-called ‘state lands’ have no Native Customary Rights, and are therefore, in effect, agreeing with what Pakatan Rakyat has been saying all along.
At first reading of the statement, I was quite taken aback. I had to re-read the sentence, to be sure that this was the underlying message that SDNU was sending out. And sure enough, there it was, in black and white.
The next paragraph removed all doubts I had. No underlying theme, but an outright clarion call:
“We call upon all quarters to stand up for the Dayak community andrecognise our rights over land as well as be sensitive towards the feelings of the Dayaks.”
Nothing can be clearer than what SDNU had just written; “recognise our rights over land.” This is an overt and direct statement relating to Native Customary Rights and Native Customary Lands, and follows the precedent set by the celebrated Mabo vs. Queensland Judgment and its implications worldwide where English Common Law overrides Constitutional Law in legal systems that are based on the English legal system. The precedent created by the Mabo Case was applied successfully by Baru Bian in the landmark Malaysian case of Nor Anak Nyawai vs. BPP & Ors, which went to the highest Malaysian court, the Federal Court, TWICE. And both times Baru Bian won. Dayaks HAVE rights over ‘state lands’. Yet, the Sarawak Government refuses to accept the Court’s decision and continues its policy of alienating ancient Dayak lands.
Based on these very clear words, we can surmise and come to only one conclusion: that SDNU’s Supreme Council, made up of several BN senior politicians, has issued a statement that unequivocally says that it now agrees with Pakatan Rakyat’s policy on indigenous lands. Now this is why I say it is intriguing because this is definitely news! Big news! SDNU, despite being led by top Barisan Nasional Dayak leaders, are going against the grain and in no small way!
YBs William Mawan and his deputy in SDNU, Alex Nanta Linggi, may not have signed the statement but getting their subordinate Vice-President Anthony Banyan to sign the statement is telling. What is William Mawan, boss of SPDP and Alex Linggi, senior member of PBB, exactly saying with the issuance of this very bold statement via SDNU? Are they striking out at Taib through the backdoor? Is this a veiled condemnation of Taib’s policies on NCR lands?
Most shocking of all, the Women’s Wing of SDNU, which is headed by Empiang Jabu, the wife of the Deputy Chief Minister, also gave its fullest backing to the statement. Stunning! Is Jabu now tacitly telling his ‘beloved Pehin Sri’ that he too is upset by the slur on the Dayaks and that he has finally had an epiphany on the eve of Easter? Are our Dayak ‘leaders’ finally staging a silent protest against Taib and family?
The plot gets thicker and I am literally at the edge of my seat with excitement! The political landscape is shifting, and it seems clear now why our Dayak leaders did not come to Taib’s aid and rescue when the debacle exploded last two weeks ago.
The Game of Thrones is afoot in Sarawak and the first very public crack in the polished façade of BN Sarawak’s frail unity is now vividly clear, thanks to SDNU's unmistakably refreshing and about-turn statement. And by any account, this is a big crack which Taib cannot ignore and hope will go away. SDNU has spoken loud and clear. Are the daggers finally drawn? We wait with bated breath for the next public reaction from either Taib or Mawan or for that matter, from the self-proclaimed Paramount Chief of the Dayaks, Jabu himself. Mutiny is always fun to watch from a distance.