On 13th September, 2008 about 150 members of Indigenous People Networks of Malaysia or Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) marched to Istana Negara to deliver a petition to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The march was stopped by the Police even though the Police had earlier given the permit for the march. As a result the march did not reach the Istana.
Indigenous people or Orang Asal from eight states participated in the march. They were from Johor, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak. The majority of the participants were Orang Asli from Semenanjung Malaysia with a few from Sabah and Sarawak. It is reliably learnt that the representatives from Sarawak were members of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA).
Why were they making a petition to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong? The petition was to ask the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to protect their constitutional rights which they claimed have been eroded by the government. The memorandum which they intended to hand over to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was to urge the government to honour the United Nation Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (DRIP) to which Malaysia is a signatory.
Amongst other things JOAS demanded an end to the government’s practice of leasing native customary rights land without consulting the native communities. The organisers of the march said the handing over of the memorandum to the Agong was to be a symbolic gesture. In fact a petition to the Agong for protection of rights is a constitutional right vested in the indigenous people in this country.
Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which Umnoputra boasted as a “social contract” or “special Malay rights” (hak istemewa orang Melayu) provides for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong a responsibility to protect the interest of not only the Malays but everybody else.
Article 153(1) provides “ It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and the natives of any states of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.” (emphasis mine). Thus, it is obvious that the natives of Sabah and Sarawak are also conferred with the special position like the Malays. But why is it that the leaders from Semenanjung have never include us whenever they mention Article 153. The Orang Asli, unfortunately, are not given that special position and therefore, must fall into the category of “other communities” referred to in Article 153(1) since they are not natives of Sabah or Sarawak.
Do we, the natives of Sarawak have rights such as, for example, rights to property? Article 13 of the Federal Constitution is about rights to property. Clause (1) of Article 13 provides “No person shall be deprive of property save in accordance with law.” Although the rights to property are given, those rights can be removed if there is a law made to take those rights away. Laws have always been the instruments used by the government to curtail or take away the rights and this is seen in clause (2) of Article 13 where it says “No law shall provide for the compulsory acquisition or use of property without adequate compensation.” yet Section 48 of the Land Code (cap 81) authorised the government to acquire people’s land (property) by compulsory acquisition even though compensation is given. The adequacy of the compensation is always the issue in dispute resulting in many cases of land acquisition compensation dispute still pending resolution in Court.
The natives of Sarawak have rights, right to property, position in the public service, scholarship, special training, business etc., under Article 153. Article 161A provides that the state constitution of Sabah and Sarawak may make provision corresponding (with necessary modifications) to Article 153. Yes, Section 39 of the Constitution of the State of Sarawak has provisions similar to that found in Article 153. It is very comforting to look at what is written in the constitution but in reality, very often we see a different picture. That is why JOAS sent the memorandum to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to request for His Majesty’s assistance to urge the government to honour the rights spelt out in DRIP and in the constitution to ensure development for indigenous people in the country in accordance with their rights.