Telupid: Villagers of Kg Bolotong denied claims that they did not abide by the Sabah Forestry Department’s eviction notice, saying it was the department that ignored Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman’s instruction to give due consideration to their plea.
Village JKKK Chairman Jimmy Iban claimed that the Chief Minister had issued a letter dated December 19 last year to the department regarding the matter but the latter apparently did not heed to it when it deployed enforcement personnel to execute the demotion last week.
“We didn’t ignore the (eviction) notice. In fact, we discussed the matter over and over with the department and leaders, and we pleaded for consideration. But the department ignored our pleas even though we had never been confrontational.
“When the department demolished 16 of the villagers’ houses on March 16, we had nowhere to turn to except to seek for help…What more now that their inhumane action is known to the media,” he said.
He insisted that villagers did not deserve to be treated so cruelly by the department as they have all this while been appealing for consideration, without using any force.
He also denied the department’s claim that villagers refused to take up the occupation permit offer.
“They just could not afford to pay the RM250 per hectare annually. Say if a villager owns 15 acres, the amount he has to pay is totally burdensome. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the department would excise the area after 25 years. If that would be the case, where would we go when that time comes?” he argued.
He also regretted the statement of Sabah Chief Conservator of Forest Datuk Sam Mannan who accused them as illegal settlers and not the original people of Tongod.
Jimmy insisted that as indigenous people they have the right to live or apply for any land in Sabah.
He added that in fact the arrival of 10 heads of households from Kiulu to the area in 1979 received the blessing of the then village headman of Kg Entilibon known as Lambah, followed by a ritual performed in the early 1990s to symbolise an understanding between him and the settlers’ leader, Apin Linggau.
Mannan had said on Tuesday that the area in question was part of the large Sg Pinangah Forest Reserve that was gazetted in 1965 which was in pristine condition at that time. The major part of the reserve had earlier on been licensed to Yayasan Sabah.
Large-scale logging, he said, commenced in the 1970s by various licensees and was gradually phased out except for the Yayasan Sabah area, much of which remains for reforestation, mosaic planting and total protection.
He said the settlers came to Tongod in the 1990s from faraway places in the interior and west coast.
Jimmy, however, questioned why the large-scale logging operation was even allowed as disclosed by Mannan if the area had been gazetted as a Forest Reserve in 1965.
He said what is more puzzling is the existence of a palm oil plantation owned by a private company just next to their settlement. He believed that the plantation sits partly within the forest reserve.
He pointed out as indigenous people who hold on strongly to their adat, destroying their natural environment would be the last thing they would commit. – Lagatah Toyos