SARAWAK Dayaks, angry over two recent Federal Court decisions which failed to recognise native customary rights, will gather at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya on Tuesday to “make their feelings known” at another appeal case set to go against them.

Dayak Nation Institute (Dani – which in Iban means “awake”) is flying some 80 native landowners from the rural town of Pantu, about 140km from Kuching, to Putrajaya to hear the ruling on the appeals made by the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) – a Sarawak government land development agency; its commercial arm, Pelita Holdings Sdn Bhd; a joint venture company Tetangga Akrab Pelita (Pantu) Sdn Bhd; and the Sarawak government against a January 2015 Court of Appeal decision in favour of native land owners.

On December 29, 2014, the High Court in Bandar Sri Aman – about 200km from Kuching – ruled that longhouse chief or tuai rumah Masa Nangkai and 11 others are entitled to their claim to land under native customary rights (NCR) in the Sg Tenggang NCR development area at Pantu.

They were suing on behalf of themselves and some 90 other landowners from several villages in Pantu.

Dani spokesman Rapelson Richard Hamit said if Tuesday’s decision goes against the native landowners, it would make “the Dayak refugees on their own land”.

In December last year, the Federal Court ruled that the NCR of the Dayaks of “pemakai menoa” (territorial domain) and “pulau galau” (communal forest reserve) has no force of law in Sarawak and their claims applied only to the “temuda” (farmland) and not to the forest around their longhouses.

The Dayaks said they have customary rights over the “territorial domain” around their longhouses, including primary forest within that domain, while Dayak land rights activists said the court decision failed to take into account the unwritten customary laws of the Dayaks.

On October 13, the Federal Court dealt a second blow when it overturned the decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal by ruling that Section 132 of the Sarawak Land Code protected the indefeasibility of the lease title even if it had been shown that NCR had been created over the alienated lands.

The court ruled that the native landowners, therefore, could no longer claim their land back but they could claim for compensation for their losses.

That Dayaks have said they have no interest claiming monetary compensation but only want their land which they could hold in perpetuity.  

That October appeal was filed by LCDA, the two oil palm plantations companies LCDA had entered into a joint venture – TH Pelita Sadong Sdn Bhd and TH Pelita Gedong Sdn Bhd, the Sarawak government and RHB Islamic Bank Bhd.

The Putrajaya rally is a prelude to a protest planned for Kuching on November 13 to pile pressure on the Sarawak government to speed up the promised amendments to the land code to address the two Federal Court rulings.

The amendment is to have been tabled in the legislative assembly, which begins its budget sitting next Wednesday, but Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah, who heads the Pemakai Menoa, Pulau Galau Committee tasked with recommending to the government the proposed amendment, has yet to draw up the proposal. – November 2, 2017.

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