Ibans from 4 longhouses in Balingian apply for injunction against logging companies

MIRI, (3rd July 2002): On the 1st November, 2001, six Ibans from four longhouses, namely, Rumah Juti, Rumah Demong, Rumah Tawan and Rumah Mulok in Sungai Bawan, Balingian, Mukah, Sarawak comprising more than 40 families filed a representative actin in the Sibu High Court on their own behalf as well as on behalf of all the residents of their respective longhouses in which they sought various declarations from the Court against the Sarawak Government and two logging companies, Lien Ho Sawmill Berhad and Esteemac Timber Sdn. Bhd.

On the same day, they also applied for an interlocutory injunction to restrain the two companies from entering and carrying out logging activities within an area of approximately 3,550 hectares which they said comprised their temuda, pulau and pemakai menoa areas.

The Ibans claimed that they and their ancestors had acquired native customary rights (NCR) over their said temuda, pulau and pemakai menoa lands in accordance with their customs and the laws relating to land that were passed by the State since the time of the administration of Brookes White Rajahs. They also alleged that they have never received any notice from the authorities on the extinguishment of their NCR over their said temuda, pulau and pemakai menoa land nor anyone of them been persecuted by the authorities for occupying these lands.

In their statement of claim, they averred that the issuance of the Forest Timber Licence No. T/0113 by the Sarawak Government to Lien Ho Sawmill Berhad which covers or includes their said temuda, pulau and pemakai menoa lands is bad and void for, inter alia, violations of their right to livelihood and to property guaranteed under Articles 5 and 13 of the Federal Constitution. This, according to the Ibans, was because the licence allows Lien Ho Sawmill Berhad or its contractor, Esteemac Timber Sdn. Bhd. to enter and log or extract and deprive them of the timbers and other forest produce in their said temuda, pulau and pemakai menoa lands.

The Ibans further claim that if the companies are not restrained by the Court from entering and carrying out their logging activities in their said temuda, pulau and pemakai menoa lands, they will suffer irreparable damages which will never be sufficiently compensated by any award of damages should they succeed in their main action at the trial.

"The whole cultural, spiritual and even economic survival of our people, our present and future generations depend on our land and forest", said Juti Ak Maga, 54 years of age and the first plaintiff who is also the chief of his own longhouse community, Rumah Juti.

Encik Ata Ak Ngadi, the 3rd Plaintiff also complained that, "for us who live in the longhouse in the interior, our land and forest is our supermarket and sawmill. We have no other land elsewhere in the whole world and we also have no other sources of income except from our present land around our longhouses. If these lands are destroyed, where are we going to look for wood to maintain our longhouses and our women will have no place to look for rattans to make baskets and mats?"

The Ibans also claimed that the companies will not suffer any hardships or any significant loss if the injunction is granted. This is because the area covered by their licence is 46,000 hectares and therefore pending disposal of the suit, they can first log other parts of their concession. If they eventually succeed at the trial, they still can come back and log the disputed area as their licence will only expires in 2005.

Hearings of the application for the injunction had been held before His Lordship Clement Skinner J on the 18th April, 2002, 22nd May, 2002 and 19th June, 2002 and his ruling will be given tomorrow, 4th July, 2002 at 9.00 a.m.

The Ibans were represented by Mr. Harrison Ngau Laing of Messrs. HNL & CO., Miri and the companies were both represented by Dr. Chew Peng Hui of Messrs. Battenberg & Talma, Sibu. - BRIMAS