PETALING JAYA (Nov 12): The arrest of 10 Penans last week at the blockade site near Murum Dam has not deterred them from continuing their fight to stop the inundation of their land before compensation is paid.
They went back to the site upon their release on Sunday.
The state coordinator of Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas) Raymond Abin said that the Penan will continue to stay at the blockade site until the government promises to talk to them on the compensation.
They had asked for a compensation of RM500,000 for each family affected by the Murum dam.
“The Sarawak government has not sent anyone to talk to the Penan so far,” Raymond told fz.com on the phone.
On Nov 7, 10 Penans were arrested, including two teenagers, aged 13 and 16, according to the Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM).
The Penan had started their blockade at the Murum Highway since Sept 20, which means they had been staying in the outdoors in tents for 52 days and relying on food donated by the public who support their cause.
They were remanded at the Belaga Police Station lockup and were released on Nov 10 on police bail. However, they were requested to attend Court in Belaga on Nov 26 to answer charges under section 341 for wrongful restraint and section 448 of the Penal Code for criminal trespass.
Upon their release at 11.30am on Sunday, the group lodged a police report against the police, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) and the Sarawak state government for unlawful arrest.
“The most important issue now is that the government must pay compensation to the Penan according to the law. The government cannot inundate their property without any compensation,” Raymond said.
It is expected that about 1,500 Penans would be uprooted from their ancestral land following the inundation of the 944 MV Murum dam.
The Borneo Post on Nov 4 had reported that, according to a media handout by SEB, the power generation from its first unit is expected to commence in August 2014 and full generating capacity achieved in February 2015.
Raymond said that currently three villages had moved to the Tegulang resettlement area because their houses were inundated and they have no other place to live.
“It is not that they have accepted the compensation. They moved there because they have no other alternatives,” he added.
This is the third hydroelectric dam in a series of 12 dams that are being planned under the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, following the Bakun Dam and Baram Dam.
Raymond also pointed out a safety concern of the Penan in the area. The dam was inundated before the construction was complete, he said, to show that the company could complete the work according to schedule.
“The construction is still going on. The power house is not yet completed. All was done in haste. This is worrying if the water level increases day by day. It is dangerous to the people in the area, as well as their property.
“The government cannot evaluate the Penan’s property if their lands were under the water. How would the government make compensation to them?” he asked.
On Oct 16, SEB had issued a statement that filling the reservoir is a slow process that can take up to 14 months. As the safety and wellbeing of the community affected by the project is their key priority, the process is based on clearly mapped out timelines.
The Long Wat relocation was done on September 9, 2013, where all 89 families vacated their old longhouse and moved to Tegulang Resettlement village and are enjoying the comfort of their new homes equipped with facilities, amenities and infrastructure, the statement said.
The next areas that will be relocated are Long Malim followed by Long Tangau, Long Menapa and finally Long Luar and Long Singu. It expected the relocation process for all communities to be completed by end of the year.
Raymond, who has been working with the Penan in Murum for about ten years, said that the Penans’ life was getting more difficult because of the drastic development on their land.
“Many years ago, they had to face the logging in the area, and the oil palm plantations that came up at the same time. The change was too drastic for them. They were exposed to modern life before they could adapt to the new environment, especially how to be self-reliant outside the forest, the importance of education, or learnt farming, which they don’t have any experience of before.
“Now there is this Murum Dam, their life is tougher. Although the SEB and the state government said that they will implement plans to improve their life, but I doubt this will be something sustainable,” Raymond said.
Unlike Kayan or Kayah people who are good at farming, the Penans are mostly hunters and rely on the forest for food.
When the Bakun dam was built in 2001, about 10,000 people were forced to resettle to Sungai Asap, Belaga which they had said that the three acres of land that was given as compensation to them is not fertile and it is difficult for them to plant any crops. Also, as they were living far away from the forest now, their source of food is reduced.
In KUALA LUMPUR, Peter Kallang, chairman of the Save Rivers coalition said today that the police were trying to agitate the Penans at the blockade site so that they would react and give a reason for the police to arrest them.
He claimed that the Penan could smell alcohol on their breath and they suspected that the officers had been provided with liquor, Peter told a press conference here.
The Penan are going to lodge a police report on the matter today, he said.