RIP: Sagong Tasi, elder who won orang asli rights to customary land

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 15 May 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: Orang asli legend Sagong Tasi, whose land legal case win led to the first full customary land ownership in Peninsular Malaysia, has passed away, according to the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC).

In a post on COAC Facebook today (May 15), indigenous rights activist Dr Colin Nicholas said he died on Tuesday (May 14) at 11.15pm. He was 88.

The Temuan elder, well known to many orang asli and indigenous law specialists, had been bedridden after having suffered a stroke exactly two months earlier, he said.

“Sagong Tasi gave his name to the first legal precedent that recognised the rights of the orang asli to their customary lands,” he said.

In 1996, Sagong and some of his fellow villagers in Kampung Bukit Tampoi, Dengkil faced bulldozers and FRU (Federal Reserve Unit) police personnel when their customary lands were forcibly taken away to make way for a highway to KLIA without paying full compensation, said Nicholas.

“At a time when going to court was not a common thing for the orang asli, they decided to do so and sued the Federal and Selangor state governments, as well as several others,” he said.

With strong legal support from a very capable team of pro-bono lawyers from the Bar Council – led by Dr Cyrus Das, Jerald Gomez and Rashid Ismail – a landmark decision was attained, he said.

In the case now cited as Sagong bin Tasi & Ors v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor (2002), the High Court ruled that under common law, the proprietary interest of the Temuans of Bukit Tampoi in the land within the settlement was an interest in and to the land, he said.

“This is a major shift from the earlier judgment in Adong Kuwau which only recognised the rights of the the Jakuns in Kota Tinggi, Johor as that of an interest over the land, and not to the land itself.

“Put simply, this is just the right to use it and not to own it,” said Nicholas.

Along with two other Temuan elders – Batin Tukas Siam and Dabak Chabat, both deceased now – the testimony Sagong on his people’s customs, traditions and way of life was crucial in helping the judge decide the way he did, added Nicholas.

He was also one of the remaining few in his village who knew enough of the village history to make their case stand in court, he said.

The High Court decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2005. The Barisan Nasional government appealed to the Federal Court but a change of state government in 2008 led to the Pakatan Keadilan government acceding to requests to withdraw the Federal Court appeal and cash compensation was paid in 2009.

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