Orang asli land rights defender dies but leaves legacy

KUALA LUMPUR: Orang asli legend Sagong Tasi (pic), whose legal case won the first full customary land ownership in Peninsular Malaysia, died materially impoverished, according to the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC).

COAC coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas said Sagong has given his name to the first legal precedent that recognised the rights of the orang asli to their customary lands.

“To him, monetary compensation was not an equitable substitute for retaining their land.

“But he left behind not just a legacy but an intangible endowment for the orang asli – the spirit of confidence and hopefulness to defend your right,” he said of the Temuan elder, who died on Tuesday, at age 88.

A stroke two months ago left him bedridden.

In a post on COAC’s Facebook page yesterday, he said Sagong was also a “legend of sorts” among the orang asal or indigenous peoples.

He said Sagong was placed on the same pedestal as other land rights defenders such as TR Nor Nyawai of Sarawak and the late Darinsok Pangiran Apan and Rambilin Ambit of Sabah.

In 1996, Sagong and villagers in Kampung Bukit Tampoi, Dengkil, faced bulldozers and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) when their customary lands were forcibly taken away to make way for a highway to KL International Airport without full compensation.

“Taking the matter to court was not common practice for the orang asli but they decided to go ahead and sue the Federal and Selangor government, as well as several others,” Dr Nicholas said.

In April 1996, seven of the villagers filed the legal suit against the defendants after 6.15ha of their land was taken away for the project.

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

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 is an interest in and to the land.

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

Along with two other Temuan elders – Batin Tukas Siam and Dabak Chabat, both deceased – Sagong’s evidence on his people’s customs, traditions and way of life was crucial in the judgment.

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

On May 26, 2010, the Federal Court recorded a consent judgment whereby the Federal Government, Lembaga Lebuhraya Malaysia and United Engineers (M) Bhd, agreed that the highway authority would pay the families RM6.5mil as full compensation.

On Sept 30 the same year, 26 orang asli families from the Temuan tribe received the compensation.

The High Court decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2005.

The then Barisan Nasional government appealed to the Federal Court but the new administration, which took over the state in 2008, withdrew the appeal.


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