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Malaysia election: Sabahans all for 1Malaysia

Sabahans have their pet peeves about fellow Malaysians in the peninsula but most are content to leave things as they are. -The Star/ANN

Sun, Apr 07, 2013
The Star/Asia News Network

RIO Yusman, Richie R and Joe Allan, all 22, do not really fancy teaching but they enrolled at the Keningau Teachers Training College anyway because they believe it will secure them well-paid teaching jobs once they graduate.

"There are not so many jobs in Keningau and we want to continue living here to be near family and friends. If we become teachers, at least we are assured of a job," says Rio, a Murut. He thinks money is the most important thing in life because "without it you can do nothing."

It peeves Richie that "a lot of people" in peninsular Malaysia have "very little understanding" of Sabah.

"They think Sabah is so backward and make negative assumptions about us. I've seen postings on Facebook where they ask if there are people in Sabah who still live on trees!" says Richie, who is of Dusun-Murut descent.

It is only when people from the peninsula are posted to Sabah for work or come over for a visit that they find Sabah is not so ulu, he says.

"We may not have the LRT or as many shopping malls and there are many pot-holed roads here but we do have houses, mobile phones and WiFi. And we certainly beat the peninsula hands down in race relations."

Richie says Sabahans are flexible and mix with everyone regardless of race and religion.

"Muslims here don't have a problem sitting with us for a drink in a Chinese restaurant that serves pork. They won't eat there of course but they are fine about joining us there for some tea and to talk.

"I've been to KL. I've seen how Malays sit with only the Malays, the Chinese with their kind and Indians together with other Indians.

"You won't find this in Sabah because we inter-marry a lot so we have family members of different ethnicity and religions," he says.

Hamidi Suin, 40, and Johari Petrus, 34, both Dusuns from Tambunan, are teaching mates and well acquainted with life in the peninsula.

Hamidi spent five years in college in Penang and Johari was in Perlis for four years but, they say, they prefer Sabah because they feel most comfortable in their home state, and they love the language, the food, culture and the people.

Hamidi has many Christian relatives and doesn't find it an issue when they use the word "Allah" when they pray.

"We are so used to it here. It's so normal. To me, religion is a personal matter between the person and God," says Hamidi, a Muslim who spends Christmas at his Christian relatives' homes and they celebrate Hari Raya with his family.

Johari's parents converted to Islam before he was born, so many in his extended family are still Catholics but he doesn't feel his Muslim faith is in jeopardy when he hangs out with them.

Like most Sabahans (and other Malaysians), Hamidi and Johari have been following the news of the armed Sulu intruders who held siege on Kampung Tanduo, the killing of the policemen there and in Kampung Simunul, Semporna, and the subsequent military operation to get the group out.

Hamidi thinks the authorities have done the right thing and believes the Malaysian security forces will protect Sabah at all costs.

"We are 1Malaysia in this, not 1Sabah. But we must also remember it is not all Suluks who did this," says Hamidi who has a local Suluk in-law.

Given a choice, Hamidi says he will definitely pick for Sabah to remain with Malaysia rather than self-rule.

"We still need a lot of help from the Federal Government. I don't think we can rule by ourselves.

"There are 13 states in Malaysia and, like in any family, there are always the anak emas (favourites). So let the anak emas get to university first, then it'll be our turn. It's step by step. You can't expect Malaysia to develop every state all at once."

Salwana Wahamen, 25, is not as calm as Hamidi over the Sulu intruders' attack, however.

Even though Kampung Tanduo is over 700km from Keningau, people including Salwana got a bit of a scare three weeks ago when rumours were heard about some Sulu intruders heading towards Keningau, the Dusun heartland, to escape the security forces.

"Everyone was shaken and frightened. I got SMS from a number of unfamiliar mobile numbers too," says Salwana.

Many Suluks from Semporna, who are fishermen, have come to make Keningau their home and new people are moving in and out of the area all the time and "we don't know if they'll offer the intruders protection," she adds.

She is voting for the first time in a general election and is still thinking about who she will pick.

She is excited by the "Ini Kali lah" catchphrase made popular by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and his STAR party's promise to fight for Sabah rights. At the same time, she is torn by her deep desire for security, peace and stability.

She admits she is sick of people from the peninsula who bad-mouth Sabah and think Sabahans are backward.

"If we are, who is responsible for that? Who is supposed to bring development to Sabah? But we don't blame the peninsula leaders because our Sabah leaders should take the blame for selling us short.

"And I still don't see any Sabah leader who is capable of leading us to self-govern the state."

On the "Allah" issue, Salwana is confident of her own faith but still thinks the church's insistence on using the word "Allah" is actually a pretext to subtly reach out and woo Muslims who are less grounded or less knowledgable in their faith.

Free spirit

Salwana may be only 25 but this enterprising Unimas graduate who used to run a mobile laundry service in her university days has opened a thriving restaurant in Keningau and has big plans for the future.

"I am not one of those who can work in the civil service. I love adventure and being free," she says.

She had applied for a loan to start her restaurant but was rejected so she borrowed money for capital from her parents and sister. After two years, she was able to repay them as well as pay her PTPTN loan every month.

"I feel I can breathe now," she says.

In Sandakan, Ayang (her nickname), 40, who is of Suluk-Bajau descent is a woman without a state. Born in Malaysia, she has lived all her life here but her application to become a citizen has been rejected without, she says, an explanation.

"I am frustrated and disappointed. My ex-husband is from Malacca and we have four children who were all born here," she says as she pulls out the rejection letter she carries around with her.

Her parents came to Sabah from the Philippines more than 50 years ago "during the British rule" and eight of their 10 children, including Ayang, were born in Malaysia.

Ayang claims she could have paid off some middleman with cables inside the state National Registration Department (NRD) to get herself citizenship but chose to go through the proper channels instead.

"Why should I pay under-the-table money to get a citizenship when I was born here, live here and will die here? It really makes me mad seeing foreigners who arrived yesterday become citizens overnight just because they are willing to pay someone off."

Ayang has twin sisters who were born in a hospital in Sandakan and delivered by "some white doctor". The odd thing, she says, is one twin is registered as a Malaysian citizen while the other holds temporary residency.

"When we brought the matter up with the NRD to make the case for the twin sister without citizenship, two state NRD officers threatened instead to revoke the other twin's citizenship. But we were born here. We are rakyat as far as we concerned," she insists.

Her predicament is a common problem in Sabah.

Zack was born in Malaysia but when he reached 16, he had to stop schooling. The system wouldn't allow him to continue as he has no IC because both his parents are Indonesians.

He is now working at a 24-hour convenience store for RM650 a month. And his boss doesn't need to make any EPF contribution for him because Zack technically doesn't fall under the system.

Last June, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak set up a Royal Commision of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate problems relating to illegal immigration in Sabah and the number of foreigners given blue Malaysian ICs and citizenships.

During the RCI proceedings, a lot of issues have come to light, including the disclosure that a former Sabah NRD director had admitted earning more than RM1mil from selling Malaysian identification documents to Philippine, Indonesian and Pakistani nationals.

The secretary of home affairs and research in the Sabah Chief Minister's Department also told the RCI of the problem faced by descendants of original refugees. They are stuck in a state of limbo because they don't have official documents even though they were born in the state.

In Beaufort, Osman Tahir who is a Brunei-Malay describes the situation of "Projek IC" as keris makan tuan and very hard to undo.

"In the past, people (foreigners) just came here to work, then they were given citizenship and there was a lot of inter-marriages. Over the years, some have come to hold positions in the government sector like the NRD.

"And if your people come to you (person in a position of power) seeking citizenship, you'd probably approve it because you wouldn't want to see your own people suffer.

"So it's gone beyond the control of the federal government now," says the 47-year-old.

Osman and his friend Azmain Sagap are also not keen on self-rule for Sabah.

"The Sabah economy will be crippled if the tens of thousands from peninsula Malaysia up and leave Sabah.

Says Osman: "Take the schools alone. A lot of our teachers come from peninsula Malaysia. If they leave, who is going to teach in our schools?"

Azmain feels Sabah lacks experts in economy, and expertise in administration and in running the state.

"So we shouldn't follow our emotions," he says.

But the peculiar thing they notice about peninsula Malaysians working in Sabah is that if they are alone, they will come and join the Sabahans.

"But if they meet their gang from Semenanjung or there are two or three of them from there, they'll ignore us. It's like we don't exist. I find that odd," says Osman.


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