PUTRAJAYA: Twelve native customary rights (NCR) land owners from Pantu, Sri Aman lost their decade-long legal challenge to claim their ancestral land in the Sungai Tenggang development area in Sarawak.
The Federal Court, led by Chief Justice Raus Sharif made a unanimous decision here Tuesday in favour of the state government and oil palm plantation firms.
The five-man panel overturned the High Court and appellate court’s decisions which had ruled in favour of the villagers who are ethnic Iban natives.
Appeals were made by the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) – a Sarawak government land development agency – its commercial arm Pelita Holdings Sdn Bhd; a joint venture company Tetangga Akrab Pelita (Pantu) Sdn Bhd; and the Sarawak government.
A January 2015 Court of Appeal decision which ruled in favour of native landowners, according to a report in a national news portal.
The other four judges who sat on the bench are Suriyadi Halim Omar, Zainun Ali, Balia Yusof Wahi and Jeffrey Tan.
More than 80 native families launched a legal battle in 2004 to reclaim some 6,870ha of land in Pantu, near Sri Aman, reported themalaysianinsight.com.
According to the report, the court ruling means they can only claim for compensation for their losses under Article 13 of the Federal Constitution.
Lawyers representing the families said the final legal recourse for the natives was a review.
“I’m truly sorry,” counsel Dominique Ng told some 80 representatives who were present at the hearing.
“Of course, we’ll try to go for a review, but it is a huge burden,” he said.
Landowner and community leader Hilarian Bisi Jingot of Julau, near Sibu expressed his disappointment at the court ruling.
“Today’s result… I’m really, really sad. We don’t want the money. We want our land back. It is our blood and our life.”
Last December, the Federal Court ruled that the Native Customary Rights (NCR) of “pemakai menoa” (territorial domain) and “pulau galau” (communal forest reserve) has no force of law in Sarawak and their claims applied only to the “temuda” (farmland), and not to the forest around their longhouses.
Dayak land rights activists said the court’s decision failed to take into account the unwritten customary laws called Adat.
“The bitter fact of the ruling also now means that any native land, NCR or native area land – even if gazetted, even if the government already recognises that it belongs to the natives – can still be lost,” Ng was quoted as saying.
“It’s now possible for a non-Sarawakian company to effectively own a gazetted native area land in Sarawak,” he added
Cobbold John, president of the opposition Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru, was quoted by TMI as saying that the ruling would have repercussions on some 400 pending native land disputes.
“Everyone, including the Dayak community, has lost their native land.
“The only response to this case is to change the government. We can’t rely on the judiciary anymore,” he said.
The party and several land rights activist groups have planned a rally in Kuching on November 13, demanding amendments to the state land code to address the Federal Court ruling.