By: Tan Sri Herman Luping
June 17, 2012: Former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Chief Minister of Sabah, Tan Sri Harris Salleh, had both made heartening and welcome statements regarding the setting up of the Royal Commission of Inquiry in respect of the illegal immigrants to Sabah.
They both said that they would be willing to speak to the Commission on the matter and in the case of Harris, he added that even if he was not called, he would still want to present himself to the Commission to give a statement.
As I said, this statement by the former leaders is most welcome and their appearance before the Commission would indeed clear the misconception by Sabahans - members of the public - about the perceived role by them in the illegal immigrants issue.
Sabahans generally are of the opinion that it was during their watch that the number of illegal immigrants to Sabah from the Southern Philippines and elsewhere have increased considerably.
Many therefore have a wrong perception that these two leaders are the "cause" of the easy entry of these immigrants into the State.
Their presence before the Commission would, therefore, clear the air about the apparent wrong perception about their role.
In the case of Tun Mahathir, there was a mention of a "Mahathir IC Project", whatever this means.
Dr Mahathir is correct when he said there has been a free flow of people coming from the Southern Philippines to Sabah since "time immemorial".
Many of these came to visit their relations in Sabah. These relations have come and settled in Sabah even before the arrival of the White man to Sabah. In many cases these arrivals who came to visit also stayed in Sabah.
Indeed, it was not only the Suluk or the Bajau who came to settle in Sabah after visiting their relations.
The Chinese too came from southern China, mostly from the Fujian province to settle in Sabah.
The White rulers, from the North Borneo Chartered Company government (1881-1945) and the British Crown colony of North Borneo government (1946-1963) actually encouraged the "free-flow" of immigrants from these countries to "boost" the small number of inhabitants in Sabah, and more importantly, to work in the various plantations (rubber mostly) that were encouraged to be opened by the two successive White administrations.
The distance between the Philippines and Sabah in the Kudat region is only about 50 kilometers and boats from one side to the other can easily cross over.
The result of these free-flow of people from many directions and countries coming to Sabah has resulted in a rich mixed population of people in the country.
Sabah today has the most number of mixed parentage in Malaysia.
It is not uncommon to see and meet people of mixed parentage with some as many as six ancestral parentage!
Today, Sabah has its own government, administered by its own people.
Our Founding Fathers decided to join the formation of the Malaysian Plan.
Today, we have a rich mixture of parentage amongst our leaders and this all for the good of the State and people.
And today, we the Sabahans, want to make sure that our population of people in the State remain as they were and are, with no more additions from these neighboring countries.
Part of the reason for this is because we are not quite sure of these people's loyalty, which country would they want to support.
For example, we could easily now have people from different countries becoming our leaders and their loyalty to Malaysia could be suspect.
But when did we actually have the sudden surge of increase in our population?
And what was the underlying objective for allowing these newly arrivals to illegally migrate to Sabah?
Or was there an agenda on the part of our leaders, State or Federal, in the past, for wanting to change the demography of Sabah and hence the voting pattern in the State?
The start, I think, was during the Usno-SCA Sabah Alliance government under Tun Mustapha as the Chief Minister. Soon after the second State general election in 1971, there was a sudden number of people coming over from the Southern Philippines.
Some 7,000 came and they were allowed to enter Sabah on the ground that they were refugees, running away from a government in their country who was "persecuting" them.
They said the Christian North, under a Christian President Marcos , was persecuting them.
Mustapha made an impassioned speech on their behalf, both at the Legislative Assembly and also in his public announcements.
The United Nations Refugee administration came over to supervise these new "refugees" from the Philippines and they were given all the assistance to make them welcome in Sabah.
The Federal government agreed to assist with funds to feed these people and the Sabah government provided them with a kind of identity cards which allowed them to get employment and move freely in the State.
But the influx of these people did not stop. More and more came thus making most of Sabah leaders of all racial origins alarmed and wanting to stop the flow of these new arrivals.
By the time the PBS government under Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan became the new government the number has increased considerably.
Indeed, the United Nations refugee representative in Sabah decided to close his office in Kota Kinabalu.
He was reported as saying that the new arrivals are and were not "refugees" but were coming into Sabah for "political" purposes.
By then the number of illegal immigrants had mushroomed considerably and the many make-shifts houses built with corrugated iron roof and for walls and temporary building materials also started to mushroom in nearly all sea fronts throughout the State.
One such place was at Pulau Gaya.
The make-shift houses along the island sea shore became an eye-sore and it was during the administration of Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat (as Chief Minister) that we saw for the first time a serious attempt to curb the expansion of these make-shift houses.
The present administration under the Umno BN coalition government under Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman is doing his bit to curb the construction of these eye sores. But unfortunately the construction of these illegal buildings are still going on. Many of these buildings are in fact hidden amongst the mangrove swamps!
And can we stop these illegal immigrants from coming?
The problem of illegal immigrants is not confined to Sabah, or for that matter, to Malaysia.
It is a world-wide phenomenon, problem.
We see and read in the newspapers about the confrontation amongst the illegal immigrants from other countries like Afganistan or the African countries in the European countries like the Netherlands, France, Germany and many more.
And only a few months ago, we had the problem of Afganistan immigrants travelling in boats on the way to Australia. The boats were intercepted by the Australian Naval ships and the "refugees" were placed at an island (known as Christmas island) off the coast of Brisbane.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib who was in Australia agreed with the Australian government in a written agreement for Malaysia to accept these refugees who are Muslims and in return the Australian government to accept immigrants from Cambodia etc.
Najib's action to agree to this swap of illegal immigrants was apparently an attempt to help the Labour government in Australia win the election.
But the court in Australia has ruled that the swap agreement was unconstitutional, illegal and could not be implemented.
Meanwhile what of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) which would be set up soon as announced by the Prime Minister?
The terms of reference would be far reaching we hope.
But would the RCI be able to find solutions to the problem of illegal immigrants into Sabah?
Some people are of the opinion that the RCI is just an "inquring" body after all.
It is not there to find a solution?
But whatever recommendations the RCI eventually present to the government, that it would be for the good of the State and that the illegal immigrants problem is solved once and for all.