RACIAL harmony and religious acceptance in Sarawak have always been the pride of its people and wonder of outsiders.
Sarawak is a state where a mosque and church thrive side by side, sharing their carparks and joining each other’s events.
Sarawakians of different races and religions always join the festive celebrations of their friends and neighbours, and they happily sit down in coffee shops together.
However, racial and religious harmony is fragile and could be destroyed by outside influences.
Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem was acutely aware of the danger posed by outsiders to the peaceful way of life in the state.
One of the first steps he took as Chief Minister was to declare racial harmony a state policy.
Adenan emphasised the implementation of this policy in his Hari Raya Aidilfitri message in 2015, when he reminded Sarawakians to preserve their racial unity and religious acceptance that had been the cornerstone of the state’s peace and progress.
He warned that a divided society – with each race only prioritising the interests of their own people – would stunt the state’s progress and destroy the way of life Sarawakians had been enjoying.
His warning was timely as there had been a growing danger that outsiders could be sowing the seeds of racial and religious discord.
Following up his words with action, he announced on March 21, 2014, that religious bigots, racists and troublemakers would be barred from entering Sarawak and that any outsider stoking racial or religious tension would be deported.
“This is to prevent peaceful Sarawakians from being infected by racism and religious bigotry. This is done only in the best interest of the peaceful people of Sarawak, who are known to be hospitable and moderate in their views and actions,” Adenan said.
Turning words into action
There were many who doubted Adenan would live up to his words but he quickly silenced the doubters within a month of taking office, by invoking Section 66 of the Immigration Act 1963 to bar the entry of three PKR top leaders — vice president Tian Chua, secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nastion Ismail and strategy director Rafizi Ramli — in the run-up to the Balingian state by-election on March 22, 2014.
PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was allowed to stay.
Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) supreme council member Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah explained
the ban only applied to those whom the state felt were undesirable and had the tendency to create disharmony among the races.
“Preserving racial harmony is not easy. We do not want this harmony that we have built up for all these years be destroyed by personalities from Peninsular Malaysia, who will just leave us in disarray after they have created havoc,” he had explained.
This was later substantiated when Malay supremacist Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali was also stopped from entering the state.
Controversial lecturer Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, who was invited to give a speech at a religious function in Lundu on Dec 26, 2014, was also turned back after arriving at the Kuching International Airport.
Rising above the ‘Allah’ controversy
When the furore over the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians in their worship and Bibles was raging in Peninsular Malaysia, Adenan stood high above the issue by declaring that the word ‘Allah’ could be used by Christians in Sarawak, and that there would be no restriction of any sort placed on Bibles used in Sarawak.
Adenan, who was educated at St Joseph’s Secondary School, had promised Christians in Sarawak they could use the word ‘Allah’ in their worship and literature.
When Kelantan passed the bill on implementation of hudud (Islamic criminal law) in its state assembly and tried to table it in Parliament, Adenan again rose to the occasion by declaring that he would not allow hudud to be implemented in Sarawak.
“Rest assured that any proposal to alter or remove any of these constitutional safeguards would be brought by the state government to the attention of this House for deliberation and its endorsement would be sought,” promised Adenan in his winding-up speech at the May 2014 State Legislative Assembly sitting.
The Chief Minister was also aware of the threat posed by illegal immigrants in the state.
Many of them were Suluks from Southern Philippines and had been living in coastal areas near Miri for years, working as fishermen for local syndicates.
Their presence was well known to the locals, especially fishermen whose livelihood was affected by their presence, but numerous reports to the authorities showed that nothing had been done.
In March 2015, after years of angry silence, some Miri fishermen found their voice through The Borneo Post and raised the issue of these aggressive Suluk fishermen, who had been jeopardising the local fishing industry by using methods not permitted by the government such as fish bombs and poison.
When Adenan heard about it, he vowed to go all out to rid the state of illegal immigrants before they became too big a problem to tackle, such as that experienced by Sabah.
He said it plainly that it “irked” him that the Immigration Department had been informed about the problem originating from the Philippines since 2014, but failed to act on it. He instructed enforcement agencies to work together and put a stop to the influx of illegal immigrants, to prevent Sarawak from ending up like Sabah.
Just over a week later, 155 illegal immigrants, mainly the Suluks and Bajaus, were arrested at two squatter colonies in Batu Satu Lutong and near Pujut 7 Bridge, in Miri.
Within the next two months, integrated operations headed by the Immigration Department, police, General Operations Force, Rela, Land and Survey Department, Sarawak Energy Bhd, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Marine Fisheries Department and marine police were conducted.
“They say I don’t mean business on illegal immigrants in Sarawak. You know what is happening in Miri now? You have Filipinos — 500 to 700 of them — living in and around Miri and they (enforcers) don’t know about it?
“We warned the Immigration Department one year ago, but nothing has been done since. A problem that was small has now become a big problem. Raids will continue and more will be arrested.
“As far as Sarawak is concerned, don’t mess with me,” Adenan had warned.
Following Adenan’s clampdown on illegal immigrants, more than 500 Suluks voluntarily came forward and expressed their desire to return to the Philippines. Apart from illegal immigrants in the coastal areas, raids were carried out at construction sites and oil palm plantations to flush out illegal immigrants from other neighbouring countries.