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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Forgotten Heroes of a Nation

US Army General George Washington who was also the first President of United States of America was believed to have came out with the quote "a nation is judged by how well it treats its veterans".  As he was an Army General himself and had led the then US Continental Army in the United States fight for independence, it is not a surprise that the quote was attributed to him.

The quote, while may have not be from him, unfortunately is very correct.  If a country is not able to honour the men and women that had signed up to serve their nation at the nation's time of need, by treating these men and women well, then what honour does the nation has?

While the original quote was from a US President on the treatment of US veterans, this quote is very much a reflection of our own country.

Negotiation or Blood?
It is often declared that we had gained our independence via the negotiations.  That we had inherited a country that was peaceful and resource rich.  You find that narrative in our school's textbook and embraced by our establishment.

Bloody Past
The truth is far from that.  When our nation attained her independence in 1957, it was a country that was slowly emerging from the shadows of a civil war.  For all purposes and intent, the Emergency which was declared on 16 June 1948, was a full-scale civil war.  On one side was the centrist Malayan government which was friendly to the British, and on the opposite side, the hard-core leftist communist led armed guerrilla.

Even when the governments which was led by Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaya) and David Marshall (Singapore) had been willing to accept the olive branches from Chin Peng for a peace negotiation in Baling, Kedah, the Red's insistence to keep their arms while being legalised as a political party, together with other pecuniary claims had pointed to their intention to form a communist country, either by legitimate means or even by force.  They had chosen not to recognise the independence which was gained through negotiation.

Delegation to Baling Negotiation in 1955.  Source - Arkib Negara

In fact, Shamsiah Fakeh, a former AWAS member and one of the few Malay left-wing communist leaders that had went to China confirmed that in a conference held in Vietnam circa 1970's, the communist party sought the destruction of Malaysia as one of their key thrusts.

When the Federation of Malaysia was formed with the amalgamation of Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, new threats came into the picture.  In Sarawak, PARAKU (Partai Rakyat Kalimantan Utara) and PGRS (Parti Gerakan Rakyat Sarawak) threatened to overthrow the government that was led by Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan.  With external help from Indonesian KKO, they even managed to raise an elite unit.

In Singapore, Indonesian KKO had even targeted civilian targets.  A bomb had exploded at a restaurant resulting civilian deaths.  The perpetrators were caught and later hanged.

In Labis, Johor, Indonesian paratroopers jumped in.  Before they were managed to be rounded up, they ratcheted up several kills.  The most infamous was the ambush on 1st Singapore Infantry Regiment, where 7 were killed before they managed to retaliate.

These are but only some of the actions recorded in the annals of our nation.  Even when knowing that they may have to pay with their lives, patriotic men and women still answered the Nation's call to serve and protect this Nation, be it via His Majesty's Armed Forces or His Majesty's Royal Malaysian Police.

Have We Been Grateful?
But have we been grateful to these men and women who had fought hard in the jungles, across the high seas, deep in the night? 

Some of these men were awarded with the Nation's highest award for gallantry, the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP), Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB), Jasa Perkasa Persekutuan (JPP), Pingat Tentera Udara (PTU) and Kepujian Peruntukan Keberanian (KPK). These awards are awarded to men and women who had shown initiative and bravery in battle, and fought against odds. 

Many of these awardees never did get to receive these awards themselves as many were killed in actions.  A few survived.  Yet, this nation seems to be not very grateful to them.

Let's look at some cases. 

Retired Sergeant Major Ngalinuh Bala
Retired Police Sergeant Major Ngalinuh Bala was a former police personnel with the Police Field Force when he was awarded the SP for his actions in an ambush in Jalan Oya, in Sarawak.  His unit of 5 men was providing escort to a supply of explosives when they were ambushed by communist terrorists.  He managed to capture a terrorist even when he had sustained a near fatal stabbing to the chest in a hand-to-hand combat.  The rest of the terrorists managed to flee.

In 2007, The Star had found that he was living in destitute in Kuching.  Instead of living comfortably in his own home, he had to make do in a squatter home built on government land.  Most recently, he was reported to have to queue up with other normal citizens at the Miri Government Polyclinic, with the staffs and public around him woefully unaware of his status.

It was his status which prompted me to take further note of the plight that are faced by many of our veterans.

ASP (R) Wilfred Gomez Malong
A member of Special Branch Probing Unit, he led his section of 2 other police officers when they stumbled upon a group of enemies in Kanowit, Sarawak. 

Unsure of the enemy strength, they crawled for 5 hours to reach enemy position.  One of them stepped on a dry twig that snapped and alerted the enemy. In 10 minutes, they killed 4 enemies, while the rest scattered.  It was only after the battle ended that they realised they had attacked an enemy force 6 times their own as there were at least 18 enemies.

His action saw him being awarded with Panglima Gagah Berani. 

The early 1980's saw him and several police officers resigning to continue their studies into law.  He ended up involved in politics as an opposition member.  While his involvement in politics have little impact, it proved to be his undoing.  His request to be buried at Sarawak State Warriors memorial grave was rejected. He died of colon cancer and was buried in Kampung Entingan cemetary in February 2013.

Other Complaints
These are but some of the complaints shared to me by our police and military veterans.  And what I had recorded here are only those that had affected some of the holders of SP, PGB, JPP, PTU and KPK.  How about normal veterans who were not awarded with any medals? 

For SP and PGB holders, they at least get to receive monthly stipend of RM2,000 (SP) and RM1,500 (PGB) on top of their existing pension (for retirees) or salary.  Provided if they are still alive when they received the medal.  Those who were killed in combat would receive a one-time off RM20,000 (SP) or RM15,000 (PGB) only.  The allowance would be stopped the month the holders pass away.

In a way, this is a raw deal for SP and PGB holders, especially if they are killed in actions.  The qualified next-of-kin not only lose their loved ones, but also not entitled for the allowances.  Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had tried to lobby for the amount to be paid to the next-of-kin, but nothing has been heard since.

PGB Medal belonging to L/Cpl Azrul Tukiran.  He was killed in Kampung Simunuljaya ambush.

There's also no effort it seems to amend the Akta Kenangan Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa 1990 and Akta Kenangan Panglima Gagah Berani 1990 to update the clauses on the monthly stipend amount, which still list the amount as RM400 and RM300 respectively. *

For other veterans, at least their pensions had been increased to at least RM1,000 per month since 2009.  Compare this to the miserly amount of RM500 to RM600 that most veterans had to go by with before.  But with almost 10 years had gone since the last revisal, a review of the pension amount is overdue.  Perhaps, it would be good to have the pension review done every 5 years.  In 2015, allowance revisal for members of Parliament saw their pay increased from RM11,000 to RM16,000.  The increment for each MP, could have easily give 10 veterans an increase their pension by RM500.  If we can have a revisal for allowance to Members of Parliament in 2015, why not we do the same for our veterans? 

Medical Benefits
Veterans receive the same medical benefits as any other citizens.  However, this forced them to wait for their turn together with normal citizens.  While it is understood that government hospital services treat patients based on the triage system, it is very sad to see veterans who had sacrificed so much for the country not being given priority.

In this respect, I have to applaud DS Hishammuddin Hussein for his effort in helping Armed Forces veterans by approving the plan of establishing a new Armed Forces Hospital in Perak to assist the veterans.  But veterans are not just found in Kuala Lumpur or Perak.  But this is a good early first step.  Perhaps, the Armed Forces should also extend the access to the veterans from their sister agencies as part of the NBOS initiative? 

Another important step that the Government could do is to have special assistance to be rendered to these veterans when going to hospitals for check ups.  Not all veterans are well to do and may require transportation assistance from time to time.  Maybe even an officer to escort the veteran and back to home

Lack of Respect or Acknowledgement
Whenever you talk to a veteran, be they holders of gallantry award or ordinary veterans, you may be able to catch a hint of disappointment.  Disappointment that their sacrifices and that of their fallen brethren are not being appreciated.  There's lack of respect towards these veterans, either by design or ignorance.

Take official ceremonies as an example.  Despite being ranked as first in priority for SP and 19th for PGB in terms of federal awards, their seating arrangment sometimes do not reflect this.  Even JPP, PTU and KPK have their own priority in the list.  As if their presence is an afterthought.  There are also incidents of not being invited to key national events, like National Day.  This is especially true for police veterans who live outside Klang Valley as they were usually left out from major events that are held in Klang Valley.  With only very few surviving gallantry holders, it should have not be too difficult or expensive to do so.

Acknowledgement of their sacrifices had also led to an apathy amongst our youths.  It would be easier for them to quote names of K-pop superstars than names of these veterans. 

'Painful Alternative' History
Far most hurtful to these veterans are the actions of some quarters in the country that are pushing for the recognition of 'alternative history'.  These quarters have been promoting the left-wing narrative claiming that these are true patriots despite the fact that they continued to fight against the country after 1955 Baling Negotiation and after Independence in 1957.

Some of these quarters seek to bring to light how these 'true patriots' had fought hard, living in self-imposed exile in foreign land.  Conveniently choose to ignore or hide the fact that these 'true patriots' had also sought for the destruction of Malaysia as we do not share the same political ideology.  Yet, our veterans, the real true patriots are continued to be ignored.

Some proponents of this 'true patriots' are politicians, fighting for political expediency.  A certain politician had called out for derecognizing police officers killed in the Bukit Kepong tragedy as heroes as they were ostensibly serving as British police force.  They were not.  By 1st February 1948, the Malayan Police Force was a police agency for Federation of Malaya which was a protectorate to the British Government.  As a protectorate, it was technically a sovereign, which is very different from being a British Crown Colony.

There was too a celebrity religious leader who claimed that Lt Muda Adnan Saidi, of Malay Regiment, died not as a hero in World War 2 as he was serving as a British officer.  He was.  Lt Muda Adnan Saidi's Commission was granted by the Malay Rulers, and is not a King's Commission.  During the era, some British other ranks refused to salute Malay Regiment officers and Indian Army officers as their commissions were not the British King's Commission.  In fact, the formation of Malay Regiment back then was under Malayan laws with the sponsorship from Malay Rulers Council.

Perhaps for a start, the change should come from the Government.  Have more events to celebrate the sacrifices of these heroes.  Use the Government's vast machinery to highlight the sacrifices of these heroes.  Let it be known to be public that the Nation is grateful to these heroes.

Be warned though.  If you choose to highlight and link these heroes to political ideology, be prepared for severe backlash.  As seen in the recent Sarawak State Election, attempts by some quarters to appropriate photos of late former Warrant Officer (I) Kanang anak Langkau, SP, PGB to endorse a Barisan Nasional candidate suffered a severe backlash.

The current Warriors Day should also be given higher prominence.  Held every 31 July, this event is non-existence in the lives of many Malaysians.  It would be a good time for the Government to invite as many veterans, especially SP/PGB/JPP/PTU/KPK holders to the event.  With full media coverage, the Government can take opportunity for the event to remind Malaysians of the sacrifices of these heroes.

Perhaps it would be a good first step for Malaysian content makers to focus in creating more contents for Warrior Days.  Allow me to give a shout out to fellow writer, Ms Aenid Abdullah.  A teacher, she had been spending much of her spare time meeting up with veterans to record their stories.  To-date, she had met up and documented the stories of several veterans.

A photo of Ms Aenid in a conversation with former VAT69 veteran arwah Ismail Rantai, not too long before his passing.

Another shout out would be to Malaysian film director Adrian Teh.  Recently, he was in the news for starting the filming of his movie on Paskal

But the most important shout out I reserved for Lt Colonel (R) Syed Othman Syed Omar.  A former Infantry officer with Royal Malay Regiment, he lost his eyesight after suffering injuries in an operation.  Despite losing his sight, he persevered on in the Army, and wrote several books covering topics on the history of Malaysian Armed Forces.  It was from his books that I was inspired by the many heroes of Malaysian Armed Forces of various races, religions and creed.
Lt Col (R) Dr Syed Othman Syed Omar while he was in service.  Source - Xnuripilot blogspot.

These contents will be a gift for future generations to understand the struggles that the Nation had to face.  And would be a source of pride for their descendents.  With these contents, these men and women will be able to become role models for future generations.

Every man would love to see the fruits of their labour.  In the case of veterans, the peace we enjoy today is the fruits of their labour, fruits of their spilled bloods, guts, limbs, sweats, and in some cases, paid with the lives of their fellow officers or soldiers.  It should not be too much to ask for the government to provide a guarantee for these men to enjoy free train and bus rides.  For SP and PGB holders, it would be great if the government would allow them to have free flights within the country. 

As part of the military exchange programme, it would also be great if our veterans, especially those who are SP/PGB/JPP/PTU/KPK holders get to be involved too.  Having them as part of the delegation, especially in exchange with other nations not only give them an avenue to share our story and narrative to friendly nations, but also provide a face that these friendly nations can relate to.  The exchange programmes can also be conducted with fellow Commonwealth nations.

A gallery should also be built to record down the names of these men and women that have sacrificed so much for this nation.  The gallery would be a testament of the sacrifices made in the name of this country.  And it shall be able to inspire more youths with better role models.

Names of these warriors too should be prioritised when naming of new roads or government buildings in the country.  Better still, if plaques can be placed at these roads proclaiming the story behind the names.  This would prevent the recurrence of an attempt to rename a road in Perak that was named after Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong, Perak Chief of Police who was assassinated by communist terrorists assassination squad in the 70's.

The Only Right Thing to Do
It is the only right thing to do.  For us, the citizens of this Nation to provide these to our warriors, our soldiers.  They had once fought for us.  It is time for us to fight for you.

Otherwise, quoting an unnamed retired warrior, there will be no more warriors willing to fight for the ungrateful people of this Nation.

For additional read:
* Please check with source document as the copy that I had checked to shows no change.

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