Video: Mariyady, the priest investigating the corporate takeover of indigenous peoples’ forests in Borneo

first_img“Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight.The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm.Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them, a local priest named Mariyady, researched the contracts signed between villagers and the company, and determined they were ripped off by the compensation they were paid — he described it as “murder.” In the village of Tewah, in the heart of Indonesian Borneo, stands a wooden church named Immanuel. When the church was founded by German missionaries more than a century ago, Tewah would have been a very different place, surrounded by impenetrable rainforest, and accessible only via the Kahayan, a giant river flowing down from the mountains in the centre of the island. Today, Tewah is connected to surrounding villages by deeply rutted roads that cut through increasingly fragmented forests. Its narrow streets are dotted with shops that buy and sell gold, dredged up from the riverbeds by young indigenous men.The current custodian of the church is Mariyady, a charismatic priest with a young family and a Cheshire Cat smile. We heard about Mariyady in the nearby village of Sare Rangan, whose residents were navigating the complexities of a rapidly changing life, after discovering that their land had been licensed to a plantation firm to grow oil palms on a massive scale. The license was one of five issued by then district chief Hambit Bintih in 2012. These licenses were the subject of a 16-month investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, in which we revealed how Hambit had used land deals to bankroll a corrupt election campaign in the district of Gunung Mas.The scheme worked like this: Hambit used his protégé, Cornelis Nalau Antun, to set up a series of shell companies. Then Hambit issued the shell companies with permits for vast areas of land encompassing dozens of villages, including Sare Rangan. Finally, the shell companies were sold to a Malaysian firm called CB Industrial Product. The villagers of Gunung Mas knew nothing of the way their land was being casually traded for millions of dollars — until stakes were planted to demarcate the companies’ concessions.Rainforest cleared for an oil palm estate near Sare Rangan. Image by Sandy Watt for The Gecko Project.When we met Dinur, the chief of Sare Rangan, he was dealing with the fallout of Hambit’s permit trading. It was an uphill battle; as is the case with most indigenous communities in Indonesia, the territorial rights of the Sare Rangan community were not recognized by state law. Dinur and other village leaders were engaged in a complex process of determining how to manage their society and resources, in the face of the greatest potential change they had ever faced. Some villagers had decided to relinquish their land to the company for meager compensation, though it was unclear what right, if any, they had to refuse.As rain poured down amid the fading light one afternoon in 2017, Dinur explained how the villagers had initially sought to oppose the plantation project. But then some of them gave in to the company’s entreaties, and bulldozers steadily began to move into their farms and the rainforest surrounding the village. Dinur said he didn’t know why they had dealt with the company. “I’m afraid,” he told us. “If the people sell their land, there will be no places to farm anymore. The land will be gone.”Dinur, the head of Sare Rangan village. Image by Sandy Watt for The Gecko Project.Dinur said his record of the contracts signed between villagers and the company, now a subsidiary of CB Industrial Product, had been taken by Mariyady, who was investigating the deals. We found Mariyady in his small wooden home next to Immanuel church on the banks of the Kahayan. He told us that, a decade earlier, he had been stationed in Sare Rangan as a young priest.“It was still pristine,” Mariyady said. “There was clean drinking water, a lot of forest. I would climb into the hills, into the forests that people said were sacred, haunted — because the trees were so large.”Mariyady at the church in Tewah. Image by Sandy Watt for The Gecko Project.After two years in Sare Rangan, Mariyady was transferred to another community. He returned in 2016 to lead the church across the subdistrict, from his perch in Tewah. But when he returned to Sare Rangan, he found the forest had been destroyed. His fear for the fate of the villagers was compounded by his experience in other areas in which plantations had taken hold, where clean drinking water was hard to come by, and conflicts simmered between large companies and local people.Mariyady began researching the contracts between the villagers and the company in Sare Rangan. He said the villagers were being ripped off by the compensation they were paid — he described it as “murder.” They would lose their rights to the land passed down to them through generations, which they relied upon for their livelihoods and sustenance, for at least 35 years. It was not yet clear what, if anything, they would receive in return.“For the community in Sare Rangan, there has been no contribution [from palm oil],” Mariyady said. “The forest was cut, the water is polluted. Now the land has been sold to investors, people won’t get it back for seven generations. There will be nowhere else for them to develop.”Mariyady blamed the district government for failing to protect the villages from exploitative land acquisitions. “The people are not to blame because they lack knowledge and education,” he said. “The real sinners are those in office.”Mariyady. Image by Sandy Watt for The Gecko Project.Our investigation showed the blame was well-placed. Hambit Bintih’s 2013 election campaign ended with an attempt to bribe the chief justice of the Constitutional Court, with money that appears to have come from the Gunung Mas land deals. The licenses nevertheless remain in place to this day. As the scandal faded from the public eye, community leaders like Mariyady were left to deal with the fallout, as companies took over indigenous lands and bulldozed their way through some of the world’s most ancient forests.Mariyady began using what he had learned, and his position, to urge villagers to resist the companies. But his was one of few voices in the face of a powerful nexus of corporate and political interests.Though Hambit Bintih was imprisoned (he later died while serving his sentence) the political establishment in Gunung Mas has scarcely changed. Hambit’s deputy took over his position, despite being his running mate in the corrupt 2013 election. On June 27 this year, some five years on from Hambit’s arrest, the district will return to the polls. Of the three candidates, one is Hambit’s son-in-law, while another is a businessman with a massive oil palm estate of his own.“These investors are killing the rights of the Dayak people,” Mariyady said, using a catchall term for the indigenous peoples of inner Borneo. “People who have been left behind. This is why I’m challenging this. But I have no right to make demands. All I can do is try to build the mentality of the community.”Watch our short film about Mariyady, below, to find out more. And then read our investigation into Hambit’s licenses, in English or Bahasa Indonesia.“Ghosts in the Machine” is the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, a series about the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis. The series is produced under a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative reporting initiative established by the UK-based nonprofit Earthsight. Read the first installment, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” Banner: Mariyady at the church. Image by Sandy Watt for The Gecko Project.FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page. Anonymous Companies, Corporate Environmental Transgressors, Corruption, Deforestation, Environment, Forestry, Forests, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Rights, Land Conflict, Land Grabbing, Land Rights, Rainforests, Tropical Forests Article published by mongabayauthorcenter_img Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsoredlast_img

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