Francis Teron -- the plucky lawyer

Francis Teron is a 38-year old Bidayuh, court-going lawyer. He is a man of strong opinions. Married to Jacqueline who's half-Bidayuh/half-Iban, the couple have three boys all under the age of ten.

The Bidayuh are one of Sarawak's many Native, non-Muslim communities. Located predominantly in and around Southern Sarawak, they share many cultural similarities with the Iban, but their language is different and they aren't long-house dwellers.

Francis possesses all the hallmarks of success. He is a partner of a legal firm and has three cars, including a Mercedes and a Toyota Fortuner.

"My home-town is called Bau and it's 40km from Kuching. My father was a primary school teacher and my mother farmed and sold vegetables in the market. In fact she's still selling vegetables even though she doesn't need to - it's become a hobby!

"I was a mediocre student and a rebellious boy until Form Three. Luckily for me, (though I didn't realise it at the time) my father sent me to live with my eldest brother who was a Health Inspector in the timber-town of Kapit.

"Kapit is four/five hours up-river from Sibu. And Sibu is an hour's flight from Kuching. I was very lonely. The local boys were involved in glue-sniffing and other things. I guess I had little choice but to study.

"I also had an inspirational teacher in Douglas Telajan. He taught me how to memorize. After that I got the top results in Kapit for the Form Five exams.

"The Bidayuh believe in education and many of us join the civil service. We're not really commercially-minded. I don't think we're as adventurous or aggressive as the Iban.

"I had another good teacher in my Form Six, Cikgu Nik Nasaruddin. We were only the third batch of Form Six students in Kapit and all the others had failed!

"In fact Cikgu Nik promised RM50 if any of us got As. I got 3 As, so I won my RM50. He also persuaded me to apply for law (and not political science) at Universiti Malaya.

"After Kapit, Kuala Lumpur and UM was a shock. It was crowded and the buildings were towering. People bumped into you on the street and didn't say anything.

"Studying was very tough. I used to get a headache trying to read all the legal text-books in English. Maybe as a result, I become hooked on video-arcade games. Still, I wasn't as badly off as the Malay boys from Kelantan and Kedah.

"I had obligations to my parents and I knew I had to qualify. Even though I had a scholarship, my parents had spent a lot of their savings on me."

Francis found the attitude of Malay Muslims in the peninsula a little puzzling: "They weren't as open and friendly as Sarawakian Malays. They seemed obsessed with the idea that they were the masters and that Chinese and Indians shouldn't be part of their group." As he says calmly. "They used to pass comments. I learnt to remain cool."

Given his seriousness I can well imagine his forbearance. Nonetheless, Francis has a direct gaze and a determined attitude -- the kind of confidence you'd expect of a barrister.

Whilst Francis has certainly prospered he is very skeptical of the state government. His disdain is palpable - shaking his head as I ask about the resplendent and newly-built, Dewan Undangan Negeri across the river from the old town.

"In the towns we're more exposed. We have access to information though I've stopped reading many mainstream newspapers. We can see what's going on. We can make up our own minds.

"It's different out in rural areas. They're really dependant on the government to provide water, electricity and schooling. Out there, they can't take chances voting for the opposition.

"The Bidayuh are very loyal but we also see how we've been left behind even though Sarawak is now the backbone of the Barisan Nasional.

"Land is very important to us. The BN is really waking up to this. They're starting to conduct surveys of Native Customary Right (NCR) land to register our property claims. This is a very powerful incentive for the Ibans and the Bidayuh to vote the BN.

"Of course, we have no idea whether they're really conducting the surveys or not? But the oil palm companies are moving closer to the longhouses and kampungs so land rights have to be resolved.

"At the end of the day we're like second class Bumiputras. We read what Ibrahim Ali is saying. We may remain silent but in our hearts we're saying: 'This isn't supposed to happen!' This kind of thing damages the foundation of our society.

"Pakatan aren't strong enough to challenge the BN and a lot of their candidates aren't credible though I do respect the lawyer Baru Bian (he's done a lot for NCR rights) and Datuk Daniel Tajem. These two men have integrity.

"At the moment we have chiefs but no leaders."

MySinchew 2010-09-24