Friday February 8, 2013
Gomez — a fearless warrior who sacrificed for the nation
By JAMES RITCHIE
IT was 2pm on June 20, 1973. Wilfred Gomez Malong (pic), 23, and two of his men spotted smoke coming from the remote Ulu Poi forests of Kanowit district.
It could have either been Iban hunters having a break or the communist terrorists (CTs) who had been waging a 10-year war against the Government.
After taking three hours to size up the situation, the trio who belonged to the Sarawak police’s “Special Branch Probing Unit” (SBPU) confirmed that it was a small camp belonging to the CTs. But how many CTs were there in the camp?
I recalled Gomez telling me what went through his mind at that moment. “Our mission was to go after the group at Ulu Poi but we didn’t know how many armed cadres we had to take on. The furthest thing on my mind was to retreat, and so we decided to raid the camp in the wee hours of the morning.”
At 2am the following day, the trio stealthily crawled through the undergrowth towards the encampment. It took them about five hours before they reached the periphery of the communist hideout.
But just before they could attack their target, their cover was blown and all hell broke loose.
“Corporal Andang accidentally snapped a twig and was spotted by the camp’s sentry. Before the sentry could alert the others, my other colleague Sergeant Muari killed him with a burst of sub-machine gun fire and the battle had begun.”
In the 10-minute fire-fight, Gomez and his team killed four CTs and injured a few others. Taken by surprise, the rest of the enemy who were armed with automatic weapons fled without looking back.
But the biggest shock was when Gomez and his men entered the camp. They found at least 18 CTs were in the camp (by the count of slippers and footwear found at the scene).
The three policemen were outnumbered, and if the CTs had realised this, Gomez and his men could have ended up dead.
Added Gomez: “We stayed the night with the bodies and then reality set in. What if the CTs found out that there were only three of us? Would they come back with a vengeance and finish us off?”
Fortunately they did not. Soon reinforcements, from Inspector Gomez’s group and from the headquarters, arrived.
It was a demoralising blow to the enemy when they later discovered that three poorly armed Border Scouts had fought them and won.
It was the “Unsung Heroes” from the SBPU, Border Scouts, Police Field Force (now General Operations Force), Sarawak Rangers and security forces that ensured that the enemy did not disrupt the harmony of the fledgling Federation of Malaysia and ultimately had no choice but to give up their armed struggle.
Barely four months later in October, Sarawak Communist Organisation (SCO) leader Bong Kee Chok signed “Memorandum of Understanding” of peace with the government ending the Insurgency.
I first met Gomez, a quiet boy from Betong, while we were in Lower Six preparing for out Higher School Certificate at St Thomas’ School in Kuching in 1968.
Gomez came from a family of government loyalists. Later I discovered that his great ancestor Balang “Ijau” joined Brooke’s forces against the Skrang rebel “Rentap”.
In 1969, Gomez played with the St Thomas’ School rugby team while I was their captain and my father Datuk Seri J G Ritchie, the Sarawak Commissioner of Police, was the school’s rugby coach.
It was during this period that Ritchie senior asked Gomez if he was interested in joining the force.
True enough, Gomez applied for the post and after being interviewed by Ritchie, got the job (the starting salary for a non-graduate probationary police Inspector at that time was RM295). Gomez was joined by another of our classmates Angking Embah.
Hand-picked by Supt Ramsay Jitam, Gomez found himself seconded to the Border Scouts and leading the SBPU, comprising Border Scouts, former Sarawak Rangers and Iban Trackers.
One year after I joined a national paper as a crime reporter (in 1973) I wrote the story of Gomez’s act of valour and PGB award!
On my return to Sarawak as Kuching correspondent, I was told ASP Gomez had resigned in 1980 and was studying law at the University of Buckingham in London.
After returning to Sarawak, Gomez practised in Malacca, then in Kuching and later decided to be involved in politics.
After joining the newly-formed Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) in 1983, it appeared he was being groomed for a great political future and in the footsteps of his late father (who was the first assistant secretary-general of SNAP).
He held the post of secretary-general of PBDS. But as fate would have it, PBDS was eventually disbanded and Gomez decided to move on to other pastimes.
He tried acting (he had a leading role in the Hollywood film Farewell to the King) and then entered the motoring world of four-wheel drives and Safaris.
One of his great achievements was leading the Sarawak team of the Historic Silverstone Trans Borneo Expedition – circumnavigating 5,000km around the island of Borneo, in March 1996.
Later, Gomez and I joined the Sarawak branch of Persatuan Veteran Keselamatan Malaysia.
As president (and I was secretary because a clause allowed children of ex-Police and Security Forces personnel to hold office) he travelled to many remote regions to seek out former Border Scouts who were not paid their dues.
The veterans’ association, which attended annual gatherings in Kuala Lumpur, became a platform for all of Sarawak heroes. At its height, almost all the Sarawak heroes attended the association’s monthly meetings at Gomez’s home or at Sarawak Club.
Among the PGB “heroes” who turned up were Rnj (Sarawak Ranger) Lan Gima, Cpl Dajai Anggie, Rnj Unggek Antin, Rnj Sgt Indang Ingkas, Rnj Bajau Lad, Cpl Paul Nyoipis Noyab, Rnj Baliang Bali and Trooper Sigai Nawan. He was also a sort of cultural celebrity, often being invited to “Gawai Antu” (Festival of the Dead Warriors) where he often drank “Ai Jalang” or “Ai Garong” which only true warriors (those who have killed in war, or in the past, taken a head) could partake in.
Gomez attended one of the biggest and last “Gawai Antu” which was a four-day affair at the home of ASP Rentap in Lubok Antu in the late 1990s.
Gomez was writing his book but being a diabetic, his eyesight began to fail. Soon after discovering he had cancer, I spent time with Gomez at his Kampung Entinggan home, trying to help him sort out his notes for his book.
But Gomez had run out of time.
Despite his failing health, Gomez always had time to laugh, to live life to the fullest and always faced it with a sense of hope!
His parting wish was that society must never forget that beyond Kuching and in the outback lies some of the greatest people of Sarawak.
And the finest would be those who sacrificed their lives – without fear or favour.