Papa Orang Utan in person

By Yu Ji

PUBLIC perception of Peter John Jaban as a political refugee and the brains behind Radio Free Sarawak does not hold up to scrutiny. Nine days after Jaban went into hiding claiming fear of arrest, I met him for an interview. In Kuching. In broad daylight.

With all things Jaban, facts, exaggeration and fiction intertwine.

Papa Orang Utan, no doubt, has done some good to raise rural political awareness. Yet, he also possesses a wildly colourful history. On pro-Barisan Nasional blogs, Jaban has been tagged as a philanderer, with photos being circulated of him with different women.

When I asked Jaban about the allegations, his reply was “I wish I could have 20 wives. I wish I could, you know, why don’t they say I have 50 wives? Do you get what I mean? Some of the photos were shot (from) when I was in Bali. All (the allegations) are lies. When you are a public figure, people will say a lot of bad things about you. I’m getting fed up with it.”

On his family relations, he said that he is not close to his siblings, that he does not have a wife, but acknowledges he has a daughter.

I asked him whether he was still communicating with Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the founder of Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak.

“She is not my boss. Why should I go through her? She cannot tell me what to do,” he replied.

Jaban was circumspect on how they met, except to say he arrived in London during the winter in 2010. SarawakReport was already up and running then, he said, and the radio started broadcasting soon after.

But why is he back here now? Jaban was unwilling to discuss about it. And why was he at Kota Kinabalu, where he was questioned by the police? Same reaction.

On his future plans, Jaban said there was crucial work to be done in the run-up to the next general election. He was “neither working for the Opposition nor the Barisan”.

“I’m not on anyone’s side. I’m not with the Opposition; actually, the Opposition has been joy riding on what I’ve been telling the rakyat.”

Jaban did not specify what sort of “crucial work” he had in mind. He declined to say whether he would continue to be involved with Radio Free Sarawak.

He insisted that he was no longer working full-time for the pirate radio, only to quickly add that he could submit “work from anywhere”.

“I cannot say, I cannot say. It all depends. I do not know what is going to happen next to me. I’ve had enough already of all these international media (attention), you know. Wow. Stop it,” he said.

On how he managed to move from Miri, where he went into hiding on Gawai Eve, to Kuching, he replied “I travelled on foot under the electricity transmission lines and by hitchhiking.”

The journey, he claimed, took a week. In between, Jaban said, he met up with friends (who brought him to a few bars) and was helped by good Samaritans.

There’s an element of hyperbole in Jaban’s account of things. He appears to hide the truths and to overstate to his own benefit. Alternatively, he is secretive and boastful.

For instance, when asked how long he has been in Sarawak, his reply was “I can’t remember.

“On and off lah bro. I can come any time I want.”

And on whether his security fears are justified: “It’s not maybe, I know the authorities are looking for me but they just can’t get hold of me!”

But the biggest secret about Jaban is that he really is not all that mysterious. During the interview, he did not deny having friends from both the Opposition and Barisan.

Furthermore, in a media statement he sent out last weekend, Jaban made reference to a state Cabinet member.

“Maybe you’ll see me driving around town in my Cadillac with my beautiful daughter at my side. I’ll even wave again at Assistant Housing Minister Abdul Karim Hamzah as he stares at me from his tiny classic car,” he wrote.

As a reporter, that sentence baffled me. I wrote to Karim, who in a text message replied that, yes, Jaban and him are acquaintances.

“I know Apai (as I call him) since his days working with the state Land and Survey Department, where he also moonshined as a DJ at a number of lounges and clubs. He was once a big biker and so am I. He has a colourful character, a fun guy, not someone whom I felt was interested in politics,” said Karim in his reply.

According to Karim, Jaban joined Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections at some point and became its Sarawak chief. That must have been his first move courting politics and that led to his eventual involvement with Free Radio Sarawak, the assistant minister said.

Interestingly, Karim claimed knowledge of Jaban’s moving in and out of Sarawak quite often. “Three weeks ago, I saw Jaban driving a big classic car with a lady. I honked and waved at him. He loves publicity and I believe he has more up his sleeves,” Karim said.

Is Jaban’s 15 minutes of fame up? I’m not sure. He claims to have been a key individual behind what could become a political awakening in Sarawak.

Since leaving Radio Free Sarawak, the deejay appears to have floundered a little, yet the station hasn’t skipped a beat.

Whatever it may be, for now, Jaban along with his once red hot Papa Orang Utan alter ego is past news. This could be the last I write about him. - Star

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