HAVING survived four grenade attacks, former police officer Shanmugam Munusamy takes pride in being called “black magic witch” by a Filipino terror group leader.
The 69-year-old policeman turned golf course consultant, who joined the force in 1971, recalled leading 18 men in a joint operation against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members on Bakungan Island, just after a year being posted to the Criminal Investigation Department.
Shanmugam, originally from Manjong, Ipoh, said this took place in June 1976. He was off-duty and had just finished breakfast when he received orders from his superior to head for the island following reports that members of the terror group had been spotted there.
Carrying a loud hailer and a revolver, the then 26-year-old inspector sailed to Bakungan Island on a PZ marine police boat.
He recalled the sea was as calm as a lake but for the 19 policemen, the journey was uncertain as it was a life and death mission.
“The instruction from my commanding officer Datuk Clement Jaikul was sudden.
“There was no early planning. I only made plans while we were sailing for the island.
“I had no time to take the M16 rifle with me,” he said, adding that the men under him were trained in jungle warfare.
In those days, the MNLF group, led by Nur Misuari, was active in raiding and committing crimes, as well as piracy and robbery at the Philippine-Sabah maritime border.
There had been countless reports of their presence in Bakungan Island and police teams had been despatched many times to check on the presence of armed group, but no engagements had ever took place.
When Shanmugam’s team arrived on the western part of the island, they assumed formation and headed for the other side of the isle, shared by Malaysia and the Philippines.
“In the middle of the island, there was a slope and it was very strategic.
“So we took position there in a ‘V’ formation. I was in the centre, looking at the small group of 13 armed men.
“As we kept still, I could see a PZ marine boat expose itself at sea, prompting the armed group to fire two grenade launchers at the boat. The grenades missed the target, lifting the PZ marine boat 6.1m above water when the grenade hit the surface.”
As the attack on the marine police subsided, Shanmugam signalled his men to take position against the coconut trees and startled the enemy with his loud hailer. He ordered the group leader to surrender.
Instead, the leader took out an M79 grenade launcher, which was used in the Vietnam war, and fired at Shanmugam.
An exchange of fire took place between the police and the armed group, but the police personnel were so strategically positioned, that whenever the enemy fired, their bullets went 1.8m above the heads of the policemen.
Shortly after the firefight, which wounded four of the 13 armed men, there was a brief lull. A white flag was raised by the armed group as a sign of surrender.
Police detained the group and seized firearms, such as the AK47, M16, M79 and Garand rifles.
After several days, Shanmugam interrogated the group leader to know more about their presence on the island, including why they surrendered as they had with them 15 more grenades.
“He said to me, ‘I thought you were using black magic and I can see you are black (dark)... I have to surrender to you’.
“He was not joking and that was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. I was indeed very lucky, maybe I did have ‘black magic’.”
Shanmugam said the operation against MNLF was one of his best memories in the force before he left to pursue other careers a year after the incident.
Having served six years as a policeman, he never once regretted joining or leaving the force.
For Shanmugam, the force helped him to develop a strong character and taught him to be disciplined, responsible and attentive to complaints.
After leaving the force, he did farming and took professional golf lessons before flying to Vancouver, Canada, in 1997 to learn about golf course management.
Over the years, he worked as a golf course consultant in Canada, Guam and Thailand. He also worked at a golf course in Lahad Datu.
“Looking back, my experience in the police force has helped me go far.
“As much as I enjoy my work now, it was never a dull moment being in the force. It gives me stories to tell.”