Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has promised the Royal Malaysian Navy’s full cooperation to the police, saying, “Nothing will be hidden.

IT has happened again. This time, two young sailors’ lives ended at the prime of their careers under mysterious circumstances. Families and friends remain baffled. The post-mortem indicate that Nik Muhammad Baihaqy Nik Mat, 28, and Muhammad Lailatulman Mohd Sukri, 26, died from injuries caused by blunt force trauma. Just as the nation was recovering from the death by bullying of soon-to-graduate 21-year-old navy cadet officer Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain from the National Defence University on June 1, we now face twin deaths at the hands of fellow sailors. Police have detained three navy guards manning the Sungai Wangi detention centre in Sitiawan, Perak, classifying the case as murder.

Many questions need answers. Was the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) followed? Who was monitoring the adherence of the SOP? Even if the SOP was followed, why a 45-day detention for failing to report for duty or failing to perform duties? Is detention even necessary? Surely, there are other and better ways to ensure discipline.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has promised the Royal Malaysian Navy’s full cooperation to the police, saying, “Nothing will be hidden. That is my promise.” This is very heartening, especially to the families of the sailors. Navy chief Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin has chipped in by saying that the navy’s board of inquiry has started investigations.

The latter assured the victims’ families and the nation that the board will look into all aspects of the SOP, including its validity. Malaysia, too, has not forgotten the death of T. Nhaveen from bullying two weeks after Zulfarhan’s death.

The sailors’ deaths may not be the last, but we, as a nation, must expend every effort to end bullying, be it at schools, in naval detention centres or army barracks. Without intending to conflate the issue at hand, we ask: Are we becoming a nation of bullies? The Education Ministry’s statistics say there are 14,000 cases of bullying reported between 2012 and 2015. We can only imagine how many went unreported. And, no mention is being made of cyberbullying, which is of concern, too, because cyberbullying often turns into “brick-and-mortar” bullying.

Why this rage? There are many theories, of course. One such theory is that many youngsters suffer from mental illness as evidenced by the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015. According to the survey, 4.5 million Malaysian youngsters aged 16 and above have some form of mental illness, an 11.2 per cent increase compared with 2006 statistics.

This is alarming, to say the least. As this newspaper has suggested, there must be a safe channel to report bullying. This is especially so when students are housed in hostels and uniformed personnel in barracks. Students and other potential perpetrators need to be made aware of the consequences of bullying, whatever form it takes. Miscreants must be dealt with promptly, otherwise we will be condoning their misdeeds.

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