indigenous peoples rights | Inquirer Opinion

Remembering Dexter Condez and the struggle for indigenous peoples’ rights

Last Feb. 22 was the 11th anniversary of the murder of Dexter Condez. The Ati spokesperson and youth leader was shot eight times and killed in Barangay Manoc-Manoc in Boracay, Aklan. At only 26, he has done so much for his community as he was instrumental in acquiring their certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT). As a youth leader, he was an integral generational bridge who transformed indigenous knowledge from community elders to the language embraced by younger generations, who have increasingly been exposed to the ways of the dominant society. Before he died, he busied himself developing an educational program for his community. He was such a big loss. While a suspect was eventually apprehended, the mastermind remains unknown and has eluded justice.

The Ati are a peaceful people, and they were simply fighting for their ancestral domain—the land they have owned beyond the reach of memory. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples awarded them their CADT, but this only intensified the threats against them. Consequently, the community could not peaceably enjoy ownership over the land. The community’s fears came to life with Condez’s murder.

Many changes happened on the island since Condez died over a decade ago. In 2018, Boracay was closed for six months, and the pandemic restrictions hit and slowed down tourism. For the Ati, however, the same trepidations persist. Just recently, the community was again enveloped in a similar land conflict in another part of the island. Ati families face eviction despite previously being awarded certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs). The Department of Agrarian Reform, which previously awarded idle agricultural lots, is canceling the CLOAs because the lots are now claimed not to be arable but instead are suited for ecotourism and commercial use. This is an insult to the Ati, who exerted indigenous knowledge and transformed these idle lands into fertile grounds. Now they are being forced out.

Condez’s death should have been a threshold moment. It should have paved the way for the government and society to recognize and act on the plight of the Ati. Sadly, the continuing struggle and injustice show otherwise. Worryingly, the Ati are not alone. There are several reports of the Kankanaey and Tuwali in the Cordilleras being politically vilified, the Dumagat-Remontado in Quezon Province deprived of their right to free, prior, and informed consent, and Tedurays being forcibly relocated in Mindanao. Much needs to be done to change the realities of numerous indigenous peoples, not only in Boracay but throughout the country. We can all do something. Unlike Condez, we can still wake up and start grasping the stark realities faced by indigenous peoples. With the requisite empathy, we should learn more and work with indigenous peoples in whatever way possible. Then, we give justice to the life and sacrifice of Dexter Condez and those who fought for the recognition of indigenous rights in the country.


Raymond Marvic C. Baguilat,

[email protected]

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TAGS: Indigenous People, opinion

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