Boracay Ati home at last
Around this time last year, I spoke with Delsa Supitran Justo, Ati leader from Boracay. Her people, she told me, were being barred from occupying their ancestral land in the so-called island paradise (not anymore, if you ask me) that was their ancestors’ home since the dawn of time. I wrote a piece titled “Boracay Ati barred from ancestral domain.” She said in the language I could understand: “Panginmatyan namon ini kay amon ini.” (We will lay down our lives for this land because it is ours.)
Questions I asked then: Why are the Ati who have lived in Boracay long before the paradisiacal island became world-famous, being barred from occupying a piece of land that the government turned over to their community on Feb. 11, 2011, by virtue of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title made possible by the Indigenous Peoples Republic Act?
Why can’t an indigenous community of 46 families whose ancestors called the island their home long, long before the island became a tourist haven, occupy a tiny 2.1-hectare area that has been designated as their home?
Why does the area called Dead Forest, which has been declared inalienable and officially declared to be the ancestral domain of the Ati, have non-Ati claimants who do not want to let go?
Playing in my mind then were thoughts that Boracay, the party island that never sleeps, would be cursed—yes, cursed—and fall into disrepute if the Ati, who nurtured the island for generations before developers crashed in, would be barred from their homeland.
The good news is that last Tuesday, the Ati dared to occupy the two-hectare land that was meant for them. Two days before then, I received a call from Assisi Foundation president Ben Abadiano (2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for the work he has done for indigenous communities) who told me that it was do or die for the Ati, and that he was flying to Boracay to accompany them. I also learned that Inquirer Visayas reporter Nestor P. Burgos Jr. would be there.
On Wednesday, the Inquirer came out with the good news (“Ati tribe occupies land in Boracay”). Burgos wrote: “Before the sun rose on Tuesday, the Ati tribe of Boracay Island occupied the land titled to their community in what they hope would be the end to decades of struggle to have a home in the world-famous resort.
“At least 60 tribe members, along with nuns and other supporters, prayed the rosary as they marched for more than a kilometer along the white beach from their community in Barangay Balabag to the 2.1-hectare lot in Barangay Manoc-Manoc awarded to them by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.”
With the news report was a big color photo of Boracay parish priest Fr. Magloire Placer celebrating Mass and surrounded by the Ati and their supporters. He said: “If we can open Boracay to foreign tourists and investors, why can’t we give land to the earliest settlers of the island?”
Last week, Catholic Archbishop Sergio Utleg, chair of the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, issued a hopeful statement that the Ati of Boracay would soon occupy their ancestral domain which is a tiny 2.1 hectares of the 1,032-hectare island. Utleg called on the government to support the Ati because non-Ati claimants were continuing to harass and intimidate them.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, national director of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, also issued a statement of support. He said: “The social doctrine of the Church reminds us that the goods of the earth were created by God to be used wisely by all. They must be shared equitably, in accordance with justice and charity. The Church stands for the rights of the weak and the marginalized.
“While there is the continuous influx of tourists in the beautiful white sand beaches of Boracay that sustains the economic initiatives of business people, let us not forget that before the onset of these enterprises were the Ati, the indigenous people of this island. It is the recognition and promotion of their uniqueness as a people that will bring forth beauty in diversity in the island.”
They are called Ati in the Visayas, while their counterparts in Luzon are called Aeta, curly-haired, shorter and slightly darker versions of our mainly Malay-Chinese-Hispanic selves. They are said to be the original aborigines of our islands; they were here when time began, so to speak, before the Malay, Chinese and Spanish arrivals. But I leave this subject to the anthropologists and historians.
President Aquino and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo reportedly met a few days ago on the issue and the latter has been tasked to implement the writ of possession through the NCIP.
The 21st-century reality is that the Ati/Aeta and other indigenous peoples in the Philippines who, in the past, were marginalized, discriminated against, oppressed and belittled, should now be able to invoke their rights that have been written into the Constitution—among them, their right to remain in and protect their ancestral domains. Making this happen has not been easy on the part of the IPs.
I’ve visited Boracay only twice—in 1991 when it was still Robinson Crusoe country, with no electricity, and in 2007 when a cousin treated a bunch of us to a three-day stay at Fairways and Bluewater (resort and golf course), which had a quiet cove and beach at the back. One trip to the Boracay “downtown” mall was enough for me and I promptly fled back to the deserted beach where the water was clear, to be with the tiny fishes that frolicked around my feet.
To Ati brave Justa, here are assuring words from Kalinga brave Macliing Dulang: “Only the race owns the land because the race lives forever.” Kabay pa. (May it be.)
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