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Boracay Atis barred from their ancestral land

PUT ASIDE bleeding-heart sentimentalism and romanticism. Here are questions that are crying out for answers:

Why are the Atis, who have lived in Boracay long before the paradisiacal island became world-renowned, being barred from occupying a piece of land that the government turned over on Feb. 11, 2011 to their community by virtue of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) made possible by the Indigenous Peoples Republic Act (IPRA)?

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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 this area called Dead Forest, which has been declared inalienable and officially declared to be the ancestral domain of the Atis, have non-Ati claimants who do not want to let go?

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The Atis of Boracay are up against powerful claimants with business interests on the island known for its powder white sand and, in the last decade or so, for being a crowded party island and a hidden paradise no more.

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.

The 21st-century reality is that the Atis and many other indigenous peoples (IPs) 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.

This 21st-century reality is now being put to the test in Boracay where every square foot is much coveted by moist-eyed real estate speculators and tourism magnates. Will the Atis have a place in this booming tourist destination, or will they be forced to go to the Aklan mainland and become homeless wanderers in their own home country?

Fifty-year-old Ati woman and community leader Delsa Supitran Justo will not let this happen. She will tell you right away that unlike many of their counterparts in Luzon, the Atis in Boracay do not beg. They fish, farm, go to school, get employed. Although she stopped at Grade 4, all her six children have gone for higher education and her eldest has just finished college with a teaching degree.

How can the Atis of Boracay improve their lot if they are denied their home and source of livelihood?

On April 26, Justo, Ati chieftain and representative of Indigenous Cultural Community/Indigenous Peoples (ICC/IP) of Boracay, wrote a letter to the National Commission in Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) coursed through its chair Roque A. Agton Jr. about the Atis’ problem. The Atis also filed a complaint against several individuals and sought an injunction with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop respondents from “further constructing structures and introducing other forms of improvements in the subject area.”

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And, just as important, “That an order be issued requiring the installation of the (Ati) complainants in the area” covered by the CADT. The area is located in Barangay Manoc-manoc.

The NCIP issued the CADT covering the said area in the name of the complainants on Aug. 3, 2010. The formal turnover was held inside a chapel in February 2011.

“However,” the Atis wrote, “the complainants are prevented to enter and occupy the property due to the illegal entry and occupation of respondents over the areas within the Ancestral Domain. The ongoing activities and stiff resistance of respondents continue to hamper the efforts of the complainants to lawfully and peacefully recover and possess the area.”

Justo flew to Manila last week to meet with me and several of the Atis’ supporters. It is heartening to know that not all businessmen and hotel owners in Boracay are only for profit. The Atis have gotten continuous support from some hotel owners, among them, Hannah Hotel’s Pocholo Morillo and his family who accompanied Justo when she met with me.

Also supporting the Atis of Boracay are Sr. Victoria Ostan of the Daughters of Charity and two other nuns who have chosen to live simply among the Atis and journey with them. Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Ben Abadiano, president of Assisi Foundation and founder of Pamulaan Center for Indigenous People’s Education, has thrown his support and plans to set up a school in the Ati community in Boracay. I learned that President Aquino’s sister Viel, who is vice president of Assisi Foundation, is also very supportive of the Atis.

Said Morillo who is also the spokesman of the diocese on energy matters, “The Atis need police protection so that they can occupy their ancestral domain.”

“The Atis in Boracay go back five generations,” Justo told me in her local language mixed with Ilonggo (Hiligaynon) which I could understand. “We used to occupy the whole island. We planted corn, tobacco and vegetables. We also fished for a living.”

And this I fully understood and noted down verbatim. “Panginmatyan namon ini kay amon ini” (We will lay down our lives for this because this land is ours).” In that little spot called the Dead Forest on the island paradise, “Mabuhi gid kami (We will indeed live).”

Thus spoke Delsa Justo, chieftain of her people.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: Conflicts (general), Indigenous People, Tourism
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