Church calls on rights body, media to heed plea of tribal group in Boracay Island

Members of the Missionaries of Charity visit the indigenous people Ati in Boracay Island as the former regularly follow up on the development support they can provide to the tribal group apart from spiritual solidarity.
Members of the Missionaries of Charity visit the indigenous people Ati in Boracay Island as the former regularly follow up on the development support they can provide to the tribal group apart from spiritual solidarity. (File photo by Jimmy Domingo)

THE Catholic church in the Philippines has appealed to the Commission on Human Rights and the journalists to give attention to the “urgent plea” over the alleged land rights issue faced by the Ati tribal group in Boracay Island, a globally known resort paradise island in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines.

“The Ati people have been stewards of the land for generations. They have nurtured it and made it productive,” said Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, head of Caritas Philippines, the social and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“Their right to the land is a matter of human rights and Indigenous peoples’ rights, and we urge all parties involved to respect these rights,” said Bagaforo in a statement to the media on March 27.

According to the bishop, the Ati tribe, through their organization, Asosasyon sang Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (ABATO), “is facing threats to their land ownership awarded to them by the Philippine government through a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) issued in 2018.”

Citing a situation report of the Filipino indigenous group, Caritas Philippines president said the Atis "have been subjected to abuses, inequalities, and harassments from individuals claiming ownership of the land.”

The CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) earlier raised the concerns of the Atis while they underscored the legitimacy of the CLOAs awarded to the Ati.

The CBCP-ECIP recalled how the Ati community faced displacement from their ancestral lands “when security guards, allegedly acting on behalf of developers claiming ownership, entered their property and encircled it with a fence.”

“Last night, March 25, Ati mothers were forcibly prevented from accessing their homes, forcing them to spend the night elsewhere, while their children remained alone in their residences,” the church indigenous commission said.

“These CLOAs for the Boracay Atis are just and are the outcome of a government program aimed at alleviating poverty among marginalized sectors, particularly the indigenous peoples,” said ECIP chairman Bishop Valentin Dimoc.

“We assert that the Atis are the rightful owners of these CLOAs. Members of the Ati community reside on and cultivate the land awarded to them, producing agricultural crops that sustain their livelihoods,” Dimoc said in his March 25 statement addressed to the CHR chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc, a day after security guards of property developers allegedly fenced off the Atis’ lands.

In November 2018, then-Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte granted the Atis a total of 3.1 hectares divided into five lots through a CLOA issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform.

Over the past two years, the Ati community has turned the land into productive agricultural areas, growing vegetables and fruits and raising livestock, with surplus produce being supplied to local hotels and businesses, Dimoc added.

However, Ati received a DAR order approving the cancellation of their CLOA in 2023. “Despite filing motions for reconsideration at regional and central levels, their requests were denied."

The Atis had filed a motion for reconsideration with the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance at the DAR Central Office, awaiting a verdict on the property’s rightful ownership, according to CBCP.

As this developed, Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III, in a March 27 statement, directed the allocation of government-owned land to 44 Ati individuals from Boracay who were displaced when a collective CLOA issued by the previous administration was canceled.

In a statement, Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Napoleon Galit mentioned that Estrella “issued the directive immediately after the owners of the 1,282 square meter land, which the Ati’s, all members of the Boracay Ati Tribal Association, had been occupying, reclaimed the property on March 26.”

“DAR will extend all assistance and support services to all our agrarian reform beneficiaries, but we must uphold the law,” said Galit. (ROR/SunStar Philippines)


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