BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan – The sound of budyong (conch shells) blared repeatedly as the white casket on bamboo poles was carried on the shoulders of Ati tribe members along the main road of Boracay.
The budyong call is the traditional way of rallying community members for an urgent gathering or an emergency. Carrying a casket is also the traditional way of burying and honoring tribe members who died.
But on Saturday, the Ati tribe was rallying to bury their fallen leader Dexter Condez.
Condez, spokesman of the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization, (Bato) was gunned down on February 22 by an unidentified suspect.
The tribe and other supporters believe his killing was related to disputes over the Ati’s occupation of parts of a 2.1-hectare property in Barangay (village) Manoc-Manoc that was granted to them by the government last year through a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).
Around 1,000 mourners, including around 200 tribe members and their supporters, joined the funeral march from the Holy Rosary Parish Church to the Boracay public cemeter in Barangay Balabag.
Ati children carried placards and flowers and the women tribe members prayed and wept.
“We love you, Kuya Dexter. We will not forget you,” several of their placards read.
The Mass was officiated by Kalibo Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc and around 20 priests of the diocese.
Victoria Eliza “Viel” Aquino-Dee, President Benigno Aquino III’s sister and vice president of the Assisi Foundation, attended the Mass and joined the funeral march along with NAPC Joel Rocammora.
“He was so young and he had a bright future. Those responsible should be caught and punished,” she said in a speech after the Mass.
Tala-oc said the diocese would continue to support the tribe.
“We will journey with you in your struggle for land and in seeking justice. We have a hero in Boracay,” the bishop said in his homily.
He called on police and local official to ensure of the resolution of the case.
Delsa Justo, tribe chieftain, said the killing of Condez has emboldened the tribe members.
“We are like puppies who run away when confronted. But after this, we will not give up even if they kill all of us,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Police have tagged Daniel Celestino, a security guard of the Crown Regency Boracay Resorts chain, in the killing.
But in a press conference after Condez’s burial, lawyers of the hotel denied that the guard and their company were involved in the killing.
“We denounce it. We do not share the evil motive of whoever perpetuated this senseless killing. We know that this guy is innocent,” said lawyer Deolito Alvarez.
“I have nothing to do with the murder and I do know why I am being dragged into this. I was in the security guard’s quarters during the time of the killing,” Celestino told reporters.
Alvarez challenged the witnesses to undergo a lie-detector test to determine the “truth.”