Boracay's Ati tribe hopes to stay amid land dispute

Boracay’s Ati tribe hopes to stay amid land dispute

/ 12:08 PM April 06, 2024

KEEPING IT PRODUCTIVE Members of the Ati tribe on Boracay Island try to grow dragon fruit on the land awarded to them by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018, in this photo taken on March 20. The land is now the subject of a legal battle between them and property developers. —PHOTO COURTESY OF KCHYRZIAHSHAYNE DYÑELLE DINOPOL

KEEPING IT PRODUCTIVE Members of the Ati tribe on Boracay Island try to grow dragon fruit on the land awarded to them by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018, in this photo taken on March 20. The land is now the subject of a legal battle between them and property developers. —PHOTO COURTESY OF KCHYRZIAHSHAYNE DYÑELLE DINOPOL (FILE PHOTO)

ILOILO CITY — Tension persists in a disputed land on Boracay Island as members of the Ati tribe face forced eviction from land developers seeking to cancel their rights over a property awarded to them by the Duterte administration.

Sr. Inah Ellana of the Daughters of Charity, who had been accompanying the Asosasyon sang Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (ABATO), told the Inquirer that armed security guards have settled in makeshift barracks on the disputed land on Easter Sunday, March 31.


The guards, she said, were reportedly hired by one of the luxury real estate developers seeking to cancel the Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) granted to the Atis in 2018 by then President Rodrigo Duterte.


READ: Probe eviction of Ati families from awarded lands in Boracay – solon

The CLOAs were canceled by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2023 under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., citing that the land was not suitable for agricultural use based on soil testing by the Bureau of Soils and Water Management of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The guards were also allegedly employed under the security company owned by Rep. Teodoro Haresco of Aklan’s second district.

The Inquirer tried to reach out to Haresco but he had yet to respond.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III, in a statement last week, directed the allocation of government-owned land (GOL) to 44 Ati individuals from Boracay who were displaced when a collective CLOA issued by the previous administration was canceled.

Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Napoleon Galit said Estrella issued the directive immediately after the owners of the 1,282 square meter land, which the Atis, all members of the Boracay Ati Tribal Association, had been occupying, tried to reclaim the property on March 26.


Galit mentioned that Estrella expressed serious concern over the displacement of the Ati individuals, who were among the indigenous peoples granted CLOAs during the term of former President Duterte.

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

Galit disclosed that the 44 BATO members preferred the subdivision of the 1,282 square meter property among themselves, thus giving them only about 30 square meters each to own.

However, Estrella wants the affected Atis to get back to farming by giving them their own agricultural land to cultivate, according to Galit.

Records of the case indicated that Digna Elizabeth Ventura, whose property covered the 1,282 sqm of land occupied by the BATO members, filed a protest on April 10, 2019, against the inclusion of her property in the CLOA granted to the BATO members in 2018.

READ: Ati families face forced eviction from disputed Boracay land

In 2020, the DAR-Regional Office 6 archived the case after ordering Ventura to show a soil analysis test regarding the suitability of the questioned land for agricultural purposes.

In 2023, Ventura presented a certification issued by the Agricultural Land Management and Evaluation Division of the Bureau of Soils under the DA, confirming that the subject land is “not suitable for agriculture”.

Acting on the DA findings, DA Regional Director Sheila Enciso upheld the protest filed by Ventura on March 15, 2023.

Enciso also directed the property claimant to file an application for CLOA cancellation before the Office of the Secretary.

Galit said that the Office of the Secretary, in a March 5, 2024 order, issued a final order of CLOA cancellation as it noted that the 44 claimants failed to show proof that would invalidate the DA certification that the questioned land is not suitable for agriculture.

“The petitioners representing BATO were unable to present any controverting evidence that would have prompted us to overrule the DARRO’s ruling. They lacked evidence to support their claim of occupancy of the area covered by the CLOA,” said Galit.

Galit also pointed out that the filing of the motion for reconsideration was in default.

It was in the morning of March 24, Palm Sunday, when guards started to put up galvanized iron sheets in one of the parcels of land.

Three families who were affected by the tall barricades are currently living in makeshift huts in the remaining unbarricaded lands.

Ellana said they and the ABATO were “resting” from interviews, citing the heaviness of the situation.

She took to the pulpit during the Seven Last Words at the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish Church in the island on March 29, Good Friday, to discuss their feelings after the Palm Sunday actions.

“My heart is full of questions, pain, and dismay, after what our Ati brothers and sisters had experienced these past few days, our Palm Sunday seemingly turning into a crucifixion, when the land given to them by the government is also being taken by the government itself,” she said.

“What do we have against arms and violence? Each and every one of us only brings with us the hope in our hearts. Does the system already weigh more than conscience or justice? Some will do without food, the innocent children who remained [within the barricaded area], because even their mothers are not allowed to enter the land that was theirs,” she added.

In a statement released on Maundy Thursday, ABATO likened their ongoing suffering to Jesus’ travails, saying that the children had volunteered to stay on the barricaded parcel to observe what the guards would be doing.

“The children understand that leaving their home may mean not being able to return to it and so they chose to stay,” it said in a statement.

“The land is ours. We have the title. The safety and well-being of our people especially the children, however, is our main concern as there are threats of demolition of the houses despite the lack of a writ of demolition presented to us. The guards are not allowing us to bring food to those inside,” it added.

“So even if it feels like being crucified and dying on the cross to leave the land temporarily, we encourage our children to leave the place. This does not mean we are letting go of our land. We continue to fight for our human rights. We are humans. We are indigenous.”

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The ABATO has appealed to the Commission on Human Rights on March 26 to intervene after the forceful taking of the land by the guards.

TAGS: Ati, Boracay

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