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Philippine Church backs Ati tribal people’s land struggle

Original inhabitants of Boracay Island are fighting to protect land given by government in 2018 from repossession
Members of the Missionaries of Charity interact with ethnic Ati tribal people.

Members of the Missionaries of Charity interact with ethnic Ati tribal people. (Photo: Jimmy Domingo)

Published: March 28, 2024 08:55 AM GMT
Updated: March 28, 2024 10:37 AM GMT

The Philippines Church has extended support to the Ati tribal people’s struggle to protect land awarded to them by the government on Boracay Island, a popular tourist spot renowned for white sand beaches and crystalline waters. 

“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 Catholic charity Caritas Philippines while referring to the threat the tribal people face over the ownership of land awarded by the Rodrigo Duterte government through a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) in 2018.

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

“These CLOAs were aimed at alleviating poverty,” observed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP).

The development of tourism has posed challenges to the ethnic people, the original inhabitants of Boracay Island in the Visayas region who are called Negritos. They occupied the island before it became a famous tourism spot.

To prevent the tribal people’s displacement from the island, the Philippine government issued them land titles for 3.2 hectares, equivalent to approximately 1 percent of the island's total area, in 2018.

However, the indigenous people received an order approving the cancellation of their CLOA in 2023.

Despite filing motions for reconsideration at regional and central levels, their requests were denied.

They have filed a motion for reconsideration with the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance, awaiting a verdict.

The ECIP recalled how the Ati community faced displacement from their ancestral lands.

Security guards, acting on behalf of developers, have made attempts to confiscate the land, ECIP noted in a statement on March 25.

“On the night of March 25, many Ati mothers were forcibly prevented from accessing their homes, and had to spend the night elsewhere, while their children remained alone,” the commission said.

Quoting a report by an Ati tribal organization, the head of the Catholic charity said the indigenous people "have been subjected to ‘abuses, inequalities, and harassment.”

However, on March 27, Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III, directed the allocation of government-owned land to 44 Ati individuals.

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