ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Episcopal Commission for Indigenous Peoples: safeguarding the life of the Ati People on the island of Boracay

Wednesday, 7 June 2023 indigenous  

Boracay (Agenzia Fides) - The life of the Ati tribes must be safeguarded and not deprived of their lands: this is the vision of the Episcopal Commission for Indigenous Populations, which reported the situation on the island of Boracay. Boracay is one of the best known islands of the Philippine archipelago, included in major international tourist circuits, loved for its natural beauty, beaches and crystalline waters. The development of tourism and the rapid construction of reception facilities have caused difficulties for the indigenous populations of the island, the Ati tribes, the first inhabitants of Boracay, who have gradually been deprived of their ancestral lands. In recent years the Ati, deprived of their land and any possibility of survival, have begun to emigrate and leave the island. In addition, land disputes have emerged in recent years over the property titles assigned by the government to the Ati of Boracay in 2018: this ownership is disputed by public and private actors who would like to take away the land where they reside.
The Episcopal Commission for Indigenous Peoples has launched an appeal in favor of the Ati stating that "the land ownership certificates held by the Ati are valid and legitimate", inviting them to be respected.
"The Ati are the rightful owners of these lands", said the Bishop of Kalibo, Msgr. Jose Corazon Talaoc, of the Episcopal Commission for indigenous Peoples of the Visayas Islands, in the central Philippines, of which Boracay is a part. The Commission has addressed an appeal to the Department of Agrarian Reform and to the state institutions that regulate the development plans of private companies on the famous tourist island. The natives also risk losing land allocated to them in 2018 by the government, accused of being "unsuitable for agriculture": but these accusations are, according to many, proving to be specious. Indeed, many members of the Ati communities currently cultivate the lands assigned to them, "producing agricultural crops that are the source of their subsistence", notes the Commission, taking up the indigenous people's call for justice and bringing it to the attention of the government.
The Ati are an ethnic group of the Philippines belonging to the Negritos of the Visayas.
They are mainly concentrated on the islands of Boracay, Panay and Negros. To protect them against the rapid development of the island of Boracay, the Philippine government in 2018 handed them land titles for 3.2 hectares, or about 1% of the total area of the island, which are now being challenged by new construction projects. The indigenous populations face the problems of poverty, lack of education and suffer from social discrimination in their life on the island. In recent years, the Philippine government has made efforts to increase the employment rate and development of Ati through scholarships and vocational training. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/6/2023)