Bishops urge probe after Boracay’s Atis barred from ancestral land

March 27, 2024 - 2:44 PM
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Catholic bishops are welcomed by Ati children at their village in Boracay Island on July 6, 2023. (Diocese of Kalibo)

Catholic bishops are calling on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to intervene and probe the situation of the indigenous Ati community in Boracay Island, who are facing displacements from their ancestral lands.

The bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP has been critical of the claims that the certificate of land ownership awards (CLOAs) granted to the Ati families were unsuitable for farming.

“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,” he said.

His statement was contained in a letter dated March 25 to CHR chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc, a day after security guards of property developers fenced off the Atis’ lands.

Dimoc urged the CHR “to investigate their situation thoroughly and provide full assistance in upholding their human and indigenous people’s rights.”

Former President Rodrigo Duterte granted the Atis a total of 3.1 hectares divided into five lots in November 2018, through a CLOA issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Over the past two years, the Ati community has turned the land into productive agricultural areas, growing vegetables and fruits and raising livestock.

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

Legal proceedings for the land ownership dispute are ongoing, with no final order received by the tribe.

They’ve 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.

Caritas Philippines, the Church’s social action arm, echoed ECIP’s support for the Atis’ cause.

“The Ati people have been stewards of the land for generations. They have nurtured it and made it productive,” said its president Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo.

“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,” he also said.