Boracay Island Atis ‘shocked’ by DAR probes on contested land – lawyer

The Boracay Ati Tribal Organization in the famed island resort grow vegetables and other crops on their land grants, providing them with a steady income. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Rio A. Dublin, DC)

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

One of the counsels in the cases involving Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) on land given to Ati tribe members in Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan five years ago sounded the alarm over a recent inspection conducted by an attached agency of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Lawyer Daniel Dinopol, counsel for the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (BATO), told Daily Guardian on Air last Friday that on June 5, the community received a letter from the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance (BALA), an attached agency of the DAR providing agrarian legal assistance.

The letter signed by lawyer Reparado Galos III of DAR, directed DAR (DAR)- Region-6, the Aklan Provincial Agrarian Reform Office, and the Malay Municipal Agrarian Reform Office, to conduct an investigation and ocular inspection on one of the parcels which was a subject of the CLOA.

The inspection procedures itself were conducted on June 15, but results have yet to be shared with BATO or their counsels.

The inspection was based on the claim of Gabriel Singson, who is one of the six protestors against the CLOAs awarded to BATO by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018.

DAR-Western Visayas has yet to decide on Singson’s claim while the five other claimants already got favorable decisions from the regional office, meaning the lands in question cannot be covered by agrarian reform being “unsuitable” for agriculture. The decision will give the five protestors the grounds to initiate the cancellation of the CLOAs with the office of the DAR secretary.

Dinopol said that this shocked the BATO members, citing the lack of requests filed with BALA.

“[BATO] never filed legal assistance [with the BALA] in Manila. They were surprised by the conduct of the inspection,” he added.

This move by the BALA, Dinopol said, was intriguing on top of other actions by DAR-6 in relation to the land grants to the Atis.

“What is peculiar here, is that after the CLOA was awarded to the Atis, the Department of Agriculture [and the DAR] released funds for [two] agricultural greenhouses, and sent agricultural technicians to train Atis in seedlings propagation, seedlings determination inside the greenhouse area for the purpose of replanting in the five parcels of [CLOA] land,” he explained.

“Until these protests [were filed], the DA and the [DAR] were contemplating that [these lands] were agricultural lands. Why would they set up greenhouses for seedlings preparation and propagation if these were not agricultural [activities]?” he added.

In separate resolutions issued in March, April, and May 2023, DAR-6 Regional Director Sheila Enciso sided with the five claimants, who are also property developers based in Makati City.

Enciso said in these resolutions that the subject lands under the CLOAs were not agricultural lands, citing tests conducted by the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) and a similar report by the Agricultural Land Management and Evaluation Division, which were both under the Department of Agriculture.

“Agricultural land” is defined under Republic Act No. 6657, as amended (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988) as land devoted to agricultural activity under the said law, and not classified as mineral, forest, residential, commercial, or industrial land.

The declassification of the lands as agricultural lands would pave the way for the actual cancellation of the CLOAs in a separate action, and the grant of these cancellations would allow the complainants to acquire or make claims over these lands.

Motions for reconsideration were already filed by Dinopol and his lawyer-daughter, Kchyrziashayne Dyñelle Dinopol, as counsels for BATO, with the DAR-6.

The lawyers said these lands were agricultural lands, as these have been used for agricultural activity contemplated under RA 6657.

Dinopol said that two of the complainants – Digna Ventura and Jeco Development Corp –  have already filed comments to their motion for reconsideration but they have not yet received any notice from the regional office as of this time.