Boracay’s Atis: The Struggle Continues

The indigenous Ati people of Boracay Island, the original people of this world-renowned paradise, find themselves entangled in a relentless struggle for their ancestral lands.

As businesses and vested interests continue to flourish, the Atis are being systematically displaced, their identity and heritage slowly eroded.

The recent development, where the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR-6) is considering relocating 44 Ati individuals to a military camp in Jamindan, Capiz, underscores the gravity of their plight.

This proposed relocation, albeit temporary, strips the Atis of their deep-rooted connection to Boracay, a land they have inhabited long before the island became a tourist magnet.

The legal battles over Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) granted during the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte, highlight the fragility of the Atis’ claim to their ancestral domain.

Despite receiving CLOAs covering 3.1 hectares, their rights have been continuously challenged, leading to forcible evictions and legal disputes. The recent displacement of Ati families from a 1,282-square-meter land in Angol, Brgy. Manoc-Manoc, following a protest by a claimant, epitomizes their vulnerability.

The certification that the disputed land is “not suitable for agriculture” further complicates the situation.

While the DAR’s decision to uphold the protest and cancel the CLOAs may be legally sound, it fails to address the broader issue of indigenous rights and cultural preservation.

The Atis’ unwillingness to relocate reflects their deep-seated connection to Boracay, a connection that cannot be quantified in hectares or certificates.

The story of the Atis is a poignant reminder of how indigenous peoples often fall victim to the interests of more powerful entities. Their displacement from Boracay is not just a loss of land but a profound cultural and existential dislocation.

It is imperative that the government, local authorities, and the broader society acknowledge and address these injustices. Protecting the rights of the Ati and other indigenous communities is not only a legal obligation but a moral imperative. These communities are custodians of a rich cultural heritage and biodiversity, and their displacement represents an irreplaceable loss to the nation’s cultural fabric.

The government’s efforts to identify alternative relocation sites, while necessary, fall short of addressing the root causes of the Ati’s predicament. The land disputes, legal battles, and forced evictions reflect a deeper, more pervasive issue: the failure to recognize and respect the inherent rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands. The certification stating that the land is not suitable for agriculture, which led to the cancellation of the CLOAs, is just one example of how bureaucratic and legal mechanisms can be used to disenfranchise the Ati.

The tale of the Atis of Boracay is a reminder of the ongoing struggle for land and identity that many indigenous peoples face. It is a call to action for more equitable and just policies that genuinely recognize and uphold the rights of indigenous communities, ensuring they can live in dignity and harmony with their ancestral lands.


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