DAR sec assures land for Ati tribe in Boracay

Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III in a press briefing in Bago City, Negros Occidental, following the distribution of over 4,000 land titles to 2,797 agrarian reform beneficiaries Monday. (Glazyl Y. Masculino photo)

By Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD CITY – Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III has assured the members of the Ati tribe in Boracay that they will be provided with lands, following the cancellation of their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) of the area for not being suitable for agricultural use.

Estrella was in Negros Occidental last Monday, to lead with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the distribution of over 4,000 land titles to 2,797 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in Bago City.

In a press briefing after the land title distribution, Estrella said that when they learned about the cancellation of the CLOAs of the Ati tribe, the government has been looking for agricultural lands that they could give to them.

Estrella said the government aims to distribute not less than one hectare of land to each member of the tribe, as well as support services to aid their farming.

“If we could look for more agricultural lands, we could give up to three hectares of land,” he added.

Last year, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)-6 issued a resolution stating that the land was not suitable for agricultural use, based on the soil analysis conducted by the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) of the Department of Agriculture (DA), leading to the cancellation of their CLOAs.

Estrella said that if it is not suitable for agricultural use, it is not covered by the agrarian reform or CLOA cannot be issued, citing Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) Law.

He also pointed out that the land distribution to the tribe was done in 2018. Thus, it is not yet covered by Executive Order No. 75 issued by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2019, which directed all departments, bureaus,  offices, and instrumentalities of the government to identify lands owned by the government devoted to or suitable for agriculture for distribution to qualified beneficiaries.

“Kaya wala sa lugar at walang legal na basehan ang pag issue ng CLOA sa kanila. Susunod po kami sa batas. Ayaw namin baluktutin iyan” (There’s no legal basis to issue a CLOA to them. We will follow the law. We don’t want to distort that), he stressed.

Estrella said that if the 44 members of the tribe divide the 1,200 square meter of land previously awarded to them, each of them will only receive 30 square meters of land. “It does not make sense because it’s not even an agricultural land,” he added.

“Ano ang pagtiya-tiyagaan nila? Iyong hindi agricultural land at walang CLOA na pinanghahawakan or iyong lupa na may siguradong titulo na puwede pa nilang ipamana sa mga anak at apo nila? (What would they prefer? A non-agricultural land and no CLOA or a land with a title that they can still pass on to their children and grandchildren?) Estrella asked.

On March 24, tension arose when security guards barricaded a portion of the parcels of land. But, Estrella, clarified that those security guards were not deployed by DAR.

Recently, the tribe community is appealing after they were displaced from a disputed land in Malay town, Aklan province.

Estrella said that they will not be immediately evicted from the area, as he stressed that all their actions will be based on existing laws.

“We treat people with compassion,” he said.