ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Catholic Church calls for protection of the rights of indigenous peoples on the island of Boracay

Saturday, 6 April 2024

Boracay (Agenzia Fides) - The Catholic Bishops and movements call on the State Human Rights Commission of the Philippines to protect the indigenous Ati communities on the island of Boracay, a tourist paradise in the Philippines. In this context, they also called for the return of land whose rightful owners are the indigenous peoples. In this way, the Human Rights Commission should intervene in the situation of indigenous communities who have been displaced from their ancestral lands after private security forces fenced off their land and prevented them from accessing it and thus from earning their livelihood.
The Episcopal Commission for Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) challenges the provision that canceled the certificates of land ownership on the grounds that "the land is not suitable for agriculture." "These certificates," the commission said, "were issued to the Ati by the government and were the result of a program aimed at alleviating poverty among marginalized populations, particularly indigenous peoples," said the president of the commission, Bishop Valentin Dimoc. "The Ati are the rightful owners of the land. They live on the land allocated to them and manage it, growing agricultural products for their livelihood," he said, calling for rapid intervention by the Human Rights Commission to ensure justice and “defend the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Former President Rodrigo Duterte had granted a 3.2 hectare land to the Ati in November 2018, through certificates from the Department of Agrarian Reform. The indigenous communities used the land for agriculture and livestock. In 2023, the Ati unexpectedly received an order canceling these certificates on the grounds that the land was allegedly unsuitable for agriculture. This led to a legal battle that is still ongoing pending a judgment on legal ownership.
In this situation, the indigenous people found themselves robbed of their land when, in the last few days, private security forces from property developers fenced off their land, which attracts construction companies primarily for tourist use.
“The Ati people have been stewards of the land for generations. They have made it cultivated and productive," affirmed Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, president of Caritas Philippines, which supports the Ati cause. "Their right to land is linked to the rights of indigenous peoples: we call on all parties to respect them," he emphasized.
In recent years, church representatives and movements have followed the issue closely. The bishops called for public support after a visit to the Ati villages on the island of Boracay in the summer of 2023. “Powerful and influential people wanted these certificates cancelled," Bishop Dimoc explained. "We must help the Ati in prayer, encourage them, pay tribute to them, support them financially and legally", he emphasized.
Boracay is one of the most famous islands in the Philippine archipelago, one of the top international tourist attractions and popular for its natural beauty, beaches and crystal clear waters. Tourism development and the rapid construction of shelters have brought much suffering to the Ati, the original inhabitants of Boracay, who have been gradually deprived of their ancestral lands. The Ati are an ethnic group in the Philippines that belongs to the Negritos of the Visayas. They are mainly hoped concentrated on the islands of Boracay, Panay and Negros.
The Philippines is home to an estimated 17 million people in the various indigenous groups and tribes throughout the archipelago. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 6/4/2024)