Church backs probe on Ati eviction

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:41:00 10/26/2008

ILOILO CITY, Philippines—The Church mission helping Ati families on Boracay Island welcomed a congressional investigation on the alleged displacement of Ati families from their community.

It also called for the fulfillment of a promise for a permanent relocation site for the Atis on the island made by President Macapagal-Arroyo three years ago.

“We welcome the filing of the resolution so the claim of Atis for ancestral domain will be heard and addressed,” said Sr. Victoria Ustan, head of the Holy Rosary Parish Ati Mission (HRPAM).

The Church mission has been living in the Ati community for years in Sitio Bolabog in Barangay Balabag, one of three villages of the island-resort.

Party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna, Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela and Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis have filed House Resolution 829, which directs the House committee on national cultural communities to investigate the alleged dispossession of the Ati of their lands in Boracay.

Driven off by development

Ustan said the Ati families remain at risk of being driven away from their homes as development projects continue in the already congested island-resort.

The Atis and Church workers have earlier complained that they have no pathway to their homes due to the construction of resorts and hotels near their village.

At least 39 families have been staying on parcels of land at the northern end of the island that are owned by the families of provincial board member Jose Yap and Aklan Rep. Florencio Miraflores.

The Atis have a pending application for the issuance of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), claiming they are the first inhabitants of the 1,032-hectare island-resort, which they filed on Feb. 23, 2000.

Anthropologists have backed up claims the Atis were the earliest settlers on the island but were displaced and driven away starting in the 1970s when the island started attracting tourists.

8-year wait not over

A permanent injunction by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) regional hearing officer Sulpicio Gamosa Jr. was issued on April 28, 2006, against holders of tax declarations claiming ownership of the lands the Atis occupy.

The order barred the relocation or eviction of the Atis without their consent until their petitions for CADT are resolved. The NCIP has failed to resolve the petitions after eight years.

Ms Arroyo, in 2005, promised the Atis they would not be evicted from Boracay but would be relocated to a one-hectare lot within the 80-hectare Eco-Tourism Village on the island but the transfer has not materialized.

Ustan said they later found that the lot would be donated to the Atis on the condition that they would waive their rights to ancestral domain.

“They want a permanent place to stay but they will not agree to that condition,” said Ustan.

Ustan said the Atis were also wary of moving to the relocation site because it’s near tourists.

“They do not want to be showcased. They want to settle in a place where they can live quietly and not to be disturbed and driven away anymore,” said Ustan.

Ustan said they were also worried that a 30-meter wide circumferential road project could displace Ati families.

The Atis are considering an area near the beach on the opposite side of the white beach where hotels and resorts are concentrated.

Ustan said in this area, the fishing boats of Atis will also be protected because there were instances that these were ran over by speed boats and bigger boats.

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