Priest urges justice for the Atis of Boracay

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BORACAY, Aklan, Oct. 17, 2012?A Catholic Priest has urged the faithful to listen to the Boracay Ati Tribe’s cry for justice.

Boracay parish priest Fr. Arnaldo Crisostomo said that the Ati’s struggle to reclaim their ancestral land is also a struggle to reclaim their identity and dignity as a people. 

The Atis of Boracay

He said the Ati’s struggle is a fight not only for them but for the rights of all indigenous peoples, to assert the values of their faith and culture, and a cause to promote the integrity of creation.

The treasures of Boracay are the people who protected its natural beauty for hundreds of years, making it possible for people to enjoy it today, Crisostomo, pastor of the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, said.

“The treasures of Boracay are not only the white beach and the blue sea, nor only the forests, the mangroves, or the wet lands,” Crisostomo said.

“To protect the Ati and their rights is to protect Boracay. Please be one with us,” the priest added.

According to him, the Boracay Ati Tribe were the first settlers in the island, but when the tourists discovered the island and came in droves, rapid urbanization and commercial tourism gradually displaced the natives of Boracay.

“With great demand to accommodate thousands of tourists, business minded people came and poured in investments. Forests, mangroves, and wetlands had to give way to hotels and other business establishments and infrastructures. Even the coral reefs were not spared. Best talents and resources were used in attracting more tourists to come,” Crisostomo furthered.

The Priest lamented that the same talents and resources were used to create unfounded stories, claiming that the Boracay Ati Tribe were late comers in the island, giving the reasons for those in power to drive them out from their own place.

But several academic studies were made to disprove the allegations. Studies revealed that the natives gave the names of places found in Boracay ? proving that they were in the island before anyone else.

“It is therefore a sad fact that while Boracay welcomes foreigners, the Ati who are natives of Boracay, are little by little driven out of this island,” Crisostomo said.

The local Church hears the cry of the poor 

During the first diocesan Synod of Kalibo in 1996, the local Church gave priority in helping the indigenous people by proclaiming “The Dignity of the indigenous people should be respected, their rights defended, their ancestral domains preserved, and the integrity of their environment conserved.”

To realize this desire of the Church, in 1997, Msgr. Gabriel Reyes, DD, Bishop of Kalibo requested the Daughters of Charity to help the diocese in their apostolate to the indigenous people in Boracay.

Reyes also established the Diocesan Commission on Indigenous People Apostolate, appointing the Parochial Vicar of the Parish of Boracay as the Director, according to Crisostomo.

With the help of the Bishop, the Daughter of Charity Sisters found a temporary place for the Ati community.

But Crisostomo said, the Ati can be evicted from the place anytime.

On January 21, 2011, the National Commission on the Indigenous People (NCIP) awarded the certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) to Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (BATO).

The legality of the CADT is being contested and brought the Ati into inevitable land conflict with non-Ati residents and rich property claimants.

“The journey of the Ati towards full possession of their ancestral land goes on. Here [Boracay], the Ati mission of the Parish of the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary takes it form,” said Crisostomo.

The priest added that through the Daughters of Charity, they will accompany the Boracay Ati Tribe towards the realization to their dream -for self-determination, complete possession of their ancestral land, and their full integration into the mainstream society. [SocialActionNews]

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