To many, the island of Boracay is a paradise. Hailed as the one of the finest beaches and one of the most romantic island destinations in the world, it continues to lure both local and foreign tourists. With its powdery white sand beaches, the most hospitable people, and the hotel accommodations that cater to the A, B, C and D market segments, tourists continue to flock to the island for some grand vacation--a tick off on their bucket list.
Beyond the glitzy beachfront, especially at night, however, lurks an ugly truth about the island. It does not only show how cramped and overpopulated the island is since the time I stepped on its soil in the late '90s during the Boracay coliform scare that prompted then President Estrada to almost declare it as an ecological sanctuary. Nothing has come out of that failed effort. Lobbyists seem to have bigger fangs that the government and the latter seemed to have feared of losing taxes.
Back then, even when it was at the precipice of total environmental destruction, one can still see greens along the main road parallel to the beaches. One can still see a glimpse of the fine sand beaches while riding a tricycle on the road. The greens and trees are now replaced by concrete walls--obscuring the view of the beaches it is known for. Now, one has to pay a price to enjoy its fine sand beaches.
Not many know, too, that there are more burning issues aside from environmental destruction. Not many know that there are are Ati people--the original island inhabitants, but are now at the brink of losing their right to their ancestral domain.
Of the 1,032 hectare island resort, a measly 2.1 hectare in Brgy. Manoc-Manoc or just 0.2% of the total land area of the island has been awarded by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) as their ancestral domain on January 21, 2011. They could have rejoiced with the awarding of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) if not for some hindrances to claim what is rightfully theirs.
According to them, a powerful and moneyed corporation and individual families are now claiming their property, and this includes the concern for the road right of way that traverses the middle of their ancestral land. Two years after the award, no resolution has been reached even if they have lobbied in the Congress and government agencies.
|Dexter Condez, 26 years old, Youth and Land Advocacy Coordinator of BATO. He was gunned down by unidentified men in Brgy. Manoc-Manoc, Boracay Island on February 22, 2013.|
|Their Site Development Plan that cannot be executed due to hindrances and opposition to their land claim.|
According to Dexter Condez when he was still alive, harassment and intimidation were not uncommon in fighting for their rights. The Ati people are peaceful and this issue keep them on the watch. I have met Dexter only twice, but I have seen in him the passion and dedication to claim their land.
Today, we received the shocking news that Dexter Condez, the Youth and Land Advocacy Coordinator and spokesperson of BATO (Boracay Ati Tribal Organization) was shot to death by unidentified gunmen. As of this writing, the authorities have yet to determine the motive of the killing.
Who would have the motive to kill a simple and poor man for nothing? At this point, we just have to deal with the fact that this young leader at his prime, has fought for their tribal rights and who had lived without seeing the dawn.
Many Boracay aficionados may simply shrug it off as just another crime. They can turn a blind eye from what has happened. They can continue to party till the wee hours in the morning while there is a tribe mourning for the loss of their leader. They can simply regard this as just any other police work.
But for those those who care for the environment and Ati tribe ancestral rights, like me, this would continue to be a haunting story.
Boracay is not just a tick off from our travel bucket list.
Boracay is not just about powdery white sand beaches.
Boracay is not just about endless parties.
Boracay is not just about it being one of the best tourist destinations.
Boracay is, foremost, a living ecosystem--and in it are people, culture and nature.
Boracay is ALSO about the Ati tribe that have inhabited this island long before it has claimed its spot in the world map.
To Dexter, may God grant you justice that you truly deserve. May the Eternal Light shine upon you. I pray that your tribe continue to thrive and wake up one day to see the dawn without the fear from harassment and intimidation.
The alleged killer has been arrested and charged with murder. Please click this link for more details.
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