25 March 2009

The ATIs of Boracay

The ATIs of Boracay
donn marquez

Hands On Manila (www.handsonmanila.org) or HOM has just launched one of its flagship project the Hands On Volunteer Vacations (HOVV). The project aims to provide opportunities for Filipinos and especially foreign volunteers to do some community service in tourists destinations, meaning, doing volunteer work while vacationing.

Boracay Island in Aklan was identified as one of the volunteer vacations sites since the place attracts millions of tourists annually. Part of my job, is to get familiarized with the so called "island paradise." I have visited the place NOT for fun but to look for organizations that could possibly be the recipients of the volunteer service that the future vacationists will do. I managed to touch-base with the locals and the chamber of commerce. I spent most of the time interviewing people in the area, from bangkero (boatman) to a policeman, from a waiter to resort manager...I did some bonding with the bookers (these are the middlemen, wearing ID’s offering different services etc. ), fire dancers, entertainers...I needed to do all these things to know the reality of life among the workers in the island and to establish contacts for future deployment of volunteers.

Preparing for the trip before my scheduled visit, I only have one thing in mind...to close and finalize a partnership with organizations where volunteers can help and do community service... I did that! I should be glad, mission accomplished,

BUT I was so depressed after I visited the ATI community in the island.
Ati tribe, were the original settlers in Boracay, they were nomads.
Boracay was a real paradise for these black people because living there was so easy for them with its natural wonders and resources such as the white sand beach, vast varieties of fruits, veggies, fishes and a lot of animals... they were living harmoniously with mother nature.
The beauty of the island was discovered and development came...everything followed very quickly, DOT and the province of Aklan made the place so famous that all investors, tourists and businesses were erected in the area...and, they were successful... very successful that all of them were overwhelmed with the ROI that all the business owners were enjoying.

Behind the island’s progress, however, this Indigenous People (IP) group were left and forgotten. In the middle of a neighborhood in Bgy. Bolabog lies a tiny community of 36 households (220) individuals. According to their story, they were placed in that walled space, that, you cannot even see pathways or roads leading to the area, because their existence will destruct the tourism business in the island. Good thing that the Daughters of Charity (DC) a congregation of nuns, help and support them for the improvement of their lives , but these nuns can only do so much.
Since the DC’s inception, and with the help of National Commission n Indigenous People (NCIP), they’ve been supporting the tribe lobbying to reclaim their ancestral land, or a even just a portion of the island, where they can start income generating projects to support their families. But, as per meeting with the nuns, the provincial government wanted them to be relocated in Malay mainland, a place they were not used to stay. Obviously, with this local government plan, it’s very impossible to favor the Ati’s request. I saw the Development plan of the island and there was actually a 20-has. space allotted for the tribe but it wasn't implemented...Because that space, has been developed by investors and made it as a resort and a golf course. With this situation, the Atis became poorer in their entire existence...If before, their source of income is fishing now it’s prohibited, besides, there were no more fish in the ocean.

There were no more natural resources in the area, the trees have been cut-off due to industrial development. There were few remaining, but only used for aesthetics purposes of the many establishments/resorts.
Young Atis cannot work in the business district because they lack the required educational attainment and most likely suffer discrimination from the people around them. Ati kids kids can’t even continue their primary school because of discrimination from their “white” classmates.

Among the 1,000 registered Atis, only 1 person have had the opportunity to work in one of the resorts...as a janitor (utility man). Although tourism offers work opportunities, discrimination and maltreatment perpetrated by non-IP discourage Atis to secure long-term work engagement. Atis are experiencing absolute poverty whereas neighboring non-IP communities are reaping the benefit of Boracay development. And still their biggest battle is get back even a portion of their ancestral domain but they still need more political will and support.

The Atis were internal refugees in their own land.
Only one functional jetmatic pump supplying potable water provided by the barangay is located within 100 meters from the farthest house.
All the 42 Ati houses are lighted with kerosene lamp at night time.
No toilet in all of the 42 houses.
Literacy rate is 30%.
Primary and secondary schools are operating within the vicinity, though Ati children are not studying in those schools.
80% of Ati children are malnourished. However, feeding program and [1] nursery school for Ati

Please do not forget that every time you visit Boracay, while we enjoy the white powdery sand and crystal-clear water, there’s the ATI tribe that are seeking justice and seeking for our help and support for their everyday survival. A place couldn't be called a paradise, as long as there’s a group or people who are discriminated and maltreated. Paradise is a place of equality and just society.

Now think about it... Is Boracay really an Island Paradise?

If you happen to visit Boracay and you are interested to visit them or probably give presents to the community especially to the kids, do not hesitate to post your message/comments here.
Or email donnmarcky@yahoo.com for the Hands On Volunteer Vacations project.

Children are being managed by the Daughters of Charity [DC]. Non-formal education classes for mothers and young women are also provided by the DC sisters.
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