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Heartbreak in ‘paradise’

The Ati people, hopeful and trusting, were deceived, and their dreams shattered like glass against stones

A story of heartbreak and injustice lies behind the beauty of the tropical paradise of Boracay. The Ati people, the indigenous inhabitants of this island, have been wronged in a despicable way.

It all began with a promise and hope in the eyes of the Ati tribe — one of the 110 groups of indigenous peoples in the Philippines.

In 2018, the Department of Agrarian Reform, in a moment of generosity, awarded them a piece of land to call their own. Years later, the truth came to light — the 1,282-square-meter lot was not the promised agricultural haven but a private property owned by another.

The Ati people, hopeful and trusting, were deceived, and their dreams shattered like glass against stones.

Then came the religious sisters of the Daughters of Charity, whose intentions were masked in a veil of charity and goodwill.

As if the betrayal were not enough, the religious sisters, meant to embody compassion and kindness, entered the scene, not as saviors but as unwitting agents of further suffering.

Perhaps with good intentions clouded by ignorance or ulterior motives, they persuaded several Ati families, including young children, to leave their community and settle on the contested land. They were promised a better life and brighter future, but what they found was the harsh reality of destitution.

The Ati families, uprooted from their homes, lived in makeshift huts on land still embroiled in a legal battle. With no essential utilities and no livelihood to sustain their daily existence, they were left to fend for themselves in a hostile environment that offered little solace.

One “Sister Elvie” from the Daughters of Charity arrived one day at the contested barren piece of land and instructed all adult Ati members to leave the minors behind, implying that they would be held captive on the premises.

Police detachment commander Ricky Tamayo Libratar clarified the Ati families were not forcibly evicted but were given time to vacate the property before it was sealed off.

The landowner’s lawyer, Atty. Victoria Lim-Florido said the nuns used the Ati families, including a newborn baby, for photo opportunities without providing them with necessary provisions like food.

She was quoted as saying, “I don’t know how to say this properly, but everything was orchestrated by a woman of the cloth.”

How can the nuns justify their actions, tearing families apart and leaving the Atis without a means to sustain their daily lives?

The Atis are a proud and resilient people with a deep connection to their habitat and a rich cultural heritage that has sustained them for centuries. To see them struggling to survive, we are reminded of the countless indigenous communities around the world who have faced similar injustices — from the Amazon rainforest to the plains of Africa. The country’s approximately 15 million IPs have been marginalized, exploited, and displaced in the name of progress and profit.

The story of the Atis of Boracay is not just another chapter in a long history of oppression. They continue to suffer, caught in the crossfire of a battle they did not choose to fight. It is a heartbreaking story – a narrative that should never have been written in the first place.

The government and the religious sisters — they all bear responsibility for the suffering of the Atis, for the tears that stained their cheeks and the pain that pierced their hearts.

We cannot erase the pain and suffering that they endured, but we can be the change they so desperately need and the hope that they cling to in their darkest hours. Definitely, photo ops will not bring a ray of light to cut through the shadows.

Credit belongs to: tribune.net.ph

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