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March 19, 2013 · 


By Fr. Shay Cullen 

The pristine sands of Boracay Island, the popular Philippine tourist destination near Kalibo-Aklan, is stained with the blood of the innocent. Dexter Condez, a young 26 year-old lay missionary with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was shot dead on the island as he was returning home from a meeting there last 22 February 2013. He was an active community leader and a spokesperson for the indigenous people of the island, the Ati, the people of Boracay who are demanding back some of their ancestral land for a place to live and survive.

They have been driven from their lands on the 1,032 hectare island by the greed and violence of the land grabbing developers, scions of powerful families. The indigenous people are claiming back a 2.1 hectare piece of land for their village by the water’s edge from where they can go fishing. But even that is being denied to them. Extinction is what the rich developers want for them.   

The murder of Dexter is over his outspoken declaration on behalf of the Ati and for being a champion of social justice on their behalf. He helped organize them into an empowered community with Sister Hermi Sutares of the Holy Rosary Parish Ati Mission. The people, desperate, legally occupied a 2.1-hectare property in Barangay Manoc-Manoc to which they have ancestral rights granted by government declaration. It was approved and given to them in 2011 through a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title. However, there are powerful business investors trying to grab it from them and the brutal murder of Dexter is part of that.

Tourists from the UK, Germany or of the many nationalities cavorting on the Boracay beach or in bars and clubs are unaware of the injustice done to the indigenous people. The tourist business there is the same trashy show that you would get anywhere in Spain or the Canary islands. It’s a hodgepodge of modern resort tourism and there is no authentic Philippine culture to be seen since the worst kind, sex tourism, seems to be growing everywhere. In 2011, the indigenous Ati people held a protest march to try and prevent a casino from operating on the island. They know wherever there are casinos then vice, gangsters, drugs and prostitution are sure to follow.

The trafficking of minors for sex is prevalent too. Some years ago I was there to rescue a child that had been trafficked to a French run resort on Boracay. My guide was Beth, then 15, a former trafficked and commercially sexually exploited child who was rescued from Boracay. At 15 years-old she was brought there by a German and Dutch tourist with 11 year old Angelica. The suspect paedophiles escaped but we pursued a case against them in Germany.  A year later, it was brought to court and I brought Beth and Angelica to Germany to testify in court against the German paedophile. He was convicted and sentenced. If the children don’t have a chance to avoid being sexually exploited on Boracay what chance have the Ati to keep the last 2.1 hectare of their ancestral land?

In the former US military naval base at Subic Bay, the indigenous people Aeta of Pastolan area in Subic Bay are being cajoled and persuaded to sign documents turning their ancestral lands over to a development corporation. Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman Robert Garcia ought to step in and see that the Aeta’s rights are not abused and exploited. Most of them are unable to read the thick documents and have no legal assistance. Soon they could lose their lands and be driven back into the rain forest.

In the province of Bataan nearby, another group of Aeta who have made a livelihood by establishing a tree farm on deforested woodland with gmelina trees are allowed to harvest some of them. But they are being persuaded to sell their plantation trees for a measly 4 pesos a board foot by a business tycoon. The price should be twelve pesos a board foot. The exploitation, cheating and sinning goes on.

The mining industry has been the most destructive of the natural habitat and environment of the indigenous people and many indigenous communities are getting organized, empowered and are resisting the encroaching onslaught of these multinational corporations which operate in cahoots with local companies and military. In Mindanao, near the Tambacan mine site, Italian missionary priest father Fausto Tentorio was gunned down in broad daylight .He was a friend and inspiration to the indigenous people in defending their lands and environment.

But on the Island of Mindoro, the people united and inspired by father Edu Gariguez campaigned to save their lands and with hunger strikes forced the government to cancel the mining permit and the mining company had to cease and desist.  Victories of good over evil are rare but are greatly needed.   [end]

Email: (Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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