Dexter Condez, the spokesperson of Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (BATO)
This was the privilege speech delivered by Rep. Barry on 5 March 2014 to remember and honor the struggles of a leader of Boracay’s indigenous Ati people, Dexter Condez, who was murdered by suspected goons of a land developer last year. Many advocates of indigenous people’s rights continue Condez’s fight for social justice and right to self-determination. The text of the speech was also published at the InterAksyon.com website on the same date as the speech.
I rise today in commemoration of the life of one of our promising young Filipino leaders, Dexter Condez, a young man whose life and promise was tragically cut short when he was gunned down in Boracay Island, just over a year ago. As spokesperson for the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (BATO), Dexter was a stalwart advocate for the Boracay Ati tribe of which he was a proud member. Along with the other members of his community and tribe, he worked tirelessly to obtain the land, homes, and livelihood to which the Atis of Boracay were, by right, entitled to, and which they had long been denied.
Dexter helped lead his tribe’s long struggle for the recognition of their ancestral domain claim on Boracay Island under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1991 (IPRA). He participated in negotiations, organized mass actions, and worked with both government agencies, such as the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), and non-government organizations, including the Assisi Foundation, co-chaired by the President’s sister, Ms. Victoria Elisa Aquino-Dee, for the protection of his fellow Atis’ rights, the advancement of their ancestral domain claims, and the improvement of their community.
The validity of the ancestral domain claim of the Atis’ for Boracay is backed by an undeniable historical truth—that they were the first people who occupied the island of Boracay since pre-colonial times. Well before the island became famous as one of the most popular beach destinations in the world, it was first known, perhaps more simply, as home to the Atis. With the various commercial developments and construction projects that mushroomed all over the island since the 1970s, however, the original Ati inhabitants were slowly but inevitably displaced by the proliferation of more and more resorts, hotels, and shopping centers. Their ancestral land was reduced into a measly portion of the white sands and lush forests they once roamed freely.
In January 2011, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) awarded a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) to BATO for the land that 40 families (almost 200 members) continue to occupy, and consider the last remnants of their ancestral land. The title covered 2.1 hectares in Barangay Manoc-manoc. Despite this certification, however, the claim was quickly disputed by several private commercial interests who also claim ownership of the same plot of land. The lot, being located in the high-value island resort where land is at a premium, has, not surprisingly, long drawn the interest of private developers who wish to generate profits from it. Numerous reports were received by concerned government agencies, as well as the NGOs assisting the Atis, concerning the widespread use of threats and intimidation to force the Atis out.
Unfazed by these threats, Dexter was among those who remained steadfast for his tribe and continued to fight courageously for the recognition and full respect of their fundamental rights as indigenous peoples (IPs) and original inhabitants of Boracay. Despite constant threats and warnings, he remained firm and unrelenting.
Tragically, however, the threats eventually escalated into open violence. On February 22 of last year, at the age of 26, Dexter was gunned down in cold blood while returning home from a meeting. The police investigation eventually revealed that the gunman was a certain Daniel Celestino, a security guard employed Global Asset Protection from Cebu City. Global Asset Protection was hired to provide security services for the Crown Regency Resort in Boracay, one of the adverse claimants to the Atis’ ancestral land.
According to Fr. Arnold Crisostomo, Boracay parish priest, Dexter’s death was likely an escalation and continuation from a violent incident that occurred earlier, on November 4, 2012, where the Ati tribe in Barangay Manoc-manoc was harassed by armed men allegedly upon the order of a developer with adverse claims to their land.
Harassment continues, hidden from tourists
It’s been slightly over a year now since Dexter’s tragic death. And while, a lot has happened within and around the country, nothing much has changed for the Atis of Boracay. Since his death, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for Dexter’s murder has dragged on; his gunman is still at-large while the tribe, with little protection from the authorities, continues to be intimidated and harassed. The future of the Boracay Ati tribe remains bleak and uncertain. They remain under threats of losing what little remains of their ancestral land. They continue to be exposed to the risk of being exploited by personal greed and partisan interests.
But this ugly face of Boracay, marred by greed and scarred by murder, remains largely hidden from public view. Tourists who visit the island normally remain blissfully ignorant and completely oblivious to this other, hidden face of Boracay—the long struggles and suffering of the Ati tribe on an island they once called their home. Accounts and descriptions of Boracay hardly make reference to the Ati’s history and current situation on the island. Boracay now is much more known for its white sand beaches and resorts, and is almost never recalled as the Atis’ home, first and foremost.
The reality of Dexter and the rest of the Boracay tribe is not an easy task.
In the face of these injustices and violations of IP rights, I urge the concerned law enforcement agencies to effect the speedy arrest, prosecution, and conviction of Dexter’s murderers. I also urge that significant protection and security may be extended to our Ati brothers and sisters who continue to face potential harassments from those who continue to lay claim to their ancestral land.
Wednesday, March 5, will mark the one year anniversary of the date that Dexter was finally laid to rest. As the Ati community continue to commemorate and seek for justice for him and to fight for a full recognition of their ancestral land, I believe and I strongly urge that we strive our utmost to deliver to them the rights, recognition, and justice they truly deserve.
It is time to deliver justice to Dexter. His family and friends deserve it. The Ati community of Boracay deserves it. The Indigenous Peoples who continue to fight for equality and respect in our society deserve it.
And, we owe that to them, as their representatives.