Vice President Leni Robredo (MNS Photo)

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan, Feb 16 (Mabuhay) — Vice President Leni Robredo said Wednesday the rights of the indigenous people should be protected regardless of their number or  location as she expressed concern over possible entry of casino businesses in Boracay despite opposition from the community.

Robredo made the call during a visit to an Ati community here composed of around 200 people.

“Ang akin lang pong assurance sa inyo, na pag tayo po binigyan ng pagkakataon, gaano man kakaunti kayo, gaano man kalayo kayo, sisiguraduhin po natin na ‘yung ating gobyerno ay inaalagaan kayo,” Robredo said.

‘Yung sa akin lang po, kaya siya mahalaga na nakausap ko kayo at napakinggan ko ‘yung buong kwento, dahil ito po talaga ‘yung pangarap natin sa mga IP communities: na number one, masiguro na nakakatulog kayo gabi-gabi na panatag ‘yung kalooban na hindi kayo papaalisin, na araw-araw tahimik ‘yung inyong pakiramdam, na ‘yung kinatitirikan ninyo ay walang pangamba, walang pangamba na kakamkamin ng iba. Pero ‘yun ay unang hakbang pa lang ‘yun. Ang pangalawang hakbang, siguruhin na ‘yung pamahalaan binibigyan kayo ng maraming pagkakataon para, ‘yung sabi nga kanina, mabuhay na may dignidad,” she added.

Robredo’s speech came after one of the Ati community members recounted to her that while they were granted land by the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 2010 after their displacement in Sitio Bulabog because of businesses that took over the area, it took the Atis two years and support from Robredo’s husband, the late Interior secretary Jesse Robredo, before they can settle in their new home in Brgy. Manoc-Manoc amid constant harassment from sectors seeking to reclaim the land for business purposes.

“Tumatak po sa amin ang sinabi ni Secretary Jesse: Huwag galawin ang mga Ati. Huwag paalisin ang mga Ati,” community member Romalin Supetran said.

Robredo also shared that the Ati community here was one of the last places her late husband visited before he died in a plane crash off Masbate coast in August 2012.

She said she remembered her husband being so frustrated of the harassment the Atis were being subjected to when they are the original residents of the Boracay island even before it became world famous for its long white sand beach.

“Noong nalaman ko po na pupunta kami ng Aklan, tapos noong nalaman ko na merong pagkakataon na maka saglit kami dito sa inyo, isa po ‘yun sa sinabi ko dahil naikwento sa akin ng asawa ko ‘yung pagbisita niya dito sa inyo. At naalala ko po galit na galit siya noon na pinapaalis kayo, na alam naman natin na kayo ‘yung pinakauna, wala pang Boracay noon kayo na ‘yung nakatira dito,” Robredo said.

“Malungkot po para sa amin ‘yung mga nangyari sa inyo at hindi lang kayo ‘yung dumadaan sa ganito. Merong ibang mga lugar na ‘yung mga katutubo, nawawalan talaga ng pagkakataon na maipaglaban ‘yung kanilang karapatan na manirahan dahil sa maraming bagay,” she added.

Supetran also said the community decided to campaign for Robredo and her runningmate, Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan, after a series of consensus building meetings because they have the heart for the small communities like them.

Robredo thanked the Atis for the effort to support her presidential bid.

“Maraming salamat sa inspirasyon na binigay ninyo sa amin ngayong araw. Bitbit po namin sa aming mga puso ‘yung narinig namin na kwento, bitbit po namin sa pag-alis namin ‘yung pagpapasalamat na kahit marami kayong hinaharap na mga problema, naiisip niyo pang magkampanya para sa akin,” she said.

(Thank you for inspiring me. I will take this inspiration to heart because even if you are already facing a lot of problems, you still took the time to campaign for me.)

Boracay as a casino haven?

Robredo expressed concern over the pending bill seeking to establish a state-run Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) which is supposed to “manage, develop, operate, preserve, and rehabilitate Boracay Island.”

She said this could open floodgates to initiatives that the community is not in favor of, such as unabated entry of casinos, since BIDA will be a policy making body.

Robredo said the Boracay community’s plea for a regulatory agency instead of a state-run corporation running its affairs, which is best left to the local government unit and the stakeholders, seems to fall on deaf ears.

“Iyong mga punto na nire-raise nila, hindi sila nabibigyan ng pagkakataon na i-profound ‘yun. Ayaw nila na GOCC, gusto nila regulatory lang. Pinupunto rin nila na kontra ito sa tenet ng decentralization under the Local Government Code, na dapat iyong LGUs ang nag-aareglo sa ganitong issues. Nariyan rin iyong P1 billion a year na appropriations [sa national budget] na imbes na gamitin roon sa BIDA, sana sa mas ibang pangangailangan na lang ng Boracay,” she said.

“Nariyan rin iyong policies ng taxation, iyong pagpasok ng mga casino. Malaking issue ito. Kung walang mechanism ang community na sabihin [sa BIDA] na ayaw namin ito, eh di wala na silang boses para sabihin ‘yun dahil meron na iyong BIDA na body na nagdedesisyon,” Robredo added.

Boyet Sacdalan of One Boracay movement opposed to the BIDA bill echoed Robredo, saying that their calls for consultation were being ignored.

“Iyong tanungin kami ano ang kailangan namin para mapaunlad ang Boracay, wala po talagang consultation. Nagpadala kami ng sulat at [humingi ng] imbitasyon kung puwede kami makadalo [sa hearing sa Kongreso]. Hindi po kami nainvite,” he added. (MNS)

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