Gov't to distribute land to Boracay tribe in November – DAR

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 23) — Boracay's Ati tribe will soon gain ownership of lands on the island, which they can use for farming.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is set to distribute some 3.1 hectares of land in Barangay Manocmanoc in November.

"It will happen November this year... They can already occupy the land," DAR Secretary John Castriciones told CNN Philippines.

This is in line with President Duterte's previous statement that he wants to place the world-famous island under land reform.

Officials are now working with the registry of deeds for the issuance of a Certificate of Land Ownership Award to some 48 members of the Ati tribe. Ownership will be collective, as requested by the tribe.

The government is also looking into the eligibility of around 60 members from the Tumandok tribe.

"Ini-interview yan, vine-verify talaga kung sila nga ba talaga ay will fit into the requirement as provided for by our law at kapag na-identify, and if they can be included, definitely isasama natin sila," Castriciones explained.

Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones, however, said a bigger area will be given to 31 indigenous people families. He said 7.8 hectares of land may be distributed before Christmas.

"Ito at naiturnover na ng DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) sa DAR. And the DAR now is studying and evaluating the area on the feasibility of making this an agricultural area... Siguro before Christmas Dar can already resolve how to distribute these lands," he said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

More land to follow

The planned distribution in November will count as the first phase. DAR said there are more government-owned lands on the island to be given.

These lands, however, have apparently been illegally-occupied and will have to be reclaimed by government first, which can take time.

"Yung second phase, kung sasabihin ng presidente na pati yung mga merong structures but appears to be illegal eh mapipilitan kaming tanggalin yan at ipapamigay natin sa mga magsasaka natin," Castriciones explained.

In 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Proclamation No. 1064 classifying Boracay into forestland and agricultural land.

The 1,028-hectare island was classified into two areas: 400 hectares (40 percent) of Boracay forestlands were for "protection purposes," while the 628-hectare agricultural land (60 percent) was "alienable and disposable."

In 2008, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the proclamation, after some Boracay land claimants questioned the ruling, asserting ownership over their properties.

The High Court ruled the petition had no legal basis as no private entity can own land in Boracay.

"The island is State property," it said, adding that for a land to be "alienable," or subject to private ownership, the state must declare it as such.

Boracay lands arable?

DAR officials said they will carry out training for tribe members who do not know how to farm. Many young members of the Ati tribe worked in hotels and resorts before the island's closure.

Many residents were skeptical when Duterte first announced that he would place Boracay under land reform.

They questioned whether lands there are even arable. Officials assure they have nothing to worry about.

"If you go to Boracay you would see it's all green, paanong di tutubo ang halaman doon? And the technology is quite different now eh kung desierto ng Israel natataniman ng kung anu-ano tayo pa kaya napakayaman ng lupa ng Pilipinas," Castriciones said.

Boracay will reopen to travelers on October 26 after Duterte ordered its six-month closure last April for a full rehabilitation.

Duterte said he will not attend the reopening, and will only set foot on the island when he distributes land to the natives there.