By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent

Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima asked the Senate to investigate Boracay island’s ongoing rehabilitation which purportedly facilitated land grabbing activities by commercial developers in disregard to Indigenous Peoples’ (IPs) right to their ancestral land.

She  filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 902 urging her colleagues in the Upper chamber to probe the alleged land grabbing in Boracay to ensure that rehabilitation effort during the island’s closure will not prejudice the pending claims of IPs.

She noted that long before Boracay became a revenue-generating tourist attraction, it has been home to the island’s locals and indigenous peoples.

Because of this, she said conservation efforts should take into utmost consideration how the inhabitants will be affected.

“Many residents and small business owners fear that their lands will be taken by government because of numerous land disputes among multiple claimants, even before the shutdown this year,” she said.

Last April 4, in line with the present administration’s supposed move towards Boracay rehabilitation, Duterte hastily approved the total closure for six months of the famed island effective April 26 without proper consultation from the stakeholders.

Roughly a month after, Duterte stressed his plan to make Boracay a land reform area, which has since highlighted the unresolved issue of land ownership facing residents, property owners, claimants and investors for decades.

This year alone, she said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) identified 842 illegal structures in forest areas and wetlands as part of its rehabilitation program and it has issued 341 notices to occupants to leave and be forcibly removed.

De Lima said a reliable source claimed forestland for conservation in Manoc-Manoc in Boracay, which was part of the ancestral domain claimed by the Ati tribe, will not be forfeited by the State for actual conservation but for conversion into houses, condominiums and giant golf courses.

She maintained that the purpose of the executive decision to close the island is to implement rehabilitation plans due to health concerns so no commercial development should have been implemented in Boracay during this six-month period.

“There is need to establish the official policy and plan of action of the government over the determination of the rights of the indigenous peoples over the property in Boracay that they claim as part of their ancestral land,” she said.

She also underscored the need “to prevent any form of commercial development over properties that are claimed as ancestral lands until a definite plan has been formulated by the appropriate agencies to address the plight of the indigenous peoples in Boracay.”

Duterte’s plan to place Boracay under an agrarian reform has been criticized by legal experts who noted that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law provided that land that can be subject to agrarian reform is limited to those actually devoted or suitable to agriculture.

According to experts, natural productivity of the land in terms of soil fertility, crop compatibility and irrigation water availability in Boracay remains questionable.

In filing the resolution, De Lima also urged the appropriate Senate committee to look into possible amendments in the existing laws relating to ancestral domains to allow relief to the IPs against private interests encroaching on their communities.

Last April, De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 715 calling for a Senate probe on the government’s order to close the renowned island for six months to assess the adverse implications of its closure to the country’s economy and the welfare of the people.

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