AKLAN, Philippines – Vice President and opposition presidential candidate Leni Robredo told residents of this world-famous resort island that decisions on local development programs should remain in the hands of communities.
During her campaign sortie on Wednesday, February 16, Robredo also praised Boracay’s Ati community for their efforts to protect indigenous culture amidst commercial development.
The opposition presidential bet backed the local indigenous people (IP) community’s fight to protect their 2.1-hectare ancestral domain. Her husband, the late interior secretary Jesse Robredo, helped Boracay’s Ati people when they were in danger of being driven out of their ancestral lands.
“Yung kultura ‘nyo mas mahalaga pa sa kahit anong negosyo, na ‘yung inyong kultura ay – ‘yung pangangalaga dito ay bahagi ng ating pagiging Pilipino,” Robredo told the island’s small Ati community that church groups help. (Your culture is more important than any business, because nurturing our culture is part of what makes us Filipino.)
Speaking before the Boracay Multisectoral Assembly, Robredo said the islands development should not be dictated by a government-owned or controlled corporation (GOCC), as the bill creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) stipulates.
The House of Representatives passed the bill in August 2021, about a year after President Rodrigo Duterte called for the creation of the body. The Senate version of the bill, authored by Senator Cynthia Villar, is still pending at the committee level.
“Ang nakakaalam ng lahat ng issue dito, hindi kami kundi kayo. And dahil kayo ‘yung nakakaalam ng issue, hindi po puwedeng ipasa sa Kongreso at maging batas ‘yung BIDA bill na hindi kayo pinapakinggan,” she told cheering residents.
(You, not we, know all about the issues here. And because you know better, Congress should not ram through passage of the BIDA Bill without hearing you.)
“Sa kahit anong batas, kahit anong programa ng pamahalaan, hindi po puwedeng makialam ‘yung pamahalaan, sasabihin niya, ganito ‘yung dapat na solusyon sa problem diyan, kung hindi ‘nyo nga kinonsulta ‘yung taga-dito,” Robredo added.
(With any law, with any program, government should not dictate solutions to problems without consulting residents.)
Wary of casinos
“Though Boracay has several sectors, all are united in opposing the BIDA. What is being endorsed by the Boracaynon instead is a regulatory body,” Robredo told reporters in Filipino after her talk.
Local folks should not be made voiceless in the name of progress, the Vice President stressed, especially when development projects will impact their lives.
“Isa sa mga malalaking isyu na sinabi nila na halimbawa, ‘yung mga casino, ayaw namin ito. ‘Di wala na pala kaming boses para sabihin na ayaw na namin ito kasi meron nang isang body na sila ‘yung magdedesisyon’,” she said, recallng her conversations with stakeholders.
(One of their major issues that they raised is, for example, the casinos, [they said] we don’t want them. Since there would a body that would make the decisions, they said they would no longer have a voice to oppose it.)
Casinos were banned in 2018 on the island, which is part of Malay town in Aklan. But in August 2021, then presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the President gave the green light for a casino to operate in Boracay, to boost the government’s revenue-generating efforts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Respecting IP rights
Robredo linked the woes of Boracay residents over the proposed BIDA and other government programs, and that of indigenous peoples fighting for their lands.
“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,” she said. (This is our dream for IP communities: number one, to ensure that you can sleep soundly every night with the knowledge that you won’t be driven away your land, with no fear that someone would steal your land.)
Duterte had promised to make the entire Boracay an agrarian reform estate for the Ati community, but was quickly corrected by national agencies that said only eight hectares can be distributed to the community.
The IPs for now only have 2.1 hectares. Duterte sparked anger among IP and agrarian reform advocates when he suggested that the Ati just sell their land to big developers and get rich.
Climate change goals should include grassroots
Robredo also said government programs to mitigate climate change should include the grassroots programs.
“’Yung climate change, hindi ito puwede na nagse-set aside ka lang ng pondo for relief operations kasi ‘yun ay sobrang short term,” she replied to a question by Rappler.
She pointed out that Boracay needs to check and improve its sewerage system, address proper waste disposal, water sources, and storm threats.
Environmental programs should adapt to changing conditions, which is why the role of local governments is crucial, Robredo said, adding that the national government’s task is to beef up local capacity. – Rappler.com