Paradise lost: Ati natives dread Boracay closure

Joyce Clavecillas, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2018 04:24 PM | Updated as of Dec 12 2019 03:59 PM

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BORACAY ISLAND - Marina Salibio, one of the Ati elders in Boracay Island, was born and raised in the island.

Their ancestors were believed to be the first settlers in this holiday island, and the pristine white-sand beach and a forest abundant with food were part of her growing-up years.

"Sila tatay at lolo, nangingisda. 'Yun ang kinakain namin dito sa loob ng Boracay. Marami rin kaming nakukuha sa Boracay," she told ABS-CBN News.

Delsa Justo, the leader of the Ati village, recalls the story of their elders, how the name "Boracay" was coined. In their "inati" language, "bora" means bubbles and "bocay" means white.

Their stories about Boracay and their cultural heritage are kept inside the Ati Living Heritage Center inside the Ati village in the island, where they currently live.

The 2.1-hectare property which is considered part of the ancestral domain, was awarded to them by the government a few years back.

Today, the island is beset with several environmental problems.

The forest area which used to be the source of food of the Atis is now partly occupied by big resorts and hotels.

Some establishments don't have proper connection with the sewer line, and treatment plant.

Somehow, tourism in Boracay has provided jobs to some of the natives. They also have a small souvenir shop in the Ati village.

Some of them are quite worried that they will also be affected if Boracay will shut down, as initially stated by President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Nakakalungkot na isara. 'Yung mga bata namin 5 na ang tumigil sa pag aaral, kasi kulang talaga kami...Gahabol man kami sa inyo nga mga bisaya, para marunong din kami," Justo said.

For these Boracay natives, tourism and development must come hand in hand with environmental protection.

The government has initiated an unprecedented cleanup in Boracay this month after Duterte cited the island's sewage problems, calling it a "cesspool" and threatening to shut it down.

Some 850 establishments have been served show-cause orders by the inter-agency council for easement violations and not connecting to the sewerage treatment plant, and the Department of Tourism is pitching for the closure of the island from July to October to demolish establishments that encroach the easement zone area.