DENR looking into other structures at Chocolate Hills

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
DENR looking into other structures at Chocolate Hills
Screengrab from a viral video posted by Ren the Adventurer shows the Captain’s Peak Resort in Sagbayan, Bohol where structures and amenities have been built at the foot of the iconic Chocolate Hills.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will look into other establishments operating at the Chocolate Hills in Bohol amid reports that there are other such structures within the protected area.

At a press conference, DENR Undersecretary for field operations-Luzon, Visayas and environment Juan Miguel Cuna yesterday said the department would apply all the rules and regulations equally at Chocolate Hills.

“We will just apply all rules and regulations equally to everyone. We already gave instructions to our regional office to determine if there are other establishments in the area of Chocolate Hills,” Cuna said.

Cuna added that officials of DENR Region 7 will determine if the establishments were able to secure clearance from the Protected Area Management Bureau.

“The DENR will determine the classification of the lands, their location. The Captain’s Peak (Resort) is an alienable and disposable land. It is titled and classified as a multiple-use zone but the others can be located in the forest lands. All these things will be looked into,” Cuna added.

For her part, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga blamed the local government unit (LGU) of Sagbayan, Bohol for the issuance of building permit and mayor’s permit despite the Captain’s Peak Resort’s failure to secure an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).

“What we also have discovered in our investigation, the Captain’s Peak was able to secure a building permit from the local government and when that happens, the PAMB has already issued a resolution but you have to go for the ECC and get yourself permitted. We also discovered that the building permit started to be issued in 2020 and there was definitely no ECC at that point,” Loyzaga said.

“The LGU knows what needs to be submitted before it can issue a building permit in a protected area,” she said.

Cuna added that charges and fines await the owner of the resort for operating without an ECC.

And based on the inspection of the EMB, the Captain’s Peak Resort used deep wells without necessary permits.

“The National Water Resources Board has already issued a certification that they don’t have a permit, nor do they have an application for this,” he added.

Cuna added that the Captain’s Peak Resort owner could face a fine of up to P5 million for operating in a protected area.

“It also has a criminal liability of minimum of six years to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment for putting up structure without appropriate permits within the protected areas,” he added.

However, Cuna added that the DENR could not order the demotion of the resort since it is a private property.

“When it comes to the issue of demolition, we need to study this carefully as it was not involved in illegal occupation since it is a private property and they own the structure. What they cannot do is to operate without an ECC,” he said.

Binay: Unacceptable

Even after the voluntary closure of the resort in the heart of Chocolate Hills in Bohol, the “willful violations” and the environmental damage were unacceptable, Sen. Nancy Binay said yesterday.

Binay, chair of the Senate committee on tourism, also criticized the Sagbayan local government, which has jurisdiction over the UNESCO-protected Chocolate Hills, for being nonchalant in handling the matter.

“It is very clear that there were infractions and willful violations of law at all levels. Apparently, the Sagbayan LGU admitted that it was only this March 13 that the DENR advised the resort to ‘voluntarily’ undergo a temporary closure,” she noted.

“So, we can see that the enforcement is clumsy and the term ‘voluntary closure’ means ‘optional,’ meaning the resort has a choice not to stop its operations.”

In Congress, the Makabayan bloc has filed a House resolution that seeks to investigate the construction of Captain’s Peak Resort right at the foot of the declared National Geological Monument.

In House Resolution 1638, party-list representatives Arlene Brosas of Gabiela, France Castro of ACT-Teachers and Raoul Manuel of Kabataan have directed the committee on natural resources to do the probe “in aid of legislation.”

Bohol Rep. Alexie Tutor has meanwhile sought the demolition of the resort, underscoring that the Chocolate Hills “should not have been allowed to be built there in the first place.”

“It should be demolished and the construction site should be restored, with costs borne by the owners of that resort. But before these can happen, we have to follow due process,” she added. — Cecille Suerte Felipe, Sheila Crisostomo

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