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Bohol governor appeals resort closure

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Bohol governor appeals resort closure
Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Barangay Canmano in the municipality of Sagbayan.
Facebook / Screengrab from Ren The Adventurere

MANILA, Philippines —  Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado yesterday appealed the closure of resorts built at the Chocolate Hills natural monument, which he said deprived residents of livelihood.

“The closure of resorts, while a victory for environmentalists, also casts a shadow on the livelihood of those employed there and the economic aspiration of the local community,” he told senators.

“This is a brutal reminder that every environmental decision is also a social one, affecting real people with real needs,” he added.

He was referring to the closure order issued against Captain’s Peak Resort in Sagbayan, Bohol, a swimming resort built at the foothills of Chocolate Hills despite its protected area status.

Aumentado attended Senate hearings on the illegal construction of resorts and structures at Mt. Apo Natural Park in Mindanao and Chocolate Hills Natural Monument in Bohol, which are legislated protected areas.

The hearings were conducted by the joint Senate environment and local government committees.

If the policy on protected areas will be for absolute prohibition of structures on protected areas at the expense of local tourism, “private owners” in the area should be compensated as they could no longer “benefit from their land,” Aumentado said, referring to titled owners of land in a protected area.

The Land Registration Authority earlier said there are 5,652 titled properties spanning 7,860 hectares at the Chocolate Hills.

“Before this area was declared a protected site, there were communities and farmland already. These are places where they were born. These are their homes going back several generations,” Aumentado added.

If development is allowed, the governor said “guidelines should have no room for ambiguity,” especially on the roles of Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) members who are tasked to safeguard these sites.

“The challenge is to protect the environment while nurturing the social fabric of our societies,” he said.

Aumentado’s statement did not sit well with Sen. Cynthia Villar, who presided over the hearing.

Villar expressed confusion over local government units seemingly prioritizing development over environmental protection.

She recalled that Aumentado, as then Bohol congressman, pitched Chocolate Hills to be among legislated protected areas enshrined in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Systems law when it was passed by Congress.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should have protected the Chocolate Hills as it is responsible for issuing environmental compliance certificates (ECC), she noted.

DENR regional offices seem to be one of the weak links in the agency’s protection mechanisms as they are remiss in their duty to preserve protected areas, she said.

Sen. Nancy Binay, chair of the Senate tourism committee, said the local government cannot feign ignorance on the need to preserve Bohol as a protected area after undergoing the process of being declared a UNESCO Global Geopark. Bohol is the only Philippine tourism area to secure the coveted title. – Diana Lhyd Suelto, Bella Cariaso, Cecille Suerte Felipee

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ERICO AUMENTADO

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