Cebu News

Resort, other projects ruining Chocolate Hills

Caecent No-ot Magsumbol - The Freeman


(First of three parts)

CEBU, Philippines —  While Bol-anons and the rest of the Filipinos take pride in the declaration of the Chocolate Hills as the first global geo-park in the Philippines by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the natural beauty of this country’s national treasure, however, have now slowly been altered, literally.

“This unique karst landscape is composed of smooth, conical hills. They are the result of thousands of years of erosion of the limestone on what was once a thick build-up of coral reefs that thrived during the Pliocene approximately 2 to 5 million years ago,” part of UNESCO’s description of Chocolate Hills.

From the smooth conical hills that is, a part of the supposed protected precious hills had been defaced in exchange for some man-made activities and projects, both by private and government entities, in addition to the scars brought about by Super Typhoon Odette that remains a bit visible to this date as observed by a team from The FREEMAN.

A relatively new tourist spot, a resort (Captain’s Peak) in Barangay Canmano in the municipality of Sagbayan via barangay Libertad Norte, is catching the attention of locals and tourists alike for its water park and cottages and rooms on the side constructed mostly at the base of some of the identified hills that forms part of the famous Chocolate Hills.

A tarp from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had been mounted at the entrance of the recreational/tourist spot identified as Chocolate Hills Natural monument with its revised rates for entrance and use of facilities and resources in the protected area.

The administrator and sister of the owner, Julieta Sablas, during the interview, said the property was already a titled lot when they acquired it in 2005.

At first, the family tried to go farming, but their efforts were just wasted as the soil around the area is reportedly “acidic” and could not grow crops, plants and the likes.

So, her brother decided to convert the area into a tourist spot, which is now known as the Captain’s Peak resort, with the owner, a seaman, Edgar Buton.


Others envy the Buton family for owning a piece of the national treasure, but for Buton’s sister and being the administrator, it’s too much of a hassle to be an occupant in a protected area.

“Grabe ka stressful. Ingon sila nga kani, kani, swerte kaayo mo nga nakaangkon ani, protected area. Nah, pinakahasol! Ang mga project nimo, kinahanglan kung naa kay proposal, kinahanglan pa nimo i-present nila,” said Sablas.

She added they underwent the right process, even presented a proposal to the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) again after the approved project plan underwent some changes concerning the location of the cottages and the pool.

Sablas admitted there are some parts of the hill that were extracted but, it is only very minimal and within the allowed level.

“For example, ang usa ka Chocolate Hill, hundred percent.  Ang imoha, ang strictly gyud ana nila nga dili ka kahilabot ana is 20 percent, 80 atoa. Pero, dili gyud ka pwede mokatkat nga as in mapahak gyud siya. Among kabkaban pero matabunan gyud siya sa among mga structures nga gibuhat nga dili na gyud siya maklaro, kay ikaw mismo makakita kang naa na gyud siyay deperensya, dili na siya perfect gumikan sa naay kabkab. Maong once mokuha mi ato, amo gyud siyang isira nga dili na maklaro. Pag-inspect nila (PAMB), mao na to, dili man ka maka-operate kung wala kay certificate,” said Sablas.

Titchy markers out of pvc pipes and concrete with markings on top have also been placed around the 1,776 Chocolate Hills with some of it visible around the said resort.

Locals, however, do not even know what the N/P on the marker means and what the arrow that comes with it represents. The markers can easily be destroyed when rammed by carabaos and other animals.


But apart from the cottages and the pool that the center of some hills was a more worrisome state of two other protected hills being scraped to give way to an access road to barangay Canmano.

There could be no denying that those hills excavated are also protected ones, as a marker (N/P) can be seen on it.

Sablas said that while a portion of it belongs to his brother’s property, the access road project is not theirs but of the barangay and the municipality itself.

Canmano Barangay Captain George Bonajos, Sr. has admitted the access road project is indeed of the barangay, but clarified that it had long been approved through the efforts of the previous barangay captain and he claimed that Mayor Restituto Suarez III knew about this.

Suarez said, had the project been initiated during his term, he would question and object to it, he said.

With all the developments around the area, The FREEMAN went to the municipal hall of Sagbayan concerning the project.


The municipal engineer, Engr. Alan Dinoy, was surprised to find out that excavation in between the two hills for the access road materialized as it did not pass through his office although he said, they had a site visit before in the area.

“Actually, wala ko kabalo ana. During our site visit ana nga area wala pa na. Wa ko kabaw ana. Wa na niagi sa akong opisina,” Dinoy said, while also saying that normally, it passes thru the zoning department first.

Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator Maximo Lomosbog, to whom zoning is part of, for his part, said that the latest development around the protected area had clearance from the PAMB.

While the Chocolate Hills is a protected area, it is mostly privately-owned, Lomosbog said.

Lomosbog, however, said, their problem right now concerning the protected area is that there is “no delineation” on it.

“No delineation. Kami wa mi kabahibaw. Naay portion nga walay labot sa protected area. Bag-o pa ang Republic Act (E-NIPAS Act of 2018 signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in June 22, 2018) but not implemented right away,” said Lomosbog.

“Wa man na siya’y technical description. Before na approval ng Republic Act, ang gi-propose ana, ang hill ra gyud mismo maoy part sa Chocolate Hills. Karon, nahuman na ang survey tanang hills, giapil man nga protected area ang patag,” Lomosbog said, as he admitted the town’s comprehensive land use plan is not yet done up to now.


The FREEMAN also tried to get Mayor Suarez’s side several times but was either told he was not at his office or in a meeting until the municipal administrator, Jhun Capino, said the mayor would not accommodate any interview without prior appointment and knowledge on the topic to be discussed.

An email was also sent to the mayor but no response yet as of press time.

Capino, however, disclosed that there was a proposed zip line that was supposed to be built also around Captain’s Peak that they did not allow as it was in a top part of the hill and only allow those that will not deform the hills.

Capino, though, is also hopeful that rules/guidelines concerning any development and activities around the protected area will finally be established. /GAN

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