Cebu News

Defacing a National Treasure:Resort, other projects ruining Chocolate Hills (Second of three parts)

SPECIAL REPORT - Caecent No-ot Magsumbol - The Freeman
Defacing a National Treasure:Resort, other projects ruining Chocolate Hills (Second of three parts)
A resort stands in the middle of the scenic Chocolate Hills in the Province of Bohol.
Photos by Aldo Nelbert Banaynal

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Tagbilaran City has confirmed that many parts of the famed Chocolate Hills are titled to private individuals.

CENRO-Tagbilaran City Officer-in-Charge Elena Suarez said that the titles were issued prior to its declaration as protected area under the Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018. At the moment though, they have stopped issuing titles on lots under the protected areas already, Suarez said.

“Kanang mga flat areas, daghan ana mga titled pati hills (under the protected area). Pero sa pagkakaron, dili sa ta mo-process og titles na sa pagkakaron. Ni stop ta after atong mga previously issued titles, mo-respect man gyud ta ana. All hills are considered strict protected zones, unya multiple-use zone ang flat areas including those previously issued titles,” Suarez said.

She also clarified that there has been a delineation already around the protected area prior to the proclamation of the E-NIPAS Act.

Pamb approved the projects?

Another CENRO official, Lorna Fernandez, and part of the PAMB also confirmed the board gave a nod to the construction of permanent concrete structures under the protected area of Sagbayan as well as the road project also under the said area allegedly with the “concurrence” of DENR-7 Regional Executive Director Paquito Melicor, Jr.

“Gi-allow ra sila sa PAMB basta dili lang siya mosaka sa taas pagka ngan nga titulado man gyud kaayo ilang yuta. Wala pay proclamation, titled naman siya,” Fernandez said.

On the access road project connecting Canmano and Libertad Norte, Fernandez said they already deliberated on it although they said the LGU could have told them before bringing the heavy equipment in the area.

“All activities under the protected areas kailangan siya ug clearance. Endorsed by PAMB with the concurrence of our regional executive director,” added Fernandez while saying it underwent pre-screening and review accordingly.

Another CENRO officer who was also around during the interview could not help but also expressed his confusion over the approval when those in Batuan, which is a flat area though also a protected one, are having difficulty in developing their own area, how much more over at Chocolate Hills.

A setback is expected to be defined within the protected hill itself aside from the buffer zone that is explicitly indicated in the E-NIPAS Act.

It was expressed that they should be keen and very careful in approving projects and other activities and a site development plan that would only allow what is fitting for a global geo-park.

The Freeman learned that development projects by private individuals who claimed ownership of a property within the protected area, including government projects, have caused damage to one of the country’s natural wonders.

Chocolate Hills is in fact a national treasure declared as the first global geo-park in the Philippines by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“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 natural calamities like Super Typhoon Odette.

One of the private individuals who owned a portion of the protected area was Edgar Buton, a seaman. Buton developed his property in Barangay Canmano in the Municipality of Sagbayan into a resort that is now catching the attention of locals and foreign tourists because of its water park and cottages on the side constructed mostly at the base of some of the identified hills that forms part of the famous Chocolate Hills.

Julieta Sablas, resort administrator and sister of the owner, 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.

Sablas said that while others envy the Buton family for owning a piece of the national treasure, but for them it is too much of a hassle.

“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 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.

But apart from the cottages and the pool at the center of the protected area, a more worrisome state of two other protected hills being scraped to give way to an access road going to barangay Canmano where the resort is located.

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. 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.

However, 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. — (FREEMAN)

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