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Controversial Chocolate Hills resort ordered closed; manager speaks up

A resort located at Barangay Libertad Norte in Sagbayan, Bohol called Captain's Peak Garden and Resort has caused a debate on social media recently, with many saying it is destroying the beauty of nature, specifically the iconic Chocolate Hills.

Following this, the authorities said they have ordered a temporary closure of the resort.

According to the latest episode of "Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho," staff of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Bohol have already put up a sign confirming the temporary closure.

The resort's manager, Julieta Sablas, explained that they were given approval for the construction of the commercial area.

"Sa lahat po ng mga nag-comment na negative po sabihin ko sa inyo, salamat nag-trending ang Captain's Peak Resort. Ang sakit eh. Sasabihin ka na, 'Bakit giniba mo 'yung mga Chocolate Hills diyan sa Bohol?' Wala naman kaming giniba."

["It was hurtful to read the negative comments about our Captain's Peak Resort. They'd ask us why we destroyed the Chocolate Hills. But we didn't destroy anything."]

Julieta's brother, Edgar Buton, is the owner of the resort.

In 2005, Edgar bought an area with six hectares of land and three hills on it. Half of the land was used for the resort.

Julieta said that in 2018, they were given approval by the DENR-Protected Area Management Board, and in the following year, that they obtained the business permit from the local government of Sagbayan.

In 2022, they opened the resort to the public.

"Mayroon naman kami mga certificates po. We are allowed to build below the Chocolate Hills. Approved po sa kanila," Julieta added. 

["We have the necessary certificates and were allowed to build below the Chocolate Hills. Our request was approved."]

Online and offline debate

While many netizens said that the resort was an eyesore, there were also some who were in favor of its construction.

Just last month, the Bohol Provincial Meet 2024 was held at the resort.

Assistant Coach Dhelia Japos said "Hindi ako nag-expect na may ganyang issue pala kasi pinayagan naman kami na mag-held du'n ng swimming competition."

["I didn't expect that there would be such an issue about the resort because we were allowed to hold a swimming competition there before."]

Philippines' first global geopark

In May 2023, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized Bohol's Chocolate Hills as the first global geopark in the Philippines.

Proclamation 1037, which was issued by the late President Fidel Ramos on July 1, 1997, designated the Chocolate Hills as a National Geological Monument and Protected Landscape.

Atty. Jiselle Rae Villamor explained, "Before the proclamation dito sa mga areas na 'to as protected areas, may mga private owners na. Kahit mga private properties po siya, any development na i-introduce mo doon sa area, you really have to seek approval and clearance from the DENR."

["Even before these were proclaimed as protected areas, there were already private owners here. But even if this is the case, any development in that area requires approval and clearance from the DENR."]

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism said that the Provincial Government of Bohol had already been questioned about the construction of establishments on the land covered by the Chocolate Hills National Monument.

The department said that the Captain's Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan is not the only one that built a structure in the area. There is also a mountain resort in Sagbayan and a campsite in Carmen.

Atty. Juan Miguel Cuna, DENR Undersecretary For Field Operations – Luzon, Visayas, and Environment said, "We are actively addressing situations which are actually similar to this. There have been efforts made in Congress in formalizing the enforcement bureau within the agency."

The Senate has already requested an investigation into the permits given to the mentioned establishments.

Meanwhile, the Bohol LGU said that although the Captain's Peak Garden and Resort claimed that they have secured the corresponding permit from another government agency, they don't have an Environmental Compliance Certificate, and that they were not accredited by the Department of Tourism.

DENR Usec. Cuna said, "In September of 2023, the Provincial Environment Officer of Bohol found out that they had constructed without the ECC, they issued a notice of violation, including a request for them to stop their operations."

They continued to operate. In fact, they actually wrote the PENRO requesting for the lifting of the order since they had already applied for an ECC, which the PENRO denied.

Bohol's Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office has also issued a memorandum to form a team that will focus on making sure that the resort management follows the temporary closure order.

The local government said "We have learned that there was a temporary closure order by the DENR. If only we received an official copy of that order, we will right there and then stop the renewal of that business permit."

So what's the next step for the resort?

"Hindi po kami talaga papayag 'pag totally close. Kasi ang laki na na-invest ng kapatid ko. 'Pag succeed na po 'yung ECC namin, makapagsimula po kami muli sa operation ng resort," Julieta said. 

["We don't want total closure. My sibling has invested a lot already. Once our Environmental Compliance Certificate or ECC is approved, we will resume the resort's operations."]

Environmentalist and Executive Director of Living Laudato Si' Philippines Rodne Galicha said, "We need to listen both to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."

"Before tayo magkaroon ng mga masasamang comment ay pag-aralan muna natin 'yung buong issue sa perspective ng batas, sa perspective nung mga empleyado, sa perspective ng mga responsable sa pagbigay ng mga permit. But at the end of the day, if this is a protected area, kinakailangan natin protektahan." he added. 

["Before we give out any comments, we have to study the whole issue from the perspective of the law, from the perspective of the employees, and from the perspective of those responsible for issuing permits. But at the end of the day, if this is a protected area, we need to protect it."]

—JCB, GMA Integrated News