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DENR says Chocolate Hills resort ordered closed September 2023; seeks inspection

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will conduct an inspection of a resort which it had ordered temporarily closed six months ago for operating without a permit in the famed Chocolate Hills in Bohol.

In a statement released Wednesday, the DENR said the Office of the Central Visayas regional executive director issued a memorandum on March 13 directing Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Paquito Melicor to inspect the facility for its compliance with a temporary closure order.

"In the case of Captain's Peak Resort, the DENR issued a Temporary Closure Order last September 6, 2023, and a Notice of Violation to the project proponent last January 22, 2024 for operating without an (environmental clearance certificate)," the DENR said.

The resort recently gained flak on social media for being built inside a protected area recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Social media pages of Captain's Peak Garden and Resort showed the facility—complete with swimming pools, slides, cabanas, and a signature heart-shaped landmark—surrounded by the unique land formations of the Chocolate Hills.

Based on its introduction on Facebook, the Captain's Peak Garden and Resort is a "tourist destination located in the midst of the toweringthe [sic] chocolate hills in the area. It is located at Libertad Norte, Sagbayan, Bohol. You can see the closer look of the scenic chocolate hills."

GMA News Online has requested comment from the resort but it has yet to provide a response as of posting time.

The UNESCO recognizes the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument as part of its prestigious World Heritage List.

According to UNESCO, the Chocolate Hills is similar to formations found in Java Island in Indonesia, but the former bears "conical and almost symmetrical and same-sized hills" that "are more aesthetically extensive."

It consists of 1,776 mounds which straddle the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan, UNESCO said. Last year, UNESCO named Bohol Island as part of its global geoparks network.

Protected landscape

By virtue of Proclamation 1037 on July 1, 1997 issued by President Fidel V. Ramos, the Chocolate Hills were designated a National Geological Monument and Protected Landscape, recognizing the "unique geological formations and the importance of covering this wonder for future generations."

Noting that the order sought to preserve the landscape and environmental integrity, the DENR said that if a parcel of land was titled prior to Proclamation 1037, "the rights and interests of the landowner will generally be recognized and respected."

"However, the declaration of the area as a protected area may impose certain restrictions or regulations on land use and development within the protected area, even for privately owned lands," the DENR said.

The department said these restrictions and regulations should be detailed in the Environmental Impact Statement before a project is issued an ECC.

The DENR's Environmental Management Bureau will continue to monitor the concern, the department said.

DOT statement

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Tourism released a statement expressing support for the preservation and protection of Chocolate Hills. 

It said the Captain's Peak Resort Development is not an accredited tourism establishment under the auspices of the DOT’s system, and that there is no pending application for accreditation for the same. 

“The Department, through its Regional Office in Central Visayas, has been in coordination with the Bohol Provincial Government since August 2023 to express its concerns regarding this matter especially recognizing the necessity of preserving the integrity of this natural resource,” it said. 

“While development is essential for growth and progress, it must be conducted in harmony with environmental and cultural preservation. We urge all parties involved, including government agencies, private sector entities, and local communities, to work together towards sustainable and responsible tourism practices that uphold the integrity of our natural heritage,” the DOT added.  — Joviland Rita with Sherylin Untalan/VDV/BM, GMA Integrated News