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Senate urged to probe Chocolate Hills resort


A Senate investigation into the reported construction of illegal structures within the vicinity of the Chocolate Hills has been sought.

Senator Nancy Binay, chairperson of the Senate committee on tourism, filed proposed Senate Resolution 967, directing the appropriate Senate panel to launch a probe "with the end in view of preserving Bohol's protected area and major tourist attraction."

"It is necessary for the Senate to conduct an inquiry on the matter to help protect the Chocolate Hills from destruction due to the construction of illegal structures within its vicinity," Binay wrote.

"It is the duty of the Senate to help protect and maintain the natural, biological, and physical diversities of the environment particularly on areas with biologically unique features to sustain human life and development," she added.

The lawmaker cited a news report on the "controversial" construction of "illegal and informal structures" such as swimming pools, slides, and cottages by Captain's Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan town and Bud Agta in Carmen town, which were "too close to the feet" of Chocolate Hills.

Citing reports, Binay said Bohol provincial member and chairperson of the provincial board committee on environment, Atty. Jaime Villamor, has urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Protected Area Management Board (DENR-PAMB) to stop the construction of these structures following an investigation of the said resorts.

"It was reported that during the inspection conducted by the provincial board, it was found that Captain's Peak Garden and Resort built cottages and water slides for a swimming pool at the foot or sides of at least three hills and that PAMB failed to full explain why it allowed the resort to use at least 20 percent portion of the Chocolate Hills," Binay said in the resolution.

"It was also reported that another resort, Bud Agta in Barangay Tamboan in Carmen was cited by environmentalists for illegal structures near the Chocolate Hills," she added.

Binay, citing another news report, said that one of the prohibitions under PAMB Resolution No. 01, series of 2018, governing the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument, for the Captain's Peak Garden and Resort, is that the hills should not be altered or defaced and extraction is strictly prohibited.

She then raised that one of the issues that needs to be resolved is whether the clearing of the access road within the resort area was a breach of existing laws.

She mentioned that the cutting or improvement of the access road inside the vicinity of the resort was done by the town upon the barangay's request.

In a statement, Binay said that the construction of the resorts near Chocolate Hills is "infuriating and heartbreaking."

"Sa unang tingin pa lamang, alam na nating may mali. Kung ang mga ahensya ng gobyerno na may tungkulin at responsibilidad na pangalagaan ang Chocolate Hills ay may pro-environment mindset, ang tanong po natin, bakit nakapagtayo ng resort at mayroon pang cottages at swimming pool sa isang 'classified natural monument' sa ilalim ng [National Integrated Protected Areas System], at isang protected UNESCO geopark?" she asked.

While she said that development is important, Binay stressed the need for boundaries.

"If the DENR continues to issue ECCs in the guise of 'tourism development', I believe they have misunderstood what ecotourism is all about, and they have become complicit to defacing a natural monument they're supposed to oppose," she said.

With the information indicating that PAMB approved the proposal and issued a resolution in 2022 and 2023 "favorably enforcing" the development of Captain's Peak Resort, Binay said the DENR and other government agencies including the local government unit should explain the granting of construction permits in the protected area.

In the House of Representatives, Bohol 3rd District Rep. Kristine Alexie Besas expressed support for Villamor's call for Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to intervene on the construction of resorts within the vicinity of Chocolate Hills.

"That Captain’s Peak Resort should not have been allowed to be built there in the first place. It should be demolished and the construction site should be restored, with costs borne by the owners of that resort. But before these can happen, we have to follow due process," she said in a statement.

"The [Bohol Provincial Board] Committee is correct in seeking the intervention of the Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga. We hope the DENR Secretary will hold in abeyance the decision on the operation of Captain’s Peak Resort," she added.

While she said there are administrative processes, Besas said those with proper legal standing can go to court to stop Captain's Peak Resort's operations and hold liable all the government officials who permitted the construction and operation of the resort.

GMA News Online has requested comment from the Captain's Peak Garden and Resort and Bud Agta Resort about the matter but they have yet to provide a response as of posting time.—LDF, GMA Integrated News

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