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Bohol town LGU says no DENR closure order received vs Chocolate Hills resort

The local government of Sagbayan, Bohol on Thursday said it has yet to receive the order of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the temporary closure of the resort in the Chocolate Hills protected area.

"Kahapon lang namin nalaman na meron pa lang temporary closure order ang DENR. Kasi walang binibigay sa amin na furnished copy ng temporary closure order," said Felito Pon, executive secretary of the Office of the Sagbayan Mayor, told Unang Balita in an interview Thursday.

(We just found out yesterday that the DENR has a temporary closure order because no one gave us a copy of the temporary closure order.)

"Kung alam namin 'yung temporary closure order ay sa application for renewal ay hindi na po mare-renew," he added.

(If we knew about the temporary closure order, the resort’s application for renewal would not be approved.)

Pon said some applications in connection with the Captain's Peak and Garden Resort reached the local government in 2018 and these were referred to the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).

On the part of the Sagbayan government, Pon said the business permit of the resort would be revoked if violations are committed.

"Sa amin naman sa LGU, mare-revoke nila 'yung business permit nila… kapag mayroong batas na nilabag, may kapangyarihan po 'yung local chief executive natin na bawiin, ikansela 'yung business permit nila," he said.

(For us in the LGU, the resort's business permit will be revoked... if there is a law that has been violated, our local chief executive has the power to revoke or cancel their business permit.)

Captain's Peak and Garden Resort, meanwhile, announced its temporary closure late Wednesday evening amid flak on social media and imminent government action regarding its operations.

"To our valued guests. This is to inform you that our resort is temporarily closed until further notice. Sorry, for the inconvenien[ce]," Captain's Peak Garden and Resort said on its Facebook profile and cover photos.

The DENR released a statement Wednesday saying it issued a temporary closure order in September 2023 and a violation notice in January 2024 against the establishment. The department said the Office of the Central Visayas regional executive director issued a memorandum on March 13 directing the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) to inspect Captain's Peak for its compliance with its temporary closure order.

According to the DENR, the resort has been operating without an environmental clearance certificate (ECC).

UNESCO heritage site

The Chocolate Hills and the surrounding areas were designated a National Geological Monument and Protected Landscape by Proclamation 1037 on July 1, 1997 in recognition of its "unique geological formations and the importance of covering this wonder for future generations."

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument as part of its prestigious World Heritage List.

Aside from the resort, Pon said road construction in Chocolate Hills connecting Barangays Libertad Norte and Canmano was also halted by the DENR. The Captain's Peak resort is located in Libertad Norte.

"Hindi naman po sinira. Wala pong sinira. Ang ginagawa po noong last year ay ginawa natin parang rehabilitation, repair kasi merong request ang Barangay Canmano," he said.

(The Chocolate Hills are not being damaged. Nothing has been damaged. What we were doing last year was rehabilitation or repair, because Barangay Canmano requested it.)

"Pinahinto ng DENR, ng PENRO at sinusubaybayan po natin at nire-rectify din kung ano 'yung rehabilitation," he added.

(The DENR, the PENRO ordered it stopped and we are monitoring and rectifying the rehabilitation.)

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, said the DENR and other government agencies including the LGUs should explain the granting of construction permits in the protected area.

The Department of Tourism (DOT), for its part, said its Central Visayas regional office "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." — VDV, GMA Integrated News