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Chocolate Hills resort may face P5-M fine; demolition to be studied — DENR


The resort operating in the Chocolate Hills protected area without an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) may face up to a P5 million fine, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Friday.

"Under the E-NIPAS Law po, 'yun ang mabigat kasi there are penalties for criminal liability. May mga penalty po siya. It is not small, minimum of P1 million to P5 million maximum for criminal liability," DENR Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna said in a press conference.

(Under the E-NIPAS Law, there are hefty  penalties for criminal liability. It is not small, minimum of P1 million to P5 million maximum for criminal liability.)

"Mayroon pong karagdagang minimum of six years to maximum of 12 years imprisonment for putting up structures without the appropriate permits within the protected area," Cuna added.

(Violators also face six years to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment for putting up structures without the appropriate permits within the protected area.)

Aside from the possible criminal liability, Captain's Peak Resort may also face fines worth P50,000 to P5 million for administrative violations, according to Cuna.

Implementing the order

Meanwhile, the DENR said it would check if its local field offices were liable for the controversy, considering that the resort was able to continue operations despite the temporary closure issued in September 2023.

According to the DENR, local government units also bear responsibility over the matter.

DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga questioned the municipal government of Sagbayan for issuing a building permit to the resort even though it does not have an ECC.

Asked about the comments of local government units that they only learned about DENR's six-month old temporary closure order on Wednesday, Loyzaga replied: "That's not the issue."

"The issue is, does it have an ECC or not? That's the issue… Alam naman po natin siguro at the local level kung ano ang kailangan ma-submit bago mag-issue ng isang building permit sa protected area," she said.

(The issue is, does it have an ECC or not? That's the issue... We probably know at the local level what needs to be submitted before issuing a building permit in a protected area.)

PAMB resolutions

The Sagbayan government earlier said that it released the building permit for the Captain's Peak Garden and Resort because of the clearance issued by the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).

The PAMB clearance was secured in 2018, based on information provided by the Bohol provincial government to GMA Integrated News. Captain's Point Garden and Resort became operational in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Loyzaga said that the PAMB resolutions stated that an ECC should be obtained first before any construction.

"I just want to point that out kasi alam naman po natin ang kahalagahan ng isang ECC, especially in a protected area. At 'yan po ay nasa resolution ng PAMB. Ang issue dito, may ECC ba ang application o hindi? At hindi naman po [lingid] sa kaalaman ng LGU na wala," she added.

(I just want to point that out because we know the importance of an ECC especially in a protected area. And that is indicated in the PAMB resolution. The issue here is whether the application has an ECC or not. And the LGU knows that there is none.)

“What we need to do is work very closely in fact with the local government units kasi kung sino po ang binibigyan ng business permit din kailangan naman po sana na i-confirm na may tama pong permiso being in a protected area,” Loyzaga said.

(What we need to do is work very closely in fact with the local government units because whoever gives the business permit also needs to confirm that they have the right permit being in a protected area.)

According to the DENR, Captain's Peak Garden and Resort only applied for an EEC after the temporary closure order was issued. The resort submitted incomplete requirements, the DENR said.

GMA News Online has reached out to the local government of Sagbayan regarding DENR's comments.

Private property

Asked about the possibility of demolishing the establishment, Cuna said the DENR needs to study such action first because the concerned area is private property with a land title and not illegally occupied.

"Ang hindi po pupuwede ay mag-operate sila without the ECC. So the fact that it's a private property, the proponent is the one who spent to put up the structures ay kailangan pag-aralan 'yan," Cuna said.

(What's not allowed is that they operate without the ECC. So the fact that it's a private property, the proponent is the one who spent to put up the structures there. We have to study this aspect.)

Earlier in the day, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said his office was looking into the possible conduct of a motu proprio investigation on the controversy.

Martires noted there was already a small house at the Chocolate Hills before it was declared a protected area. 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.

Other establishments, too

Meanwhile, the DENR will check other establishments in the Chocolate Hills protected area to see if these have violations as well.

"Even before this press conference we're having now, we already gave instructions to check on all the other establishments within this area of Chocolate Hills," Cuna said, adding that, "We're not singling anybody out. Whatever the policies, laws, rules, and regulations applicable to this particular establishment, we will apply it equally through all the others."

Among the sites under DENR review is the Bud Agta in Barangay Tambo-an, Carmen, Bohol, which has a staircase and view deck built on one of the hills itself. Open since 2021, the Bud Agta management displays a sign which states that it has secured an ECC and PAMB clearance.

According to a report on 24 Oras, Governor Aris Aumentado will convene a meeting to clarify concerns regarding the Bud Agta.

"Kung ano yung nangyari sa Captain's Peak Resort sa Sagbayan, I think the same story na walang ECC. Sasabihin lang to follow, then nalaman ko lang lately na yung original na napagkasunduan ng DENR at private owner na magtayo nang hagdanan na gawa sa light materials. Ngayon nalaman ko na ang area kung saan nagsimula magtayo ng light materials ay sinundan na ng permanent structure. That is a violation sa polisiya ng PAMB. So, again dapat aksyunan yan ng DENR ang problema na nangyari diyan ngayon," Aumentado said.

(I think what happened at the Captain's Peak Resort in Sagbayan is the same story in Bud Agta. The establishment operates with an ECC 'to follow.' Then I just recently found out that the original agreement between the DENR and the private owner was that stairs would be built using light materials. I found out just today that construction using light materials was followed by works for a permanent structure. That is a violation of PAMB policy. So, again the DENR should act on the problem that happened there.)

Cease and desist order

Last Wednesday, the DENR issued a temporary closure order in September 2023 and a violation notice in January 2024 against Captain's Peak Garden and Resort due to lack of ECC.

On Thursday, the DENR also issued a cease and desist order against the resort.

Captain's Peak and Garden Resort, for its part, announced its temporary closure late Wednesday evening amid flak on social media and imminent government action regarding its operations. The Sagbayan local government has also cancelled its business permit to operate.

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. — with a report from Sherylin Untalan/ VDV, GMA Integrated News

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