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DENR: Portions of Chocolate Hills cut off for resort project

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Friday portions of the Chocolate Hills, which is a protected area, were carved in order to build the controversial Captain's Peak Resort.

DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyazaga made the statement after her visit to the resort in Bohol on Thursday amid the investigation into the establishment.

“Ang nakita ko po kahapon ay tinapyas ng developer ng project na ito ang ilang mga hills in order to design and execute yung kaniyang proyekto,” she told Super Radyo dzBB in an interview.

(What I saw yesterday was that the project’s developer carved several hills in order to design and execute his project.)

Asked if the resort committed violations, Loyzaga said, “Very obvious po iyong pagtapyas ng ilang mga hills upang i-execute iyong kanilang design…Hindi po puwede galawin ang mga hills. Yun talaga hindi pupuwedeng gawin.”

(It is very obvious that some hills were carved to execute their design... The hills should not be touched. That really can't be done.)

Loyzaga pointed out that there is a process in developing protected areas.

Chocolate Hills is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a protected area under Proclamation No. 1037 Series of 1997 and the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.

Following the social media flak against Captain's Feak, the DENR said it ordered the resort's temporary closure in September 2023 and issued a Notice of Violation to the project proponent in January 2024 for operating without an environmental clearance certificate (ECC).

On March 13, the resort announced its temporary closure amid imminent government action regarding its operations.

Captain's Peak's manager, Julieta Sablas, earlier explained that they were given approval for the construction of the commercial area. 

Julieta's brother, Edgar Buton, is the owner of the resort. According to her, her brother bought an area with six hectares of land and three hills on it in 2005. 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.

Other resorts

Aside from Captain’s Peak Resort, Loyzaga said they also saw similar resorts in the Chocolate Hills protected area through a flyover inspection.

“Itong Sagbayan's Peak tinapyas po iyong pinakatuktok ng Chocolate Hills upang mailagay ang isang kongkreto na plataporma,” she said.

(Sagbayan's Peak cut off a portion of the top of the Chocolate Hills to place a concrete platform.)

She said the DENR, the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will issue a joint statement on the matter soon after their inspection.

The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines earlier warned that the UNESCO Global Geopark status of Bohol Island is not permanent and will undergo revalidation in 2027.

In May 2023, UNESCO declared Bohol as the Philippines' first Global Geopark, citing the island’s karstic geosites such as caves, sinkholes and cone karst, including the “famous cone-shaped Chocolate Hills.” —KBK, GMA Integrated News