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Saturday, July 13, 2024

DENR, DOT move vs. viral resort

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A RESORT built at the foothills of Bohol’s famous Chocolate Hills—which recently gained infamy after netizens raised a ruckus over its location—had been ordered closed as early as September last year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Wednesday.

The Department of Tourism also said it had been coordinating with Bohol’s provincial government, led by Gov. Erico Aumentado, since August 2023 to rectify the unauthorized development of the Captain’s Park Resort in the town of Sagbayan.

Neither Aumentado nor Sagbayan Mayor Restituto Suarez III have reacted to the resort going viral or have commented on the DENR and DOT moves against the resort as of press time.

The DOT said it stands firmly behind the preservation of the Chocolate Hills, a UNESCO Global Geopark and a national treasure, as it confirmed it has no record of giving the resort a tourism establishment accreditation and has not received any such application.

Senator Nancy Binay seethed at the sight of the resort, an aerial view of which is now making the rounds on social media.

“It’s infuriating and heartbreaking to see resorts standing right at the foot of the Chocolate Hills,” Binay, who chairs the Senate committee on tourism, said in a statement. “At first glance alone, we already know something is wrong.”

“How come a resort with cottages and a swimming pool was allowed to be constructed inside a ‘classified natural monument’ and a protected UNESCO geopark?” the senator added.

“We want the DENR, PAMB, BEMO, PENRO and the LGUs to explain as to why, even with Chocolate Hills’ protected status, construction permits continue to be granted,” the senator added.

But the DENR said in its own statement that “a series of actions” were made to prevent the resort’s operation since last year.

On Sept. 6 last year, the DENR issued a Temporary Closure Order after receiving reports of the operation of Captain’s Peak in what is supposed to be a protected area based on Proclamation No. 1037 issued by then-President Fidel V. Ramos.

On Jan. 22, the DENR said that a Notice of Violation was issued to the project for operating without an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC).

“As of March 13, 2024, the Regional Executive Director Paquito D. Melicor issued a Memorandum directing PENRO (Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer) Bohol Ariel Rica to create a team to conduct inspection at Captain’s Peak for its compliance with the Temporary Closure Order,” the statement read.

“The DENR-Environmental Management Bureau will continue to monitor,” it added.

Meanwhile, the DOT commended the DENR for “swift action” after issuing a temporary closure order.

“The DOT echoes the Bohol Provincial Government’s position that such development contradicts the long-term sustainability of the Chocolate Hills and should not be allowed,” it said.

“The DOT maintains that sustainable development requires balancing economic growth with environmental and cultural protection. We urge all stakeholders, including government agencies, businesses, and local communities, to work together and prioritize sustainable tourism practices that safeguard our natural heritage,” the DOT added.

In an interview with Cebu newspaper The Freeman in 2023, Julieta Sablas, the administrator and sister of the owner of Captain’s Peak, said the resort had undergone the proper process for its construction.

The presidential proclamation for the Chocolate Hills recognized the unique geological formations and the importance of covering the natural wonder for future generations.

The declaration was aimed at preserving the iconic landscape of the Chocolate Hills and promoting sustainable tourism while protecting the biodiversity and environmental integrity of the area.

But the DENR explained that if a land was titled prior to Proclamation 1037 declaring an area as protected area, the rights and interests of the landowner will generally be recognized and respected.

The department was quick to emphasize that 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.

“These restrictions and regulations are to be detailed in the Environmental Impact Statement prior to the issuance of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project,” the DENR said.

“In the case of the 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 ECC,” it added.


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