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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ombudsman, DILG teams in Bohol for resort investigation

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THE Office of the Ombudsman is now conducting an investigation into the presence of a resort facility within the protective area of the world-renowned Chocolate Hills in Bohol.

Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. confirmed that six members of the Bohol Task Force are now in the province to probe and identify those behind the construction of a resort within the Chocolate Hills reservation.

In another development, a resolution filed at the Senate requests the appropriate committee to investigate reports of alleged exploitation or defacement of protected areas, like the Upper Marikina River Basin in Rizal province, Siargao Island, Bohol, and the Mt. Apo Natural Park.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires, in a radio interview, said the probe started last Monday.

“Our investigators have started the investigation. One of them proceeded to the office of the regional executive director in Cebu.

Three of them went to Bohol to gather documents,” Martires  said.

“Hopefully today (Tuesday), we can be provided with the list of the members of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), and the persons who issued the business and building permits,” he added.

Martires said they intend to wrap up the inquiry before the Holy Week so it could proceed with a preliminary investigation against those who could be held liable behind the construction of the Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort at the foot of the Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan town.

“Our Task Force is now in Bohol and is investigating. They are already there and are looking at the documents that need to be known,” Abalos said.

The DILG chief created the task force, composed of legal and technical personnel from the DILG,  to probe the Captain’s Peak Resort in Sagbayan, Bohol.

The resort caught the attention and ire of the netizens after it was built right in the middle of the famed natural attraction.

“We will investigate this whole issue thoroughly,” Abalos vowed.

He added that they will be looking for all pertinent documents relative to the construction.

“How was this allowed? Is it allowed or not allowed? And above all who should be responsible for it,” the DILG Secretary elaborated.

Abalos said the Task Force would look into the possible liability and accountability, as well as recommending the filing of cases against everyone involved in the construction of Captain’s Peak Resort.

The DILG Chief likewise instructed the local government units (LGUs) involved to  participate in the  process.

He stressed that the Task Force would implement the DILG’s mandate and ensure that all parties involved are identified and are brought to justice.

“I am telling the LGUs, if you are not doing anything wrong, there is no problem, but our only mandate is to determine if there really is someone who should be held accountable. And I can only promise one thing, those who must be held accountable will be held accountable,” he stressed.

Chocolate Hills is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a protected area under Proclamation No. 1037, series of 1997 and Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.

He said no timeline was imposed for the Bohol Task Force to complete its probe.

Abalos, however, underscored that the probe would be complete and no stone would be left unturned.

He added those that would be found liable would be charged before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, expressed concern that there might be more unreported violations and exploitation in other protected areas, leading to their degradation.

“It is noteworthy that the Philippines has a total of 248 protected areas, of which 114 have been formally legislated, and there is concern that these areas may not be receiving the necessary level of protection to preserve their integrity as protected areas,” she said in her resolution.

After the senators received a report on resorts and other establishments built within the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument in Bohol, Senator Raffy Tulfo also delivered a privilege speech raising his concern on the presence of illegal structures and alleged illegal activities in Mt. Apo Natural Park in Davao.

Senator JV Ejercito also called for a probe into the conditions of the protected areas.

Chocolate Hills is a world heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and declared a protected area in 1997.

While policies, laws, and regulations for the protected areas were already established, Villar said there also appears to be a deficiency in their implementation.

“It is deemed essential to examine the management practices, the issuance of tenurial agreements, and the adequacy or absence of protection mechanisms provided to each of the country’s protected areas, to ensure that the original intentions and wise foresight in their establishment are not undermined, thereby securing a sustainable future for the present and future generations,” she said.

Last year, Villar recalled that the occupation and unauthorized constructions of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. within the Siargao Island Protected Landscape and Seascape was flagged by the Senate.

Villar also seeks an update on the reports of violations of environmental laws in the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, which reputedly started in 2020.

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