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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Probe on Bohol resort to continue despite recess

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The forthcoming Lenten break of Congress does not guarantee respite from legislative investigations for the operators of resorts within the protected area of the world-famous Chocolate Hills in Bohol.

Congress adjourns from March 23 to April 29.

Senator Cynthia Villar vowed to press her inquiry into the illegal structures within the Chocolate Hills’ expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) law and hold those responsible liable as provided by law.

For her part, Senator Nancy Binay wants to get rid of all structures built at the Chocolate Hills protected area.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment, stressed that under the law, Chocolate Hills should be protected by the Department of Natural Resources-Protected Area Management Board (DENR-PAMB).

Villar is poised to file a resolution to determine how DENR-PAMB allowed Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort to build cottages and aswimming pool at the foothills of Sagbayan town without an environmentcompliance certificate.

Meanwhile, at least two other establishments built on or beside the Chocolate Hills in the towns of Sagbayan and Carmen in Bohol haveexpressed confidence that they will not suffer the same fate as Captain’s Peak Resort.

Villar asserted that the DENR could not claim innocence because they are members of PAMB.

The senator insisted DENR has full knowledge the owners reportedly secured a clearance from the PAMB to build the structures including swimming pools, slides, and cottages under Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan town, as well as the Bud Agta in Carmen town.

The structures were allegedly too close to the foot of the hills.

“The resort should not have been allowed to build structures there in the first place because the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument is a protected area,” Villar said in an interview over DWIZ.

While she said an ocular inspection is necessary, she maintained that all structures built in the protected area should be demolished.

“I guess that’s one we can determine during the conduct of a hearing on how these structures were erected,” said Binay, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Tourism.

“When there were hollow blocks in these areas, the DENR and local government unit could have already done an inspection,” she added.

Earlier, Binay filed Senate Resolution 967 seeking an inquiry on the illegal construction.

“This is really wrong because Bohol was awarded as a UNESCO Global Geo Park,” she added.

“We will look into the master plan and comprehensive land use of the area given reports that there are other establishments in the Chocolate Hills aside from the Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort.”

She said they will also inquire in the Senate investigation if the owners have titles to the properties.

“If they belong to the government, how come they were able to secure titles?”

But this thing, Binay said, is not an unusual occurrence as she cited the Marikina watershed, also declared a protected area.

Last Thursday, the DENR issued a cease-and-desist order against the controversial establishment.

Speaking on conditions of anonymity, staff of the two establishments said that following the controversy hounding Captain’s Peak, they too felt anxious.

“We were afraid that we might experience the same thing. But then again, we might not because we have complete documents, especially the environmental compliance certificate [ECC),” they told ABS-CBN News.

After Captain’s Peak went viral, photos of Sagbayan Peak and Bud Agta floated on social media with netizens calling on the government to also inspect the establishments.

DENR Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said the public played a big part in putting to light challenges faced by the environment.

“What we can do is actually be proactive as what we’re doing now in looking into other areas in this region, but really concentrating on Chocolate Hills first, since we need to look at a lot of other things in terms of the other establishments operating,” she said.

DENR documents showed that Sagbayan Peak has a viewing deck, a multipurpose building, and a swimming pool.

The ECC also laid out conditions including the posting of a billboard, specifying it has been given an ECC.

Bud Agta in the town of Carmen also has the same billboard erected at the entrance of its trail to the viewing deck. The resort’s employees said Mayor Conchita Delos Reyes also visited the establishment on Thursday to check their permits.

A billboard in front of Bud Agta Hill indicated that it has been issued an ECC.

“The ECC is not a permit. It’s actually a planning tool which guides everyone on a particular project by identifying what the possible impacts of a project could be on the community of a general area,” DENR Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna explained.

Earlier this week, netizens expressed outrage on social media after a video promoting the “beauty” of Capitan’s Peak Resort went viral. The resort sits on three hectares of land owned by a certain Edgar Buton.

Captain’s Peak has a swimming pool, water slides, and cottages set up at the foot of three Chocolate Hills.

Its manager, Buton’s sister, acknowledged that among the conditions of the Protected Area Management Bureau resolution endorsing the project includes securing an ECC. However, the management was not able to apply for it right away, citing challenges brought by the pandemic.

Their application for an ECC was only lodged last year.

The DENR, however, said that it remains unsure whether they will be allowed to reopen due to a series of other potential violations.

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