Chocolate Hills Development: Bohol gov wants truth on the issue

By: Leo Udtohan - @inquirerdotnet - | March 15,2024 - 08:51 AM

Chocolate Hills Development: Bohol gov wants truth on the issueNOW QUIET It’s quiet on Thursday at Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort, built in the middle of the Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan, Bohol, after its management chose to suspend operation following criticisms on social media. The local government has revoked the resort’s business permit. —LEO UDTOHAN

NOW QUIET It’s quiet on Thursday at Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort, built in the middle of the Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan, Bohol, after its management chose to suspend operation following criticisms on social media. The local government has revoked the resort’s business permit. —LEO UDTOHAN

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol — Officials of Sagbayan town in Bohol province have been summoned by Bohol Gov. Aris Aumentado to shed light on the project built in a protected landscape.

This is done amid the controversy raging over the construction and operation of a resort in the middle of the Chocolate Hills.

Sagbayan Mayor Restituto Suarez III, the town council, and the local government’s departments heads will be asked to explain why a business permit was issued to the Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort when it did not have an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Aumentado said that this would be what he would ask these town officials when he would meet them.

READ: Chocolate hills resort: Bohol governor tells DENR to take legal action ASAP

He said he wanted the local officials “to fully give us the background and as to what actions have been taken.”

The governor said he would also summon local DENR officials. “We want to find the truth,” he said.

The Inquirer went to the Sagbayan town hall on Thursday but neither the mayor nor any municipal official was around.

Captain’s Peak has been at the center of a public uproar for building a swimming pool, cottages, and other structures at the foot of the Chocolate Hills, considered a natural monument and a protected landscape, in the town.

The Chocolate Hills, a symbol of Bohol tourism, is recognized as one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Global Geoparks, the first in the country.

The attraction is composed of 1,776 limestone mounds surrounding the island’s interior plains. It earned its name because the hills turn brown, like chocolates, during the dry season. The biggest concentrations of these hills are found in the towns of Carmen, Batuan, and Sagbayan.

READ:  Netizens share thoughts on controversial resort in Bohol’s Chocolate Hills

In 1997, then President Fidel V. Ramos, through Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1037, declared the Chocolate Hills in Carmen, Bilar, Batuan, Sagbayan, Sierra Bullones, and Valencia towns as a Natural Monument, ensuring their protection.

Temporary closure

The Sagbayan municipal government on Thursday revoked Captain’s Peak business permit, but the resort management refused to accept the decision.

Instead, Captain’s Peak decided to temporarily close the resort for “maintenance and environmental preservation efforts.”

In a statement posted on its Facebook account, Captain’s Peak said it “will be implementing various eco-friendly initiatives to further enhance the sustainability of our resort.”

“We are committed to upholding the highest standards of environmental stewardship and ensuring the preservation of the natural beauty that surrounds us,” it said.

When the Inquirer visited the resort on Thursday, the pool in the middle of the mounds had been cordoned off. At least 16 employees were affected by the temporary closure.

READ: Probe sought on resort amid Chocolate Hills


According to the DENR, the Chocolate Hills are protected under the Expanded National Integrated Areas Protected System Act or Republic Act No. 7586, as amended by RA 11038.

Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Barangay Canmano was already a titled lot when Edgar Button (not Buton as earlier reported) acquired the 10,068-square meter area in 2005.

During a committee hearing of the provincial board on Sept. 8 last year, Board Member Jamie Aumentado Villamor, chair of the committee on environment and natural resources protection, said the DENR reported that Captain’s Peak had no violations.

Villamor cited the DENR’s Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), noting that Captain’s Peak did not violate the conditions set in the clearance allowing a 20-percent development from the hill’s baseline.

However, Villamor said the PAMB and the DENR could not show to the board any accurate or definitive basis as to why they allowed Captain’s Peak to use the surroundings of the Chocolate Hills.

She said the provincial board was pushing for the creation of legislative measures to lay down the groundwork for such guidelines and to form a technical working group to protect the world-renowned natural attraction.

READ: Chocolate Hills resort not accredited by DOT

In a statement on Wednesday, the DENR said a temporary closure order was issued to Captain’s Peak in September 2023, and a notice of violation followed in January 2024.

But Captain’s Peak continued to operate that it even hosted the Bohol Provincial Athletic Meet’s swimming competition from Feb. 16 to Feb. 18.

In the course of the board’s investigation, Villamor said the DENR focused on the resort’s compliance with requirements. The agency, she added, did not give a hint that it issued a closure order to the resort.

“If only the DENR issued the CDO (cease and desist order) last Sept. 6, as they alleged, all these would have been prevented and the damage minimized,” said Villamor.

Villamor also said she didn’t receive any update from DENR after the hearings.


In an interview on Wednesday, Julieta Sablas (not Sablay as earlier reported), the resort manager and sister of the owner, said their biggest frustration was how difficult it was to get an ECC from the DENR due to what she described as the department’s “endless” list of requirements.

Sablas said they were trying to accomplish the requirements. “But every time we accomplish a set of requirements, there’s always another set. They won’t give it to us all at once,” she said.

Sablas said they received clearance to build the resort from the DENR-PAMB in 2018.

They also received a business permit from the Sagbayan local government in 2019 and held a soft opening that year. Construction started in 2020 but this was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resort was able to fully operate only in 2022.

“They should go to our resort so they can see if the Chocolate Hills were actually damaged,” Sablas said.

Lawmakers’ call

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda said government officials should be held accountable for failure to manage protected areas in the country, including the Chocolate Hills.

“For such an important heritage site, several layers of government bureaucracy were unable to act or sound an alarm about this defilement,” the senator said in a statement.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the committee on environment, natural resources, and climate change, said she would file a resolution seeking an investigation into the construction of illegal structures within the Chocolate Hills.

Sen. Nancy Binay, chair of the committee on tourism, also filed a similar resolution.

During a press conference on Thursday, House Deputy Majority Leader and ACT-CIS Rep. Erwin Tulfo said they would conduct an inquiry into the resort’s operations—which he likened to a “wart” defacing the hills’ landscape—per Speaker Martin Romualdez’s directive.

READ: House sets own probe into Chocolate Hills resort issue

“The House leadership strongly disapproves of this, because [Chocolate Hills] is declared a national heritage site,” Tulfo said. “No matter the alibi of its managers that they did not touch the hills, the mere fact that they were there, they have ruined the view.”

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. said: “Should there be neglect of duty or any other irregularity on the part of the officials tasked with protecting and overseeing the area, we will not hesitate to pursue appropriate legal actions.” —WITH REPORTS FROM JACOB LAZARO, TINA G. SANTOS, KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND FRANCES MANGOSING

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TAGS: Bohol Gov. Aris Aumentado, Captain Peak's Garden and Resort, chocolate hills

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