Philippines reiterates order to shut down resort in national protected area

BenarNews staff
Philippines reiterates order to shut down resort in national protected area A view of Chocolate Hills, a geological formation in Bohol province in the central Philippines, March 25, 2010.
[Lionel Bonaventure/AFP]

The Philippine government on Thursday announced it would find out who was responsible for allowing a resort to be constructed in a national protected area in the central Visayas region.

The government’s announcement came a day after the environment department said it wanted the hotel shut according to its order from last year.

The Captain’s Peak resort is built in the middle of the area called Chocolate Hills, a collection of more than 1,700 natural hills or mounds of the same shape spread over 20 square miles near the town of Sagbayan in Bohol province. 

During the dry season, the mounds, usually covered with green grass, turn into a chocolate brown, which is how the hills get their name. The hills are also on the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. expressed “profound concern” over the establishment of a pool resort on one of the hills.

Any activity that disturbs or damages protected areas such as the Chocolate Hills, without proper authorization, is prohibited by law. We will look into the accountability of the local government units concerned,” he 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.”

Local government units should be “stewards of nature,” he said on Thursday.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Wednesday directed a provincial office to set up a team to ensure that the resort follows its temporary closure order from last September. It said it had also issued a notice of violation in January for operating without an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

The management of Captain’s Peak, which began operations in 2022, has said that it had received the closure order, but was continuing with business as usual while waiting for results of an appeal they had filed.

Pictures of the resort went viral on social media after many of the area’s residents pointed out the construction in the protected area.

A cow grazes near a quake-damaged Chocolate Hill, one of more than a thousand others that dot Carmen township in Bohol province, central Philippines, Oct. 17, 2013. [Bullit Marquez/AFP]

In Manila, Sen. Nancy Binay, who chairs the senate tourism committee, said she was saddened by the image of the resort on the protected hills.

“We understand the importance of development, but there should be boundaries,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.

“If the DENR continues to issue ECCs in the guise of ‘tourism development,’ I believe they have misunderstood what ecotourism is all about, and they have become complicit in defacing a natural monument they're supposed to oppose.”

She called on the local government to explain “why even with Chocolate Hills’ protected status, construction permits continue to be granted.”

In the lower house, Congressman Alexie Tutor called for the razing of the resort.

“That Captain’s Peak resort should not have been allowed to be built there in the first place,” he said in a statement.

“It should be demolished and the construction site should be restored, with costs borne by the owners of that resort. But before these can happen, we have to follow due process.”

In Bohol on Wednesday, provincial Gov. Erico Aristotle Aumentado said his office had already asked the environment department to clearly define its guidelines on the construction of establishments near the sites. 

He said that “as stewards of the province, we cannot let this go on.” Aumentado was reacting to an angry clamor on social media.

One Filipina, Lina Araneta, posted on Facebook that the resort should be “dismantled.” 

She wrote: “It’s an eyesore on the natural beauty of Chocolate Hills.” 

Another commentator on Facebook pointed out that the “damage has been done.”

“Someone has to be held accountable,” she wrote.

“This should not be a simple revisit of the policy because if this were not called out on social media, I’m sure this wouldn’t be noticed and it's business as usual.”


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