Home Culture Resort Owner Faces Penalties Amidst Violations in Bohol’s Chocolate Hills

Resort Owner Faces Penalties Amidst Violations in Bohol’s Chocolate Hills

Resort Owner Faces Penalties Amidst Violations in Bohol's Chocolate Hills

MANILA – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has uncovered a startling revelation regarding the construction of a resort within the vicinity of Bohol’s famed Chocolate Hills. According to DENR Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, the resort owner had never been issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

Despite the absence of an ECC, the owner of Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort managed to obtain a building permit and subsequently a permit to operate from the Sagbayan municipality. Secretary Loyzaga disclosed during a virtual press conference on Friday that the building permit was issued in 2020, continuing the construction process without the necessary ECC. Loyzaga emphasized the need for close collaboration with local government units, stressing the importance of confirming proper permits before granting a business permit, especially in protected areas.

DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations and Environment Juan Miguel Cuna shed light on the resort owner’s attempts to obtain endorsements from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). In 2020, the PAMB endorsed the project, but with the condition that the owner must acquire an ECC before commencing any activity, including construction. Subsequently, in 2022, the owner sought another endorsement from the PAMB after relocating the proposed project site. Once again, the PAMB endorsed the project, reiterating the requirement for an ECC before any activity could take place.

In September 2023, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) discovered the resort’s construction without an ECC and issued a notice of violation, along with a request to cease operations. The resort owner applied for an ECC but failed to submit the complete documentation. Nevertheless, they continued operating and even wrote to the PENRO, requesting the lifting of the order based on their ECC application, which the PENRO denied, as the ECC had not yet been issued.

In January of this year, the EMB Region 7 issued a notice of violation due to the resort’s lack of an ECC. As a result, a joint cease and desist order was issued on Thursday, ensuring that the resort, which gained attention through a viral social media post by a vlogger, ceased operations immediately.

DENR Undersecretary Cuna highlighted the resort owner’s potential liability for multiple violations, including constructing without an ECC, failure to register as a hazardous waste generator, and failure to obtain a permit from the National Water Resources Board for the well on the premises, among others. The Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Law imposes severe penalties for criminal liability, ranging from a minimum of PHP1 million to a maximum of PHP5 million, along with a minimum of six years to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment for erecting structures without proper permits within protected areas. Additionally, administrative fines, ranging from a minimum of PHP15,000 to a maximum of PHP5 million, may also be imposed.

Secretary Loyzaga expressed uncertainty about whether the resort would be allowed to reopen, as investigations and further scrutiny of the matter are ongoing. The DENR has initiated aerial surveillance, including the use of space imagery, to monitor the affected areas. The remote location of these resorts, nestled among the Chocolate Hills, makes it likely that there may be others operating without proper permits.

The Chocolate Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was declared a protected area in 1997 through Proclamation No. 1037 by the late President Fidel V. Ramos. The DENR’s efforts to enforce environmental regulations and protect these natural wonders underscore the importance of preserving and conserving the country’s precious resources.