Protect Chocolate Hills from development, Bohol official urges DENR
TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, Philippines — A Bohol Provincial board member, Jamie Aumenado Villamor, is urging the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop the construction of structures within the vicinity of the Chocolate Hills to help preserve the province’s major tourist attraction spanning at least six towns.
Villamor, a lawyer and the chair of the provincial board committee on environment, said there should be no room for ambiguity in the guidelines set by DENR’s Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).
“The DENR-PAMB, in consultation with stakeholders, must address the ambiguity of the rules and guidelines in the development and management of our protected areas to ensure long-term protection and conservation,” she said.
PAMB, which oversees the Chocolate Hills, is led by the DENR regional director with the provincial governor, mayors, and barangay captains in the towns of Carmen, Bilar, Batuan, Sagbayan, Sierra Bullones, and Valencia as members.
Villamor asked the PAMB to stop the applications for any construction activity in areas near the Chocolate Hills while the provincial board is discussing amendments to Resolution No. 5, Series 2012, which guides the ecotourism development and management of the Chocolate Hills.
The latest attractions — Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan town and Bud Agta in Carmen town — became controversial due to the construction of “illegal and informal” structures, including swimming pools, slides, and cottages that were too close to the mounds.
Under the guidelines, however, private property owners near the Chocolate Hills are allowed to develop their land.
The Chocolate Hills was declared the country’s first geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
The attraction is composed of 1,776 limestone mounds, which look like chocolates during dry season and which create an otherworldly backdrop. The biggest concentrations of hills are in the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan.
Some structures were built near the Chocolate Hills to accommodate tourists. The Chocolate Hills complex was constructed in Barangay Buenos Aires in Carmen town in the 1970s. The development of the Sagbayan Peak and the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) followed later.
These structures, however, were developed even before the Chocolate Hills had been proclaimed as a protected area.
Recently, Gov. Aris Aumentado ordered an investigation into the defacement of the Chocolate Hills due to illegal structures.
“All these Chocolate Hills must be accounted for. We can’t afford to lose [even] one,” he said. On Sept. 8, Villamor’s committee conducted an investigation on the construction of structures at Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Barangay Canmano in Sagbayan.
During the inspection, Villamor and other board members found out that the resort built cottages and water slides for a swimming pool at the foot or sides of at least three hills.
Villamor said the PAMB failed to explain fully why it allowed the resort to use at least a 20-percent portion of the Chocolate Hills.
Following rulesBut in a Facebook post, Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort said the establishment followed all laws and regulations set by the government.
“Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort management will take care of the Chocolate Hills that surround the area,” said its owner, Edgar Button.
Another resort, Bud Agta, in Barangay Tamboan in Carmen was also cited by environmentalists for illegal structures built near the Chocolate Hills.
Villamor said that while development was essential for growth and progress, it was equally important that this would be done in accordance with the policy of the state.
“My hope is for leaders, different government agencies, and all stakeholders to work on policies that truly preserve and conserve our natural heritage, especially so that this is a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992,” she said.
“Even before Bohol was declared as the only Unesco geopark in the Philippines, Chocolate Hills (already) signify the natural abundance of the province. While development is important, it must strike a balance with environmental and cultural preservation,” Villamor said.