Probe sought on resort amid Chocolate Hills

Probe sought on resort amid Chocolate Hills

Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan, Bohol, shown in this August 2023 photo

BUSINESS WITHIN THE HILLS | Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan, Bohol, shown in this August 2023 photo, has trended on social media after netizens called out the government and its owners for allowing its construction and operation within the Chocolate Hills, a protected landscape. (Photo by LEO UDTOHAN / Inquirer Visayas

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has directed its provincial office in Bohol to inspect a resort built in the middle of the mounds of the famed Chocolate Hills.

Paquito Melicor, DENR Central Visayas regional director, issued a memorandum on Wednesday directing Ariel Rica, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) chief, to check if Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Sagbayan town had complied with the temporary closure order (TCO) issued on Sept. 6 last year.


READ: Chocolate Hills resort not accredited by DOT


Melicor’s directive was contained in a statement released amid the uproar on social media over the aerial video of Captain’s Peak that showed its swimming pool with two slides built at the foot of at least three hills.

At the Senate, Sen. Nancy Binay, who chairs the committee on tourism, on Wednesday filed Senate Resolution No. 967, which seeks to conduct an inquiry “with the end in view of preserving Bohol’s protected area and major tourist attraction.”

Binay wanted the DENR, Penro, the concerned local government units and other agencies to explain why such a construction was allowed despite the status of the Chocolate Hills as a protected landscape.

“It is infuriating and heartbreaking to see resorts being built at the foot of the Chocolate Hills,” she said in Filipino. “At one glance, we knew something was wrong,” she added.

She cited in her resolution a September 2023 Inquirer report about the latest attractions in the Chocolate Hills area. These include Captain’s Peak in Sagbayan and Bud Agta in Carmen town, which, according to report, “became controversial due to the construction of illegal and informal structures, including swimming pools, slides, and cottages were too close to the mounds.”

Property owner’s rights

The Chocolate Hills, the tourism signature of Bohol, 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, akin to chocolates, during the dry season. The biggest concentrations of these hills are found in the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan.

In 1997, then President Fidel 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.

But according to the DENR, the rights of landowners of titled properties within the Chocolate Hills are recognized provided these titles were issued prior to PD 1037.

However, restrictions would be imposed when these properties would be developed, which should be detailed in the Environmental Impact Statement prior to the issuance of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project, the DENR said.

In the case of Captain’s Peak, no ECC was issued.

The DENR said a TCO was issued to Captain’s Peak on Sept. 6, 2023, and a separate notice of violation served to the project proponent on Jan. 22 for operating without an ECC.

But the manager of Captain’s Peak, Julieta Sablas, told the Inquirer in an interview on Wednesday that they were still appealing the TCO.

Sablas said her brother, Edgar Buton, bought the land in 2005 from a certain Amores family that owned the land prior to the 1997 proclamation. She said they received approval from the DENR’s Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) to build the resort in 2018.

They also received a business permit from the Sagbayan local government in 2019 and held a soft opening that year. In 2020, construction started, but this was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, so they were only able to fully operate in 2022.

Provincial board inquiry

The operation of Captain’s Peak caught the attention of the Bohol provincial board which conducted an inquiry in August last year and later recommended to the DENR to stop all construction at the Chocolate Hills.

“We also wrote to DENR to hold in abeyance any construction and development pending the revision of the guidelines and for DENR to take appropriate action,” Board Member Jamie Aumentado Villamor, chair of the board’s committee on environment, told the Inquirer.

Villamor said the board had not heard from the DENR until on Wednesday when it issued a statement after the aerial video of Captain’s Peak went viral on social media.

She said they also recommended to the DENR to amend two PAMB resolutions that allowed development within the Chocolate Hills.

Villamor pointed out that since the owner of the Captain’s Peak has a title to the property within Chocolate Hills, any development must be endorsed and approved by PAMB.

“We will wait within the week for any official comments from the DENR on our recommendations last September 2023. And we are also considering elevating the matter to the DENR Secretary for proper guidance and action,” Villamor said.

Gov. Aris Aumentado said the province had already asked the DENR and the PAMB to disallow any development within the Chocolate Hills that is not consistent with Bohol’s Unesco designation as a Global Geopark.

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The Department of Tourism, in a statement, said: “While development is essential … it must be conducted in harmony with environmental and cultural preservation.”

TAGS: Bohol, Chocolate Hills, resort

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