‘Defacement’ of protected sites sparks call for Senate inquiry

‘Defacement’ of protected sites sparks call for Senate inquiry

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 05:25 AM March 20, 2024

Tourists get a perfect view of the Chocolate Hills, Bohol’s top natural attraction and a declared natural monument, from a view deck in Carmen town in this photo taken in 2017. STORY: ‘Defacement’ of protected sites sparks call for Senate inquiry

NATURAL MONUMENT | In this photo taken in 2017, Tourists get a perfect view of the Chocolate Hills, Bohol’s top natural attraction and a declared natural monument, from a view deck in Carmen town. (File photo by LEO UDTOHAN / Inquirer Visayas)

MANILA, Philippines—The chair of the Senate environment committee has called for an investigation into the management and preservation of the country’s protected areas in light of “distressing” reports of the sites being defaced or exploited for tourism, such as the controversial private resort at the foot of the Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan, Bohol.

Sen. Cynthia Villar filed on Tuesday proposed Senate Resolution No. 976 to look into several protected areas spoiled by commercial activities, amid public outrage over viral videos of a swimming pool, water slides, and cottages so close to the famed Bohol attraction.


READ: DILG creates task force to investigate illegal Chocolate Hills resort


The measure cited the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape in Rizal province, Siargao Island Protected Landscape and Seascape in Surigao del Norte province, and Mt. Apo Natural Park in the provinces of North Cotabato and Davao del Sur, and Davao City, among others.

At present, the Philippines has 248 protected areas, including 114 declared by law, 13 established by presidential proclamations, and 121 designated as initial components.

Not really protected sites

“[T]here is a concern that these areas may not be receiving the necessary level of protection to preserve their integrity as protected areas,” noted Villar.

According to the senator, as early as 2020, there were recurring reports of violations of environmental laws in the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, a 26,125.64-hectare legislated protected area in Rizal.

The site has seen violence, illegal logging, quarrying, and the construction of illegal structures that threaten the integrity of the critical watershed, she said.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation (MGF) called out the owners of two resorts, Erin’s Place and Lihim na Batis, both located in Sitio San Roque, Baras town, within the critical watershed.


The MGF said the two resorts were “supposedly issued” a cease-and-desist order by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2021 but continued to operate.

Other smaller resorts have popped up in the area since then, the group said.

Villar said such developments might have exacerbated the flooding experienced by Rizal and Marikina residents during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses” (international name: Vamco) in 2020.

Siargao, Mt. Apo

She also cited “disturbing” reports late last year about “substantial occupation and unauthorized constructions” by Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) within the Siargao Island Protected Landscape and Seascape in Surigao del Norte.

Villar also said, “We were taken aback” by the viral aerial images of the facilities of the Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort within the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Global Geopark.

“[T]here likely exist additional unreported violations and exploitation activities in other protected areas, leading to ongoing degradation,” said Villar in her resolution.

“While the Philippines has established a robust framework of policies, laws, and regulations for the protection of our protected areas, there appears to be a deficiency in their implementation, necessitating greater efforts from those responsible for protecting them,” she added.

Villar said it was important to examine the management practices, the issuance of tenure agreements, and the adequacy or absence of protection mechanisms provided to each of the country’s protected areas “to ensure that the original intentions and wise foresight in their establishment are not undermined, thereby securing a sustainable future for the present and future generations.”

In a privilege speech on Monday, Sen. Raffy Tulfo also raised concern over the presence of illegal structures and the conduct of illegal activities at Mt. Apo Natural Park, a legislated protected area.

He mentioned the presence of business establishments and large communities, an increasing population, and destructive livelihoods in the protected area.

Also on Tuesday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said a six-member task force started its investigation of the Chocolate Hills resort.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said the task force would gather all related documents and look into the accountability of those involved in the project.

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“How did this happen? Were they allowed or not in the first place? And most of all, who is ultimately responsible for this?” Abalos said.

TAGS: protected sites, Senate inquiry

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