Bohol governor, 68 others suspended over Chocolate Hills resort mess

Bohol Gov. Aris Aumentado suspemdedpver Chocolate Hills resort mess

Bohol Gov. Aris Aumentado (Photo courtesy of the Provincial Government of Bohol)

TAGBILARAN CITY – The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered a six-month preventive suspension against Bohol Gov. Erico Aristotle Aumentado and 68 other public officials over the construction of a controversial resortat the famous Chocolate Hills.

In its order, the anti-graft office said the Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in Barangay Canmano in Sagbayan town was allowed to operate even without the required Environmental Impact Assessment, Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) and Special Use Agreement in Protected Areas (SAPA) from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“The respondents acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, gross inexcusable negligence and committed gross violations of the National Integrated Protected Area System Act of 1992 (NIPAS Act of 1992) and Expanded National Integrated Protected Area System Act of 2018 (E-NIPAS Act of 2018) when they remained adamant and continuously tolerated the operation and expansion of Captain’s Peak despite its lack of environmental clearances and permits,” it said.

The Ombudsman said the resort was issued with a mayor, business, building and locational permits for the years 2020 to 2024 despite the repeated failure to secure the permits and clearances from the DENR.

The respondents are facing investigation for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Aumentado, 46, said it was his first time to get suspended as a government official since he was elected as representative of Bohol’s second district in 2013 until he became a governor in 2022.

He said he received the orders from the Ombudsman on Tuesday afternoon.

“I did not expect this. But we can’t do anything about it. We have to comply with the order. We will face this. God knows what is inside my heart,” the governor told employees of the Capitol.

Vice Gov. Dionisio Victor Balite served as Bohol governor starting on Tuesday.

Aside from Aumentado, also suspended were Mayors Restituto Suarez III (Sagbayan), Antonino, Jumawid (Batuan), Elizabeth Mandin-Pace (Catigbian), Eugeniano Ibarra (Clarin), Norman Palacio (Bilar), Michael Doria (Sierra Bullones), Dionisio Neil Balite (Valencia) and Conchita Toribio-Delos Reyes (Carmen).

Former mayors who were impleaded in the case were former mayors Manuel Jayectin (Bilar), Simplicio Maestrado Jr. (Sierra Bullones), Maria Katrina Lim (Valencia), Calixto Garcia (Valencia) and Ricardo Toribio (Carmen), and Bilar Vice Mayor Ranulfo Maligmat.

Also suspended were Ma. Victoria Abrera, regional director of DENR-Environment Management Bureau; Paquito Melicor; DENR regional executive director; and Gilbert Gonzales, regional director of DENR-Central Visayas; Eugene Cabrera, regional director of the Civil Defense; and Joel Elumba, regional director of Department of Agriculture – Central Visayas as well as some local village captains in Bilar, Carmen, Sagbayan, Batuan, Bilar, Dagohoy, and Clarin.

The Chocolate Hills was recognized as the country’s first Unesco global geopark.

The hills are composed of 1,776 limestone mounds surrounding the island’s interior plains.

In 1997, then president Fidel Ramos, through Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1037, declared the Chocolate Hills as a Natural Monument.