environmental issues

Bohol town revokes Chocolate Hills resort’s business permit

John Sitchon

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Bohol town revokes Chocolate Hills resort’s business permit

REVOKED. A photo of the controversial Captain's Peak Resort in Bohol, taken on March 14, 2024.

John Sitchon/Rappler

Sagbayan Mayor Restituto Suarez III immediately revoked the permit of Captain's Peak Resort after hearing about the DENR's temporary closure order on social media, his executive secretary says

BOHOL, Philippines – The Office of Sagbayan Mayor Restituto Suarez III revealed to reporters on Thursday afternoon, March 14, that it had revoked the business permit of the controversial Captain’s Peak Resort that it had issued under the assumption the resort had all the proper accreditation.

The resort went viral on social media after netizens saw that the structures of the resort were built within the protected zone of the Chocolate Hills in Barangay Canmano, Sagbayan, Bohol.

In a statement on Wednesday, March 13, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) revealed that the resort was slapped with a temporary closure order (TCO) and a Notice of Violation for operating without an ECC (environmental compliance certificate).

“The mayor issued an order for the revocation of the business permit to operate,” Sagbayan executive secretary to the mayor Felito Pon said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Bohol town revokes Chocolate Hills resort’s business permit

It was Pon who faced the media on Thursday because Suarez was meeting representatives from the DENR, Department of Tourism (DOT), and other concerned agencies at the Bohol Provincial Capital to discuss the issue.

Pon said the mayor immediately acted on the issue after hearing about the TCO on social media. According to him, the revocation of the permit was effective on Wednesday but served on Thursday.

However, Julieta Sablas, the administrator of the Captain’s Peak Resort, told Rappler on Thursday that they were given a business permit by the Office of the Mayor of Sagbayan even with the lack of accreditation.

Sablas explained that they presented proposals to the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) and barangay captains belonging to the protected area as early as 2018 and managed to get their approval after at least three meetings.

Based on a copy of Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (CHNM)-PAMB Resolution No. 1, dated February 15, 2018, officials decided to endorse the proposed Captain’s Peak Resort project under specified conditions.

One of those conditions included securing permits – including the ECC – from other offices.

“After that, we proceeded to the Sagbayan Municipal Hall to get the business and building permit. Since we got the [permits], we began construction,” Sablas said.

The administrator recalled that they applied for a business permit in January 2019 and it was approved in the same month.

“They did not ask if we complied with the ECC requirement,” Sablas told Rappler.

Based on documents shown to Rappler, the Sagbayan mayor signed the renewal of the resort’s business permit last January 9.

Pon claimed that the municipality was bound by law to sign the permit, citing CHNM-PAMB Resolution No. 21, s. 2022, which favored the development of Captain’s Peak Resort and the “good intention of the business establishment to comply with the ECC.”

“From our end, not from DENR, nako-comply naman nila ‘yung mga attachment doon, maliban lang sa hinihinging (they’ve been able to comply with the attachments needed, except for the required) ECC,” the executive secretary said.

When asked why the mayor would sign a business permit even without an ECC, Pon said that there was a “regular presumption” that it had already been reviewed by the concerned government agencies.

“Unless they can provide us the ECC from the DENR in Central Visayas, then we cannot renew their permit. They can reapply, so to speak, but until then, we cannot renew,” Pon added.

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Caught by surprise

Pon clarified in a press briefing that it was not the first time the resort went viral.

The mayor’s executive secretary said that they were caught by surprise by the issuance of the TCO since the municipality had not yet received a copy of the results of the hearings and investigations into the resort done in 2023.

“There was an explosion of this issue in August 2023, and then, there was a series of hearings and investigations conducted by the joint committee of the Sangguniang Panlaliwagan in Bohol, led by the chairperson of the committee on tourism and environment with the DENR,” Pon said.

He added that they did not also receive a copy of the TCO. The executive secretary confirmed that they received a letter from the DENR requesting the municipality to assist in the implementation of the notice of violation against the resort.

Meanwhile, Sablas said that they were also unaware of the requirement for accreditation with the DOT. The DOT said in a statement on Wednesday that the resort was not an accredited tourism establishment.

On February 6, 2019, the Department of the Interior and Local Government secretary issued Memorandum Circular No. 2019-17, reminding local government units to ensure that all primary tourism enterprises (PTEs) like resorts must comply with and obtain DOT accreditation before operating.

“In line with the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 9593, ‘Primary Tourism Enterprises’ (PTEs) such as hotels, resorts, inns, and other accommodation establishments are required to secure accreditation from the Department of Tourism (DOT) for issuance of license or permit to operate,” the memorandum read. – Rappler.com

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