environmental issues

TIMELINE: The Chocolate Hills resort controversy

John Sitchon

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TIMELINE: The Chocolate Hills resort controversy

RESORT. The Captain's Peak Resort officially closes down on March 13, 2024.

John Sitchon/Rappler

Built on protected areas, the resort operated for months without an environmental compliance certificate and managed to get a business permit and a renewal.

CEBU, Philippines – Vlogger Renmark Nisnisan, also known as “Ren The Adventurer,” posted what seemed to be an innocent travel video of a resort built in the middle of three Chocolate Hills on Wednesday, March 6.

The video, which the resort’s property owner, Edgar Buton, thanked the vlogger for, exploded with numerous remarks from netizens all over the country who were enraged by the apparent encroachment of the structures on the country’s national treasure.

As of Monday, March 18, the video posted on social media platform Facebook has over 16 million views, 58,000 comments, and over 413,000 reactions. At least 173,000 of the total reactions are “angry”.

The controversy eventually caught the attention of public officials in both the local and national levels. On March 13, Senator Nancy Binay filed Philippine Senate (PS) Resolution No. 967 seeking a probe, in aid of legislation, into the construction of all structures within the vicinity of the Chocolate Hills.

How did a small resort cause a nation-wide investigation of this scale? Here’s a timeline of the events leading up to the resort’s closure.

December 3, 2007

Transfer Certificate Title No. 37139 officially declares Edgar Buton the owner of a parcel of land with Lot No. 3555, CAD 959-D, Case No. 10, situated in the Barrio of Canmano, Municipality of Sagbayan, Bohol.

The document states that the original owner of the land was a member of the Amores clan that was granted the lot on August 14, 1996.

Through the years, the land would be used by Buton’s family as a private recreation area and a camping ground for close friends and travelers passing by their residence.

February 15, 2018

Local officials of Barangay Canmano, including tourism officer Perfecto Bambe, and Buton’s sister, Julieta Sablas, attend a special meeting of the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument  (CHNM)-Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) at Reyna’s the Haven and Gardens in Tagbilaran City to discuss the proposal to build the Captain’s Peak Garden Eco-Park.

The proposed project includes the establishment of a function hall, landmark, photo booth, swimming pool, cottages, zip line, shower and dressing room, parking area, coconut garden, flower garden, and water fountain.

Officials, through PAMB Resolution No. 1, s. 2018, resolve to endorse the proposal under the following conditions:

  1. No structures to be erected at the top of the hill, aside from two existing tree houses.
  2. Function hall and all other infrastructure should be erected and/or constructed within the 20% area from the base of the hill, which is considered the multiple use zone, following sustainable infrastructure design – in accordance with the guidelines set by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No. 2009-09.
  3. The proposed zip line which will be constructed from the top of the hill going to the swimming pool is not allowed.
  4. Color should blend with the color of the environment and the style of the building should go with the slope and terrain of the hill or formation of the hill.
  5. The hill should not be altered nor be defaced, and extraction is strictly prohibited.
  6. The proponent should secure pertinent permits from other offices as required, including the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).
  7. The proponent will set aside the corresponding royalty fee of P2 per guest to the PAMB.

DENR Central Visayas Director Gilbert Gonzales III signs the resolution as chairman of the PAMB, signifying the government agency’s approval of the project.

Text, Book, Publication
RESOLUTION. The copy of the resolution signed by DENR Central Visayas Director Gilbert Gonzales III.

January 2019 to 2020

Captain’s Peak owner Buton and administrator Sablas get their official business permit from the office of the mayor of Sagbayan. The mayor at the time is Ricardo Suarez. 

The management of Captain’s Peak doesn’t have an ECC but begins operating as a resort, welcoming guests.

The management also creates an official Facebook page on January 12, 2019, and posts photos of guests posing by built structures on January 19, 2019.

Some time in 2020, the management gets their first building permit for the resort’s expansion operations.

July 13, 2021

The DENR, through its counterpart in Tagbilaran City, conducts a projection and ground verification of Buton’s land which spans 10,068 square meters. 

Buton receives the DENR certification for Land Classification Status. The land is classified as Alienable and Disposable, which means that private persons like Buton can legally claim possession over it.

Elena Suarez, the OIC of the City Environment & Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Tagbilaran, signs and approves the certification.

July 12, 2022

Representatives of the CHNM PAMB Committee on Biodiversity Conservation and Monitoring conducts an inspection of the Captain’s Peak Resort development areas.

July 13, 2022

The CHNM PAMB Committee on Biodiversity Conservation and Monitoring informs DENR in Central Visayas, through the Bohol Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), of the plan of the resort’s management to transfer the development of certain parts to different areas.

“The swimming pools were situated on the flatland while the four cottages were situated on the side of the hills surrounding the area,” the memorandum, attached with location map and geotagged photos, reads.

Architecture, Building, Construction
BUILDING. The unfinished function hall of Captain’s Peak Resort that was placed near the parking area of the resort.

July 14, 2022

The CHNM-PAMB holds another meeting with Canmano officials and Captain’s Peak management regarding a proposal to transfer the development of amenities and facilities such as the swimming pool, cottages and function hall from its initial project sites near the Chocolate Hills protected zone to the resort’s parking area.

DENR Central Visayas Director Paquito Melicor Jr. signs Resolution No. 21, s. 2022, endorsing the development of Captain’s Peak Resort within the CHNM.

“Whereas, the project area is located at the flat portion and it is within the Multiple Use Zone of CHNM Protected Area per proposed zoning. The area is a titled property owned by Edgar Buton,” the document reads.

The resolution reiterates that the project proponents must secure necessary permits, clearance from the local government unit (LGU) and other government entities. 

Another condition in the resolution reads: “No development in areas which the PAMB does not allow based on the plan of the CHNM Protected Area.”

Book, Publication, Text
RESOLUTION. A copy of the resolution signed by DENR Central Visayas Director Paquito Melicor Jr. on July 14, 2022.

February 3, 2023

The Sangguniang Barangay of Canmano passes Resolution No. 2, s. 2023, requesting Sagbayan Mayor Restituto Suarez III to repair the Canmano-Libertad Norte access road going to Captain’s Peak.

Some residents express their concern about the apparent “cutting” of the feet of two Chocolate Hills in the area for the road widening.

August 14, 2023

The Freeman, a member of the Philippine Star Media Group and the longest-running newspaper in Cebu, publishes the first part of an in-depth report by Caecent No-ot Magsumbol about projects that are “ruining Chocolate Hills.”

Bohol provincial board member Nathaniel Binlod finds out about Captain’s Peak through the report.

August 15, 2023

In the second part of The Freeman report, Sagbayan municipal engineer, Alan Dinoy, says that he was surprised to find out about the “excavation” between the two hills for the access road near Captain’s Peak.

“it did not pass through his office although he said, they had a site visit before in the area,” the report reads.

Binlod in a privilege speech during the session on Tuesday, August 15, urges the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to investigate the “defacement” of the Chocolate Hills.

August 18, 2023

The board members, through the committees on tourism and environmental protection, survey the resort and find the cottages and water slides built at the foot of three hills.

August 23, 2023

Bohol Governor Erico Aristotle Aumentado orders the Bohol Environment and Management Office (BEMO), PENRO, and the Central Visayas regional office of DENR to investigate the alleged destruction of Chocolate Hills.

He and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan request the DENR to furnish them a copy of the results of the investigation.

September 6, 2023

The DENR issues a temporary closure order (TCO) against Captain’s Peak Resort. It is unclear if a copy of the TCO was given to local authorities, especially the governor.

The resort still operates while completing important documents like the ECC at this point.

January 9, 2024

Suarez signs and approves the renewal of the business permit of Captain’s Peak Resort. The Mayor’s Permit Number is BP-2024-00096-0. The amount paid for the permit is P13,932.40

January 22, 2024

DENR sends Captain’s Peak management a Notice of Violation for operating without an ECC. It is unclear if a copy of the notice was given to local authorities.

February 16 to 18, 2024

The Department of Education (DepEd) in Bohol holds the provincial athletic meet for the swimming category of boys and girls at Captain’s Peak Resort. The event is one of the DepEd’s main activities before the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association (CVIRAA) meet. 

The Bohol Tourist Police Unit posts photos with student athletes during the event on their official Facebook page.

March 6, 2024

Vlogger Ren the Adventurer posts a drone shot video of Captain’s Peak Resort, catching the attention of numerous netizens who claim that the resort has “destroyed” the Chocolate Hills.

Media outlets pick up the story about the controversial Bohol resort.

March 13, 2024

The Bohol governor says that they already addressed the issue about Captain’s Peak Resort, contrary to claims by netizens about negligence on the part of the LGU.

He adds that the province will be elevating the issue to DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga for guidance and direction.

DENR Central Visayas issues a memorandum directing PENRO to create a team that will inspect the resort for compliance with the TCO.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) also says in their statement that the resort is not an accredited tourism establishment under the agency’s accreditation system. “There is no pending application for accreditation for the same,” the statement reads. 

Under 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 DOT. 

Binay, who chairs the Senate tourism committee, files Senate Resolution No. 967 seeking a probe, in aid of legislation, into the construction of all structures within the vicinity of the Chocolate Hills.

In a social media post, Captain’s Peak announces its closure for maintenance and environmental preservation efforts.

March 14, 2024

The LGU of Sagbayan serves the revocation of the resort’s business permit.

“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,” Sagbayan executive secretary to the mayor Felito Pon says. Pon adds that it was only on March 15 that the Sagbayan LGU learned about the TCO and Notice of Violation. 

In a social media post, Captain’s Peak Resort informs the public about the revocation of their permit and expresses disappointment about the situation.

– Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Last August 14-15, 2023, The Freeman, a member of the Philippine Star Media Group and the longest-running newspaper in Cebu, published the first and second parts of an in-depth report by Caecent No-ot Magsumbol about projects that are “ruining Chocolate Hills.” Yet only on March 13, 2024, and March 14, 2024, did the Provincial Government of Bohol and the Municipal Government of Sagbayan take action, respectively. The gap is around seven (7) months from such publication. But the gap between the controversial social media posting (March 6, 2024) to the March 13, 2024, Provincial Government action and the March 14, 2024, Sagbayan LGU action is five working days (for the Bohol LGU) and six working days (for the Sagbayan LGU). The speed in which these LGUs have acted should be based on the August 14-15, 2023 dates and not on the March 6, 2024 date.

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