By Marita Moaje

NO CLEARANCE. The Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort built within the Chocolate Hills in Bohol was not issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate. Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga says in a virtual press briefer on Friday (March 15, 2024) that the owner of the resort faces imprisonment and milions in penalties. (Screengrab from video of Ren the Adventurer)

MANILA – Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga on Friday said the owner of the resort built within the vicinity of Chocolate Hills in Bohol was never issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

However, the owner of Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort still obtained a building permit and subsequently, a permit to operate, from the Sagbayan municipality.

“We discovered that the building permit started to be issued in 2020, and definitely walang (there’s no) ECC at that point, and subsequently in 2022. So, tuloy tuloy ang construction nila (the construction was continuous) because they actually had a building permit from the local government habang wala pang ECC (even in the absence of an ECC),” Loyzaga said during a virtual presser on Friday.

“Secondly, they were also granted a business permit, and so what we need to do is to work very closely with the local government units kasi kung sino ang binibigyan ng business permit, then kailangan naman sana na i-confirm na may tamang permiso (because they should at least confirm first that they have proper permits before granting them a business permit), being in a protected area,” she added.

DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations and Environment Juan Miguel Cuna explained that the resort owner obtained a resolution from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) endorsing the project in 2020.

However, he said that one of the specific conditions given by PAMB to the resort owner was to obtain an ECC before any activity, which included the construction.

In 2022, the resort owner again sought the endorsement of the PAMB, through a resolution, because they had transferred the site of their proposed project.

Again, they were able to obtain a PAMB resolution endorsing the project, with the condition that they obtain an ECC before conducting any activity.

“So clearly they were well aware of the requirement to get an ECC,” Cuna said.

In September 2023, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) found out the construction without an ECC and issued a notice of violation, including a request to stop operation.

Cuna said the owner then applied for an ECC, but was unable to submit the complete document.

“They continued to operate and in fact, they actually wrote the PENRO requesting for the lifting of the order, since they had already applied for an ECC, which the PENRO denied, since the ECC itself had not been issued yet,” Cuna said.

In January this year, the EMB Region 7 issued a notice of violation for the lack of ECC.

On Thursday, a joint cease and desist order was issued to ensure that the resort, which went viral through a social media post by a vlogger, no longer operating.

“We are monitoring the Captain’s Peak to ensure that they remain closed and not open for operations,” Cuna said.

Various violations

Meanwhile, Cuna said the owner of Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort may face multiple penalties for various violations.

He said that there is a penalty for constructing without an ECC; failure to register as a hazardous waste generator if they discharge water without a discharge permit; failure to obtain a permit from the National Water Resources Board while putting up a well in the area, among others.

“And then under the [Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System] Law, ‘yun ang mabigat (this is heavier). For criminal liability, may mga penalty po siya (there are penalties) and it’s not small, minimum of PHP1 million to PHP5 million maximum for a criminal liability,” he said.

There is also an additional minimum of six years to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment for putting up structures without the appropriate permits within the protected area, Cuna said.

He noted that these are still aside from the administrative fines, which start at a minimum of PHP15,000 and a maximum of PHP5 million.

Loyzaga said that right now, it is unclear whether or not the resort will be able to open again as they are still investigating and studying the matter.

She said the DENR has begun using aerial surveillance, particularly the use of space imagery.

“These areas are quite large in terms of the areas that are affected, and if you notice, they’re quite remote, some kilometers away from the main road and they are practically hidden in between the Chocolate Hills. It is very likely that there are some others that do not have the proper permits,” Loyzaga said.

Chocolate Hills is a world heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was declared a protected area through Proclamation No. 1037 issued by the late President Fidel V. Ramos on July 1, 1997. (PNA)