DENR: All illegal structures in Chocolate Hills must be removed

By Marita Moaje

March 22, 2024, 9:29 pm

<p>Chocolate Hills <em>(Photo grabbed from Department of Tourism Facebook page)</em></p>

Chocolate Hills (Photo grabbed from Department of Tourism Facebook page)

MANILA – Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said Friday all illegal structures built in the iconic Chocolate Hills in Bohol, which has been declared a protected area, must be removed.

Loyzaga said this in an interview over a radio program after an aerial inspection she conducted with Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos.

She said that aside from the Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort, which has gone viral on social media and received negative comments from netizens, they discovered similar structures illegally built within the protected area.

“Sa palagay ko, sa nakita ko, yes po, kailangan, ito yung ginagawa namin ngayon, ang tawag namin ay mitigation approach sa mga gawaing ganito (From what I saw, I think, yes, we need to do it. This is what we are doing right now We call this the mitigation approach on activities like these),” Loyzaga said when asked if these structures should be demolished.

“The first one is talagang i-avoid, kailangan nating ma-avoid itong disturbance. Kung hindi man ma-avoid, ma-minimize man, kung hindi ma-minimize kailangan i-remedyo, remedyuhin, kung hindi ma-remedyo kailangan magbayad, ang tawag natin, offset or compensation sa ginawa (The first step is we need to avoid this disturbance, if not, we have to minimize. If this could not be done, we have to remedy or correct, and if still not, they have to pay. We call this offset or compensation for what they have done),” she said.

Loyzaga said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is in close coordination with Abalos and with Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Frasco on measures to be done to keep the area protected.

In a joint statement issued by the DENR, DILG, and DOT signed by Loyzaga, Abalos, and Frasco, the three officials said the recent issue in Bohol underscored the importance of responsible development in protected areas.

It said harnessing the economic benefits of the country’s natural resources must be done responsibly and the integrity of these protected areas for future generations must always be maintained.

“The preservation of our natural heritage is paramount,” the statement read.

Illegal structures

Meanwhile, Loyzaga said during the inspection, they saw several other resorts that tore portions of the hills so they could build their structures.

“Ang daming mga similar na resorts na nakita namin. Meron pa yung isa, itong Sagbayan Peak, tinapyas yung pinaka tuktok ng Chocolate hill upang mailagay ang isang konkreto na plataporma, yun, inaalam namin lahat yan ngayon (We saw similar resorts. There is one, the Sagbayan Peak, (they) demolished the peak of the Chocolate Hill so they could build a concrete platform on top. We are now investigating all of them),” she said.

Proclamation No. 1037 issued by the late President Fidel V. Ramos on July 1, 1997, declared the Chocolate Hills as a protected area.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also declared Chocolate Hills as a world heritage site.

These hills, located in the towns of Carmen, Batuan, and Sagbayan in Bohol, consist of 1,776 mounds of the same general shape, which, according to Loyzaga, should not be touched. (PNA)