'Negligent' Bohol guv, 68 others suspended over Chocolate Hills mess

<p>Bohol Governor Erico Aris Aumentado <em>(Facebook)</em></p>

Bohol Governor Erico Aris Aumentado (Facebook)

MANILA – Bohol Governor Erico Aris Aumentado and 68 other officials have been placed on six-month preventive suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman due to the Chocolate Hills resort controversy, according to an order made public late Tuesday.

Aumentado, mayors, a vice mayor, village officials, police officers and officials of government agencies were suspended without pay for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service as per the May 20 order signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

The suspension is immediately executory. It will last until the administrative adjudication of the case is terminated but not to exceed six months “except when the delay in the disposition of the case is due to their fault, negligence, or petition.”

Also named as respondents were representatives of Bohol Representatives Edgar Chatto (First District) and Kristine Alexie Tutor (Third District); and former governors Rene Relampagos and Arthur Yap.

Yap was likewise a former congressman, succeeded by Tutor.

The Ombudsman Field Investigative Office, the complainant in the case, said the respondents “acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, gross inexcusable negligence and committed gross violations of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 (NIPAS Act of 1992) and Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 (E-NIPAS Act of 2018) when they remained adamant and continuously tolerated the operation and expansion of Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort despite its lack of environmental clearance permits and flagrant violations of the NIPAS and E-NIPAS Act.”

A video that exposed Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort built within the vicinity of Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan town made the rounds of social media in March.

The resort ceased operations on March 14.

Proclamation 1037, signed July 1997, declared the Chocolate Hills as a natural monument while the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) included it among the World Heritage sites.

“Regardless of the existence of prior private rights, no activity of any kind including quarrying, which will alter, mutilate, deface, or destroy the hills shall be conducted. All public and private lands within, around and surrounding the hills shall not be converted to other purposes which is inconsistent with the objectives of this proclamation,” read the proclamation signed by the late President Fidel V. Ramos.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the owner of the resort was never issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) by the Environmental Management Bureau, but still obtained a building permit and a permit to operate from the Sagbayan municipality.

The DENR subsequently suspended all ECC applications for projects located in protected areas.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government joined the investigation by creating a special task force.

Aumentado asked his colleagues in the capitol to maintain their high standards of work while he is away.

“This is a call for all of us to pay attention to the care of our environment. Let's continue with our strong prayers and faith that it will be resolved,” he said in a statement on Facebook, translated from the dialect.

Aumentado said he and the province will remain strong amid the great challenge.

“We should not be sad because there is our Almighty who will guide us and settle everything. This is the moment when we unite and continue our good deeds, we protect our environment and we support the programs and measures of our provincial government. I will come back for you, to continue serving, for the advancement of Bohol. I shall return,” he said. (PNA)