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Filipino bishop takes a stand for Chocolate Hills

A controversial resort in the UNESCO-approved geopark has caused jitters in Tagbilaran diocese
A view of the Chocolate Hills. During the dry season, the grass-covered hills turn chocolate brown, hence the name.

A view of the Chocolate Hills. During the dry season, the grass-covered hills turn chocolate brown, hence the name. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 15, 2024 11:02 AM GMT
Updated: March 15, 2024 12:18 PM GMT

A bishop in the Philippines has stressed the need to preserve the UNESCO-approved Chocolate Hills in his diocese after a controversial resort in the world-famous geopark temporarily stopped its operations on March 15.

“I am happy to see a growing number” of people embrace the responsibility to care “for our precious creation,” Bishop Alberto Uy of Tagbilaran said a day before Captain’s Peak resort in the Chocolate Hills in Bohol province in Central Visayas was forced to wind up its operations temporarily. 

“This emerging awareness is crucial in our collective journey towards a sustainable future,” the prelate added on March 14.

A video of Captain’s Peak resort went viral on March 13 and caused a public uproar and environmentalists demanded its demolition.

Erected on Nov. 8, 1941, the Tagbilaran diocese comprises 58 parishes in the southern half of Boho province. Tagbilaran is the capital of Bohol. 

“It is important for us to recognize and cherish the unique gifts bestowed upon us, including the extraordinary beauty of landmarks like the Chocolate Hills,” said 57-year-old Uy while reacting to the video.

On March 15, the local media, quoting Julieta Sablas,  resort manager and younger sister of resort owner Capt. Edgar Button, said the project has temporarily stopped “upon the order of the mayor.”

“During the dry season when precipitation is inadequate, the grass-covered hills turn chocolate brown, hence the name in reference to a branded confection,” said UNESCO on how the heritage site got its name.

The resort, with large swimming pools, slides, and other amenities, had its soft opening in 2019 with a nod from the local Sagbayan government. It started full-fledged operation in 2022.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), they issued a temporary closure order on Sept. 6, 2023, and another notice for violating the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) was served on Jan. 22 this year.

The management admitted before the media on March 14 that they had failed to get the ECC.

The tourism department has disowned the resort, saying the project was not “an accredited tourism establishment.”

The Chocolate Hills have inspired many legends in the archipelago and most of them are centered around the hills’ formation and figures.

“It begs the question: can a natural wonder be appropriated for private gain?” asked lawyer Aaron Pedrosa, leader of the multi-sectoral group Sanlakas.

“A resort in the middle of Chocolate Hills warrants not just indignation but appropriate action from the DENR and the tourism department,” Pedrosa told UCA News on March 14.

On July 1, 1997, the late President Fidel Ramos declared the Chocolate Hills, covering over 50 square kilometers, a protected area.

On May 24, 2023, UNESCO declared it as the Philippines’ first geopark. The UNESCO approval helped the sandy to rubbly marine limestones to find a place among 195 geoparks in 48 nations.

The hills were formed as a result of thousands of years of erosion of limestones during the Pliocene period, approximately 2-3 million years ago.

Alexie Tutor, Bohol’s third congressional district representative, has sought the demolition of the resort.

The resort “should not have been allowed to be built in the first place,” Tutor said.

Speaking to reporters on March 14, Sablas sought a probe into the construction of another resort in the Chocolate Hills area.

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