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Bohol governor, 68 others under preventive suspension due to Chocolate Hills resort mess

By NICK GARCIA Published May 29, 2024 9:57 am

The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the preventive suspension of Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado and 68 other government officials over the construction and operation of a resort on Chocolate Hills.

For six months, Aumentado will be suspended without pay alongside mayors, a vice mayor, municipal mayors, regional directors of government agencies, barangay captains, and barangay kagawads, according to the Ombudsman's order of implementation signed on May 22 and released on May 28.

They were charged with grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty. Investigators also found that the officials tolerated the operation and expansion of Captain's Peak Garden and Resort.

Bohol Vice Gov. Dionisio Balite will serve as acting governor. Those who will take over the other posts have yet to be announced.

A preventive suspension is typically done in investigations involving officials.

Under the Republic Act No. 6770 or the Ombudsman Act, it is done against an officer or an employee under the Ombudsman's authority if the evidence of guilt is strong and the charge involves dishonesty, oppression or grave misconduct or neglect in the performance of duty; the charges would warrant removal from the service; or the respondent's continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him.

It's not a penalty but more of a disciplinary measure.

Last March, the Bohol resort became a hot topic on social media after a vlogger posted about it. Social media users and lawmakers questioned the DENR and the provincial government of Bohol why a resort was allowed to be built in a protected area like Chocolate Hills.

Bohol has been declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Global Geopark. According to its website, UNESCO Global Geoparks are “single, unified geographical area where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.” 

Following the controversy, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it placed a temporary closure order on Captain’s Peak Garden and Resort in September 2023. It said it also issued a notice of violation to the project proponent in January 2024 for operating without an environmental compliance certificate.

Resort manager Julieta Sables, in an interview on TV5's Frontline Pilipinas, stressed that they were permitted to run the business, which has been operational since 2019.

Last March 14, the resort announced its temporary closure, citing “maintenance and environmental preservation efforts.”

Proclamation No. 1037 declared the Chocolate Hills a protected area, designating it as a National Geological Monument and a Protected Landscape.

Section 20 of Republic Act 7586, or an Act Providing for the Establishment and Management of Natural Integrated Protected Areas System, states that it's illegal to hunt, destroy, disturb, or merely possess any plants, animals, or products, dump any waste product, and alter, remove, destroy, or deface boundary marks or signs, among others.