Legarda bewails non-enforcement of environmental laws, DENR orders

March 13, 2024

In the last few days, a viral post about a resort lodged between haycock hills in Sagbayan, Bohol, within the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (CHNM) earned the ire of both officials and netizens. The drone video in the post clearly showed an operational resort and the extent of its development right on the foothills.

The CHNM is one of the protected areas legislated under the Expanded NIPAS Act, which Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda principally authored. It was originally proclaimed as a National Geological Monument and a Protected Landscape by then-President Fidel Ramos as early as 1997. It is also a declared geological park (geopark).

In an official statement released on March 13, 2024, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said it already issued a Temporary Closure Order last September 6, 2023, and a Notice of Violation to the project proponent last January 22, 2024, for operating without an Environment Compliance Certificate for the project.

DENR Regional Executive Director Paquito Melicor also issued a Memorandum on March 13, 2024, directing the Bohol Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Ariel Rica to create a team to inspect the resort for its compliance with the Temporary Closure Order.

Upon the recommendation of the DENR, Presidential Proclamation No. 333, Series of 2003 excluded all alienable and disposable lands and flat and rolling lands below 18% in slope from the coverage of CHNM but ensured the retention of 20 meters from the baseline of every hill going outward as part of the CHNM.

The Proclamation also stated that “Regardless of the existence of prior private rights, no activity of any kind which will alter, mutilate, deface, or destroy the hills, including but not limited to quarrying, shall be allowed.”

Legarda commented on the consistency and enforceability of DENR in all its decisions, enumerating that:

(1) DENR did not have to recommend the exclusion of alienable and disposable lands and that it is better to regulate activities in these areas. It is easier to manage national monuments if they are contiguous. Excluding parts in the middle from the coverage is unnecessary, as private lands can be part of protected areas. These may also be covered in the Protected Area Management Plan and all protected area rules.

(2) The DENR may mobilize uniformed personnel to enforce its orders. The issuance of a temporary closure order is insufficient without strict enforcement.

(3) The DENR and the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) should have delineated the 20-meter retention to guide local governments in their issuance of business permits.

“For such an important heritage site, several layers of government bureaucracy were unable to act or sound an alarm about this defilement. It is time to make local and national agency officials accountable for inaction, wrong decisions, and failure to manage protected areas,” the Senator added.

Legarda filed Senate Bill No. 494 or the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) bill so that the capacity gap in enforcement by the DENR is addressed as the DENR has no uniformed service for law enforcement. (30)