NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
Ongoing construction of any structure within the Chocolate Hills area should be stopped.
This was the strongly worded request made by Board Member Jamie Villamor, chair of the committee on environment of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
Regional Director Paquito Melicor of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was likewise asked to hold in abeyance applications for any construction at the Chocolate Hills area in Batuan, Carmen and Sagbayan.
Director Melicor is fhe chairperson of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), the powerful agency controlling the operations at the Chocolate Hills area as well as with the other towns of Valencia, Sierra-Bullones, and Bilar with certain areas within the “protected area”.
In her letter, BM Villamor made the request since PAMB mandates the application of the laws, rules, and guidelines in the area.
“With the efforts to address the ambiguity of the existing guidelines, it is necessary that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and PAMB take immediate action to halt any ongoing development within the Chocolate Hills Natural Monument,” the lawmaker stressed.
BM Villamor explained that this temporary halt “will allow a thorough inspection of the construction projects and a closer examination of the policies set by PAMB and its impact, ensuring that new policies for long-term protection will be in place.”
Villamior further said that while development can be essential for the growth and progress of our community, it is equally important that such activities are in accordance with the policy of the State to secure the perpetual existence of biodiversity through the preservation of natural heritage, as well as in strict adherence to the laws and regulations that govern protected areas.
Netizens in a radio discussion regarding the top-rated “Inyong Alagad” program of DYRD, called on the need to review the policies of PAMB, especially after the declaration of UNESCO of the Chocolate Hills as the only GeoPark in the country.
“PAMB should be abolished,” some netizens voiced out after they expressed alarm on what might happen to the Chocolate Hills with private resorts being constructed at the base of some of the hills.
PAMB policy allows development at the base of the hills at a ratio of 20% from the base of a hill.
“This is very subjective,” BM Villamor said during the radio forum.
The statement of the board member came. after Bud Agta Resort at the Choco Hills in Carmen town has developed by up to 77% from the baseline of the hill.
Villamor was sad to hear that PAMB authorities admitted that they are not religiously inspecting ongoing projects.
She asked for the inclusion of the Bohol Environment Management Office (BEMO) in the PAMB to closely monitor any violations.
WHO COMPOSE PAMB?
The DENR regional director chairs the PAMB with the provincial governor as a member together with the mayors and barangay captains in areas in the towns of Carmen, Bilar, Batuan, Sagbayan, Serra Bullones, and Valencia.