Business Provinces Travel and Tourism

Bohol governor, 68 others suspended for Chocolate Hills mess

QUEZON CITY/TAGBILARAN CITY –The office of the Ombudsman has placed Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado and 68 other officials under preventive suspension for six months in connection with the investigation into structures at the Chocolate Hills, a protected area and geological park.

Aside from Aumentado, also preventively suspended were the following mayors and former mayors:

1. Restituto Q. Suarez III – Mayor, Municipality of Sagbayan
2. Atty. Antonino M. Jumawid – Mayor, Municipality of Batuan
3. Elizabeth M. Pace – Mayor, Municipality of Catigbian
4. Eugeniano E. Ibarra – Mayor, Municipality of Clarin
5. Norman Palacio – Mayor, Municipality of Bilar
6. Manuel G. Jayectin – Mayor, Municipality of Bilar
7. Simplicio C. Maestrado, Jr. – Mayor, Municipality of Sierra Bulleones
8. Michael Doria – Mayor, Municipality of Sierra Bullones
9. Maria Katrina Lim – Mayor, Municipality of Valencia
10. Calixto Garcia – Mayor, Municipality of Valencia
11. Dionisio Neil Balite – Mayor, Municipality of Valencia
12. Ranulfo Q. Maligmat – Vice-Mayor, Municipality of Bilar
13. Conchita T. Delos Reyes – Municipal Mayor, Municipality of Carmen
14. Ricardo Francisco A. Toribio – Municipal Mayor, Municipality of Carmen

Other officials suspended  regional officers of the departments of environment and natural resources, science and technology, agriculture, the Philippine National Police, and the Office of Civil Defense, ABS-CBN and GMA News reported with other Manila media.

Several barangay officials were also among those ordered suspended.

Many questioned the suspension of officials who were not in their offices yet when the alleged infractions happened.

Aumentado said he was looking for legal remedies after he was suspended for  6 months by the Ombudsman over the construction of a resort in the Chocolate Hills.

Aumentado said that he accepts the decision of the Ombudsman given the ongoing investigation.  But he said some parties could seize the issue as an opportunity because it was highly “publicized and sensationalized”.

“We will review what we can do with this. We will not go ahead. We will consult lawyers,” the governor said in Visayan.  

He said he would meet with other suspended officials to discuss their next legal move.

Despite the suspension of 69 officials, he assured the public that the province’s operations would be “business as usual.”

Vice Governor Dionesio Balite will serve as acting governor, while Senior Board Member Tita Baja will be acting vice governor.

The Chocolate Hills is considered as one of the World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was declared a protected area in 1997 by then President Fidel Ramos

The officials were placed under “preventive suspension until the administrative adjudication of this case is terminated, but not to exceed six months without pay.”

Aumentado said that he learned of the Ombudsman order on the morning of May 28, 2024 and appeared ready to comply   but he asked for prayers for a just resolution of the case.

Aumentado called on capitol workers to continue serving the people with dignity, integrity, dedication, and honesty.

“I shall return,” the governor said.

Earlier, resort development at the site of Chocolate Hills, regarded a tourism signature of Bohol, received a backlash.

A viral video of a resort in Sagbayan town situated between haycock hills, popularly referred to as Chocolate Hills, drew flak from netizens.

The video log (vlog) dated March 6, 2024 went viral as netizens mentioned that the construction of the resort in the area in 2023 was already met with criticism. Netizens pointed out that the commercial development is done within a protected area, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and a declared geo-park.

While most of the 1,776 haycock hills are found in Carmen town where the UNESCO marker is also mounted, the hills are spread out in neighboring towns such as Sagbayan, Sierra Bullones, and Batuan.

A Provincial Board member earlier expressed that with the way the issue has gone viral again, she surmised that nothing has really been done six months after an investigation on the alleged illegal structure nestled at the vicinity of Chocolate Hills. 

Atty. Jamie Aumentado Villamor, chairman of the PB Committee on Environment, said that the Board has already sent a request to DENR to hold the commercial development in abeyance.

Villamor stressed that in September 2023, the Bohol DENR-Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) ordered a stop to the construction of structures.

However, an investigation was launched by her committee based on reports of continued construction of a swimming pool, water slides, and cottages at Captain’s Peak Resort.

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