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Local execs decry suspension over Chocolate Hills issue

MANILA, Philippines — At least two of eight suspended municipal mayors have voiced their sentiments, saying their suspension over the construction and operation of a vacation resort in the middle of Chocolate Hills in Bohol is unfair.

Five barangays in the towns of Batuan and Carmen, who are members of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) for Chocolate Hills – a UNESCO National Geological Monument – also expressed the same in separate interviews.

Carmen Mayor Conchita delos Reyes – who is serving her first term – said she is considering filing of a motion for reconsideration through her lawyers.

“I was shocked,” delos Reyes said when she was served the order of suspension for six months without pay by the personnel of the Office of the Ombudsman.

She lamented that her office has nothing to do with the Captain’s Peak Garden & Resort, which is situated in the middle of at least three Chocolate Hills geographic formations, in the nearby town of Sagbayan.

“We don’t understand it,” she said.

The same is true for Batuan Mayor Antonino Jumawid, who is on his last term as mayor.

Jumawid said the suspension was an injustice and unreasonable on his part since there was no thorough investigation. He asked why include Batuan when it is not part of Sagbayan town where the resort is situated.

Jumawid also decried the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)’s action of sending warning letters to Batuan residents who erected structures without the required Environmental Clearance Certificate, since the entire area of Batuan is under the protected area.

He said those houses were already built when there was no tourism and law on protected areas yet. The Batuan mayor said this was as if the government was depriving the people of the land without just compensation, which is unconstitutional.

Suspended along with Delos Reyes and Jumawid were Clarin Mayor Eugene Ibarra, Catigbian Mayor Elizabeth Mandin, Bilar Mayor Norman Palacio, Sagbayan Mayor Jun Suarez, Valencia Mayor Dionisio Neil Balite and Sierra Bullones Mayor Michael Doria.