Malay official: Villar property firm is behind levelling of Boracay mountain

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) -- A mountain on Boracay Island is being levelled without a permit for an integrated resort owned by the family of Senator Cynthia Villar, residents and a local government executive said Wednesday.

Rowen Aguirre, Executive Assistant on Boracay Affairs of Malay municipality, told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that Costa Vista lacks some necessary permits and the local government had ordered it to stop work on the project.

According to its website, Costa Vista is a residential condominium development with five high-rise towers. It is one of the properties of Vista Residences owned by the family of Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Despite the stop order, a video taken on May 11 and posted on social media allegedly shows ongoing ground work on the resort. Reports also noted that trees on the mountain were being cleared.

Local residents criticized the tearing down of the mountain in Barangay Yapak despite the closure of the island for environmental rehabilitation. They pointed out that the site is near a natural habitat for endangered fruit bats.

Aguirre said the local government would call the developer's attention to the matter.

However, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said in a statement Wednesday that his department's field office had reported that the flattening of the mountain stopped before the Boracay shutdown on April 26.

"I have ordered, with the concurrence of the Boracay inter-agency task force, a total stoppage of all constructions of any kind effective immediately," Cimatu said.

He added that he had also ordered a moratorium on the issuance of environmental permits on the island, except those involving road widening projects by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

A statement Wednesday by Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc., the Villars' property group, maintained it had complied with all applicable laws and regulations, obtained all requisite government permits and licenses in connection with its development project in Boracay.

It said the company's policy is to respect and preserve the natural topography of the land because that is not only structurally sound but also environmentally friendly.

"As early as February this year, we have slowed down our development works, and have accordingly reduced the number of equipment and workers in the area," according to the statement by Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc. Chief legal counsel Ma. Nalen SJ Rosero.

In March, Villar said there was no conflict of interest between her work in the Senate and their family business in Boracay.

She added their properties complied with environmental laws, and authorities could even close Costa Vista if it were found to be violating the rules.

"I am not managing our business... kahit isara nila ang [even if they close] Boracay," said Villar. "I have done so much for the environment and I'm still doing (so). Ako nga ang nakikipaglaban para ma-maintain yung wetlands sa Las Pinas, Paranaque."

[Translation: I am even fighting to maintain the wetlands in Las Pinas and Paranaque.]

Villar's son Mark is Public Works and Highways Secretary. The department is part of the Boracay Task Force.

Cimatu handled the reports of the mountain levelling with caution, saying he "welcomed feedback from the public," but hoped netizens would first vet their posts.

"We are appealing to each and every one... that when you make any report or post anything online, these should be verified first so as not to cause any misunderstanding," he said.

CNN Philippines regional news manager Jun Tariman and correspondent Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.