Malacañang, Sen. Villar deny levelling of mountain on Boracay Island

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 17) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque denied reports that a mountain on Boracay Island was being flattened for the construction of a resort.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, whose family's business was allegedly behind the project, also said all developments in their company's Boracay investment have long stopped.

"Hindi po nangyayari iyan... There's certainly no mountain being levelled now," Roque told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday, adding that Task Force Boracay had dismissed the reports as "fake news."

However, a Malay official earlier confirmed to CNN Philippines on that a mountain in Barangay Yapak was levelled without a permit to make way for a condominium project owned by real estate developer Vista Residences.

Executive Assistant on Boracay Affairs Rowen Aguirre said the local government had ordered the company to stop work on the Costa Vista project and would check reports that construction was still ongoing.

He also noted that Vista Residences is owned by the family of Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

"I would like to reiterate and stress that all developments in our Boracay investment have long stopped," Sen. Villar said in a statement Friday.

She reiterated her commitment to protecting and preserving the country's natural riches, particularly efforts for Boracay's rehabilitation.

"My duty to our nation is primary and is above and separate from my family's business interests," she added.

Reports cited a video showing ground work in the area taken on May 11 and posted on social media.

But Roque said the footage "must have been taken long before Boracay was closed."

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu made similar remarks in a statement on Wednesday, saying field reports from his department showed operations stopped before Boracay was shut down for rehabilitation.

"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.

Cimatu said he ordered "a stoppage of all constructions of any kind effective immediately," in order to show the government was serious about adhering to environmental laws.

On the other hand, Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc. denied that the land shown  in reports was even theirs.

"The images appearing in the articles do not pertain to our project site. The area subject of our development is a developed resort with existing facilities," the firm's Chief Legal Counsel Ma. Nalen SJ. Rosero said in a statement.

He added that Vista had "slowed down our development works... (and)  reduced the number of equipment and workers" as early as February.

Contrary to Aguirre's statement, Vista maintained it had all necessary permits and complied with all laws and regulations for the Costa Vista project.

Netizens reacted strongly to reports of the levelled mountain, as the top tourist destination has been on a six-month shutdown since April 26. The move was strongly opposed by locals and businessmen who stood to lose their livelihood and income.

Roque also denied a report that said the demolition of another controversial resort, Boracay West Cove, had been halted. The establishment was ordered closed for operating without locational clearance and several permits.