A view from the top
By Chito A. Fuentes
Inquirer News Service
THERE'S a new way to look at the world-famous Chocolate Hills.
It is through a mountain resort called the Sagbayan Peak in
Sagbayan town, some 75 km northwest of Tagbilaran City. The
viewing is made easy and elegant from the deck of an elevated
ridge that provides not only a magnificent scan of the fabled
hills but also the sea off Cebu City. Better yet, the sight
is unobstructed from all sides.
Although it was officially inaugurated on May 31, the peak
is already experiencing a steady stream of visitors, mostly
local residents and domestic tourists.
As the place is only 18 km from the original viewing station
at the Chocolate Hills complex in neighboring Carmen town,
most of the visitors, who take either private or hired vehicles,
shuttle between the two towns for a comparative look.
"This is our view of the hills,'' declared Sagbayan
Mayor Jimmy Torrefranca.
From the start, he said, the peak never intended to compete
with the viewing station in Carmen. But he said he believed
no town had a monopoly of the scenic sight.
Sagbayan is merely staking its claim to its share of revenues
after sleeping on the tourism potentials of the unique hill
formations, Torrefranca said.
Although the Chocolate Hills are found in Carmen, Sagbayan
and Batuan, only Carmen has offered a viewing station. "This
is just another perspective that is a comfortable option especially
to people from Cebu who don't have much time to spare,'' Torrefranca
The mayor said he and his playmates were fascinated by the
sight from the hills when they were boys. "We would climb
up these hills and gaze at the sea,'' he recalled.
He merely chuckled when quizzed on what thoughts must have
crossed their minds while staring at the horizon. But he admitted
that the view continued to overwhelm him every time he climbed
Torrefranca said he got distracted along the way by other
pursuits and forgot about the hills until early this year.
The idea struck the mayor when the owner of about five hectares
of land, including the ridge where the viewing deck is located,
came to him and offered to sell it. "I remembered my
boyhood dreams, so we immediate grabbed the offer,'' he said.
With his cousin, Manila-based businessman Allan Torrefranca,
his wife Delia and the mayor's wife Myrna, a business venture
was sealed and the Sagbayan Peak was born.
The mayor said his wife suggested the name after Hong Kong's
Although work started slowly, word about the project got
around fast. This was not surprising since the structure rises
just 600 meters from the national highway.
Even before the place was officially opened to the public,
curious residents already started trekking toward the ridge.
Soon, people from other towns joined in and the line of visitors
"Although that was what we had in mind at the start,
we realized that the magnificent view should be shared with
people who wanted to take a good look at them,'' Torrefranca
remarked, his hands gesturing at the panorama as he spoke.
Last Holy Thursday, the Sagbayan Peak was officially opened
to the public.
The first batch of visitors motored in on Black Saturday.
Since then, the beeline has grown longer, aided by the heaviest
tourism turnout ever experienced by the province in recent
Even on weekdays, visitors of all shapes, sizes and ages
traverse the nearly 200-meter concrete walk from the function
hall to the viewing station.
Since the approach is a leisurely and gradual climb, even
elderly guests sample the walk framed by concrete fences that
resemble a miniature Great Wall of China from afar.
"Most of our guests are Boholanos escorting balikbayan
relatives and friends. Unknown to the latter, many of their
guides actually visited the Sagbayan Peak for the first time,''
On May 31, the place was officially inaugurated with Patria
Aurora Roa, tourism director for Central Visayas, as main
Roa said she was happy to see the latest addition to Bohol's
tourist attractions. This was echoed by Gov. Erico Aumentado,
who said the Sagbayan Peak "is a welcome note for Bohol
The resort is open from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Torrefranca said that while the resort allows guests wearing
shorts and sandals, those with slippers are politely turned
down to maintain the dignity of the place.
Pleasantly surprised by the initial success of their venture,
the Torrefranca cousins have started setting their sights.
In addition to the function hall and viewing deck, a hotel,
swimming pool, driving range, a butterfly dome and even a
tarsier sanctuary are now on the drawing board.
Torrefranca admitted one obstruction to the development of
the Sagbayan Peak. Although he has received word from the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Central Visayas
that his application for an environmental compliance certificate
was already being processed, he had actually received three
While he acknowledged Aumentado's promise to help facilitate
the titling of the area, Torrefranca said government agencies
should coordinate their efforts so that development projects
could be implemented smoothly.
Still, the mayor has remained optimistic that the venture
would be able to hurdle this one last obstacle.