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Home Philippine Explorer

Sagbayan Peak:
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 said.

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 these hills.

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 Victoria Peak.

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 grew longer.

"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 years.

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,'' Torrefranca revealed.

On May 31, the place was officially inaugurated with Patria Aurora Roa, tourism director for Central Visayas, as main guest.

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 tourism.''

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 cease-and-desist orders.

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.

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