DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 February) — Trekking activities to Mt. Apo via Sta. Cruz trail in Davao Del Sur are fully booked until April 2018 but it will be closed during Holy Week from March 25 to 31, Sta. Cruz Tourism officer Julius Paner said.
Paner said they received several reservations for the summer season as Sta. Cruz is the most preferred trail because of the added adventure offered by the boulders on the way to the peak.
Aside from Sta. Cruz, Kidapawan City and Magpet town in North Cotabato also opened a year after a massive fire destroyed the peak of Mt. Apo on March 26, 2016, a Black Saturday. As a result, an “indefinite closure” order was imposed.
Paner said the Sta. Cruz trail was opened with an annual Boulder Face Challenge in June 2017, attracting 70 participants who braved scaling the country’s highest peak for the extreme outdoor challenges.
He said they recorded 1,500 individuals who trekked the mountain since reopening, which generated jobs for 50 professional guides and 110 Lumad porters in Sta. Cruz Municipality.
He said the Sta. Cruz trail was closed last month for rehabilitation work and to give guides and porters a month-long break.
Paner said they have strictly complied with the environmental policies set up to protect Mt. Apo by making sure trekkers undergo orientation before they are allowed to climb.
There are also stations manned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to monitor trekkers staying in two campsites of the Sta. Cruz trail, he said.
The Mt. Apo Natural Park-Protected Area Management Board (MANP-PANB) passed a resolution on March 23, 2017, lifting the supposed “indefinite closure” effective April 12, 2017.
The resolution noted that Datu Rogelio Manapol moved to reopen Mt. Apo, seconded by Datu Samuel Asicam, citing “socio-economic” reasons.
PAMB Resolution No. 2017-02, a “resolution approving the re-opening of Mt. Apo Natural Park trails to trekking/ climbing activity in April 2017 subject to the strict implementation of the unified trekking policy of 2015, camp management policy and master plan of 2016,” prohibited camping at the peak area and limited to 50 the number of climbers per entry point per day.
New rates for Mt. Apo were also implemented; P2,000 standard fee for all entry points and P2,500 during peak season; exit fee of P1,000 during regular season and P1,500 during peak season; and additional guide fee of P1,000 a day for a group of five climbers; and a separate fee of P500 to a porter per 15-kg baggage.
Paner said each professional guide earns P1,000 per day for a group of five; each porter earns P500 a day; and, of the P1,000 permit fee, 30% goes to the municipality, another 30 percent to the host barangay, 15% to Indigenous Peoples, and 25% to the Integrated Protected Fund of the DENR for the rehabilitation.
The 21-day fire in 2016 destroyed 115 hectares – of which 20 were forested with century-old trees – and endangered the adjacent Mt. Talomo.
Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak, was declared a heritage park through the November 29, 1984 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Declaration on Heritage parks and Reserves.
Mt. Apo is among eight landmarks declared as heritage parks in the Philippines and one of 38 in the 10-country ASEAN comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The others are Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Occidental Mindoro, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidon Province, Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park in Misamis Occidental, Mt. Makiling Nature Reserve in Laguna, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan, Mt. Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin, and the latest Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental.
According to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, the secretariat of the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme, Mt. Apo is the Philippine’s highest mountain at 3,143.6 meters and is known as the last stronghold of the remaining population of the rare and endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
The Mount Apo Natural Park measures 54,974 hectares (with a buffer zone of 9,078 hectares), covering the province of North Cotabato (Kidapawan City and Municipalities of Makilala and Magpet) in Region 12; municipalities of Bansalan and Sta Cruz and Digos City, in Davao del Sur; and Davao City in Region 11. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)