Drowning victim?s mountaineering group to be banned from Mt. Apo

MALMOC is the group of mountaineer Ian Caasi, who drowned in the park's Lake Venado on April 5.

Apura said the blacklist sanction against the group is among the recommendations to the PAMB after Caasi's death.

Bonifacio Apura, regional director of the DENR's ecosystems research and development service, said during the Kapihan sa SM City press conference Monday the club violated rules in climbing Mt. Apo.

Apura said swimming and bathing in Lake Venado are among the prohibited acts they brief climbers in entering the 64,000-hectare park. But the documents Apura showed to the media did not show that swimming in Lake Venado was prohibited.

Apura said the lake was dangerous because it was a crater.

Entry no. 11 of "Prohibited Acts while in the Mt. Apo Nature Park" mentioned of a no bathing or swimming policy in Lake Agco. The list contains 14 prohibited acts.

Another document containing provisions of the Article 5, Section 2 of the Implementing Guidelines of the Digos City ordinance for Mt. Apo Natural Park only had 12 entries, with not one on swimming or bathing.

The park has four major lakes, 19 major river systems and 21 creeks or streams, according to a briefer from PAMB.

Sonia Garcia, Department of Tourism regional director, said the sanction will be among the biggest issues she will raise at the upcoming general assembly of the Mountaineers Federation of Southern Mindanao (MFSM).

She said they expect every climber to be responsible enough before going up, after conducting well-coordinated Basic Mountaineering Courses and briefings.

She said they are planning to ban the group for three years. She said MALMOC climbed the area as part of their initiation rites, with Caasi among would-be members. MindaNews tried but failed to reach a representative from the mountaineering group.

Garcia stressed that DOT is only promoting parks such as the trails to Mt. Apo that has clear policies for safety and park management.

She denied a newspaper report quoting a tribal leader saying DOT is to be blamed for Caasi's death for lack of regulating policies.

She cited the local governments of Sta. Cruz, Digos City, and Kidapawan to have existing local ordinances and implementing guidelines regulating climbs or treks to the natural park.

Garcia said the DOT has backed initiatives of the MFSM, which it federated years earlier, to hold basic mountaineering courses to educate their members before organizing climbs. She said within three years their aim is for every climber to have attended the course.

Mt Apo was closed to climbers in 2000 due to mounting problems with garbage disposal and pollution. It was reopened in 2004, with the Sta. Cruz trail as first, because of the town's compliance of a DENR imposed seven-point agenda. These included formulation and establishment of trekking and climbing policies and guidelines.

Apura vowed the PAMB and all concerned agencies will make sure all safety measures are taken and will be established.

He said they will put up signages at the Lake Venado campsite among other measures in the aftermath of Caasi's death.

He called for more cooperation among the agencies considering the limited number of forest guards available for the park.