?Stop blaming, start working,? mountaineers say on proposed Mt. Apo ban

Rey Sumagaysay, president of the 26-group Mountaineers Federation in Southern Mindanao (MFSM), said zeroing in on the Mindanao Alliance Mountaineering Club (MALMOC), the group of Ian Caasi who drowned Mt. Apo’s Lake Venado on April 5, is not just.

Members of the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) of the Mt. Apo Natural Park announced in a press conference Monday they are planning to blacklist the group from entering the park in the next three years.

MFSM backed MALMOC’s claim they did nothing wrong even if they are willing to push for a deeper probe.

Jay Crebillo, the club's president, told MindaNews they were scheduled to meet regional director Sonia Garcia of the Department of Tourism Wednesday morning.

"What happened was a freak accident," Sumagaysay said as he stressed that banning would not solve the problems in climbing Mt. Apo. He suggested that there be more education to be conducted on mountaineers wanting to climb Mt. Apo.

But he said, too, that Caasi’s drowning should serve as a wake up call for government agencies, noting that those involved in the PAMB are also liable for some lapses. For one, he cited there is no signage at all that swimming or bathing at Lake Venado is prohibited.

But Sumagaysay suggested to stop the blaming and called on PAMB instead to facilitate improvements and making the park safer for mountaineers.

"It is good to have signage, sufficient briefings, effective rescue teams, among others, but it is also better if the climbers are more responsible," he said.

Sumagaysay cited the importance of training and education among mountaineers as crucial to safety.

He said the federation has organized regular and on-call sessions for the conduct of basic and advance mountaineering courses among its member-groups and even to non-members.

Around 5,000 mountaineers are members of the federation's 26 groups under its umbrella. But Sumagaysay said they cover only a fifth of the total number of climbers to Mt. Apo from Southeastern Mindanao, most of whom are not trained mountaineers.

He said Caasi's death should push mountaineering clubs to conduct more trainings and education campaign, and also greater support from the government.

Sumagaysay said he will also make sure the recent local experience will be brought to the national federation of mountaineers. Crebillo is supposed to join Sumagaysay and hundreds of mountaineers nationwide to the 28th national congress and climb in Mt. Talinis, off Dumaguete City.

Meanwhile, the sixty-member MALMOC is appealing the PAMB’s plan to ban the mountaineering club from climbing Mt. Apo in the next three years.

Crebillo said what happened to Caasi, one of the two aspirants in the 23-member Holy week climb, was an accident.

He denied that the climb was an initiation rite as claimed by DOT’s Garcia.

Crebillo explained that Caasi, although still an aspirant at the time, did not take part in initiation rites.

He said, however, that the group requires two minor and two major climbs for aspirants to become full-fledged members.

But he said Caasi voluntarily joined a regular climb, and was assigned an experienced member to guide him.

Crebillo said it was an accident and that the victim was properly informed about prohibited acts in the park. "The group did not do anything wrong. It was an accident," said the founder of the eight-year-old mountaineering club.

He said the group was shocked about the statements made Garcia and Bonifacio Apura, regional technical director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) ecosystems research and development service.

Crebillo said it will be too much penalty for the group; it could mean their demise.