Mt. Apo reopens to trekkers a year after “indefinite closure”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 March) — The “indefinite closure” of the Mt. Apo to trekkers lasted only one year after the Mt. Apo Natural Park-Protected Area Management Board (MANP-PANB) passed a resolution on March 23 lifting it  effective April 12, a move environmental advocates are protesting because it is “just too early.”

The MANP-PANB passed a resolution on March 31, 2016, closing all six trails in Kidapawan, Makilala, and Magpet in North Cotabato, Digos, Sta. Cruz, and Bansalan in Davao del Sur, five days after a bush fire that later escalated to a forest fire, razed the peak of Mt. Apo and gutted some century-old trees.

A group of mountaineers and bikers from Cotabato City watched the fire at the peak of Mt. Apo in this photo taken at 4:59 p.m. on Saturday (26 March 2016), as they set up tent in the camping site beside Lake Venado.  Photo courtesy of TUTIN SAPTO / Cotabato All-Terrain Bikers Association (CATBA)

Firemen and volunteers took almost three weeks before the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) 11 placed the fire under control on April 15, 2016, after an aerial thermal assessment conducted by the Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) of the Department of Science and Technology showed no signs of active fire and validated by ground evaluations.

Chinkie Pelino-Golle, acting executive director of the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) told MindaNews on Saturday that they objected to the early reopening Mt. Apo to climbers, as it needs more time for rehabilitation.

“I think the tourism income is big but we have to ensure the rehabilitation and protection of Mt Apo. Unsaon man ng income kung masamot kaguba ang protected area (What’s income if this protected area is further destroyed?),” she asked.

The MANP-PAMB has a camping management rules for the trekkers but Golle said she is wary if climbers would follow these rules.

“We have seen how these regulations were violated before kaya nga nasunugan ang Mt Apo and nahimo siya basurahan. Kaluoy pud tawon ang Mt Apo (that’s why the fire happened and the Mt. Apo became a garbage area. I’m sad for Mt. Apo),” she said.

Golle said the LGUs must ensure that the new regulations are enforced strictly this time and set a limit on the number of trekkers who can climb up the mountain within a specified period.

Golle said Mt. Apo can be closed for rehabilitation and research “and then let’s see after two or three years if it can be reopened but to a limited number of hikers.”

In a PAMB En Banc Resolution No. 1, the new rates for Mt. Apo are 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.

Lumads want Mt. Apo open

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 11 director Ruth Tawantawan said it was the decision of the Lumads who want to reopen Mt. Apo.

“Honestly, kung ako lang, pareho tayo ng position (If I were to decide, we are on the same position) but it was no less than the CADT holder who wants it open,” she told Golle in a text message on Saturday.

During the MANP-PAMB meeting last March 23, 2017, she said she only sat as presiding officer during the MANP-PAMB meeting.

Golle said she is hoping that the local government units (LGUs) and the IP communities would reconsider their decision and look at the long-term effects if the Mt. Apo would be reopened this early.

“We know the DENR heads the PAMB but it was the LGUs who moved for the reopening. I hope they will consider the long-term effects than the economic income they will earn now,” she said.

Dr. Jean Lindo, an environmental activist of Panalipdan-Southern Mindanao, said she has nothing against “reopening for as long as the intent is to elevate the level of tourism and to solidarity and rehabilitation mission.”

“We learned hard lessons. Maybe, there should be forest restoration (with endemic species of plants minimum of 30 species per hectare) accompanied by restorative agriculture (not corporate but community-managed). Parang may element of volunteerism din kumbaga,” she said.

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 declared landmarks declared as heritage parks in the Philippines and one of the 38 in the 10-country ASEAN – 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 ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, which serves as 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), which covers Province of Cotabato, Kidapawan City and Municipalities of Makilala and Magpet in Region; Municipalities of Bansalan and Sta Cruz and Digos City, in Davao del Sur and Davao City in Region 11.

The ASEAN Heritage Parks are defined as “protected areas of high conservation importance, preserving in total a complete spectrum of representative ecosystems of the ASEAN region” and established “to generate greater awareness, pride, appreciation, enjoyment and conservation of ASEAN’s rich natural heritage, through a regional network o representative protected areas, and to generate collaboration among AMS in preserving their shared natural heritage.”  (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)