Group dares PAMB to climb Mt. Apo to know mountain’s real status

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 April) – Hold your consultation meeting on the peak of Mt. Apo so you will know the real status of the mountain a year after it was damaged by a massive forest fire, an environment group dared members of the Mt. Apo Natural Park Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) on Monday.

Maylai Santos, executive director of the Ateneo de Davao University’s Ecoteneo, posed the challenge two days before the April 5 Stakeholders’ Consultation Meeting arranged by the PAMB in Davao City.

Santos told Kapehan sa Dabaw that she hopes the PAMB would reconsider its resolution passed on March 23 lifting the “indefinite closure” effective April 12, 2017, and keep their “hands off” the mountain for the meantime.

She said that when she joined a group of volunteers sometime in October 2016 in their re-planting activity, the damaged area “was charcoal-black as far as what you can see.”

She said that they are keeping their hopes alive but are also prepared “for the worst.”

She was hoping the PAMB would postpone reopening Mt. Apo to allow more time for rehabilitation efforts saying it is a difficult task considering the terrain and climate there.

Citing the February 2017 visit of volunteers from the University of the Philippines Mountaineers who initiated a rehabilitation program eyeing to plant 10,000 trees, Santos said the grasses were only starting to grow in some parts of the damaged areas.

According to the Mt. Apo Fire Incident Monitoring Team last year, the damaged areas covered 111 hectares. But Santos said the Energy Development Corp. which is supporting the UP Mountaineers, the damaged areas would cover over 200 hectares.

She said she is wary that the growth of the plants would be affected if climbers would pass by the affected areas.

Climbers may choose from six trails in going to the peak of Mt. Apo – Kidapawan, Makilala, and Magpet in North Cotabato, and Digos, Sta. Cruz, and Bansalan in Davao del Sur.

Chinkie Pelino-Golle, Interface Development Interventions acting executive director reiterated that the April 12 opening is just too early.

She criticized the local government units who she said could not even identify the culprits of the massive fire that lasted for almost three weeks, from March 26 to April 15, 2016.

She said the PAMB must stick to the five-year minimum closure period.

She also criticized the PAMB which claimed to have drafted a rehabilitation master plan but has not presented it to the stakeholders to this day.

She said they were dismayed that the status of the rehabilitation efforts in Mt. Apo remained unclear..

“We have been asking for an update from the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), but we have heard that there is a plan in place but we have not seen this plan,” she said.

“We are calling on the presentation and implementation of the rehab master plan. We are willing to help but present first what’s in the rehabilitation plan,” Golle said.

Santos demanded the DENR to explain how they spent the P4.8-million supposed budget for rehabilitation.

Golle said that they must create plans to prevent the same thing from happening again, devise a monitoring mechanism, and limit the number of trekkers.

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 in the peak area and limited to 50 the number of climbers per entry point per day.

New rates for Mt. Apo have also been 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.

For the communities, Golle urged the local government units to provide an alternative livelihood for their constituents whose income depends on the presence of trekkers.

Mt. Apo is among the eight landmarks declared as heritage parks in the Philippines and one of the 38 in the 10-country Association of South East Asian Nations.

The others are Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Occidental Mindoro, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidon, 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 Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental.

According to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, which serves as the secretariat of the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme, Mt. Apo is the Philippine’s highest mountain at 2,954 meters above sea level and harbors the endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).

Mt. Apo Natural Park covers parts of the provinces of Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Davao City. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)