How much to earn from Mt. Apo?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 6 April) – How much would the tourism sector earn from the trekking activities at the Mt. Apo Natural Park?

Under the Unified Trekking Policy of 2015, Luningning Dalayon, deputy superintendent of the Mt. Apo Natural Park, told MindaNews Thursday trekkers will pay P2,000 (P1,500 trekking fee and P500 camp fee) during peak season and P1,500 (P1,000 trekking fee and P500 camp fee) during regular season when Mt. Apo reopens next week starting April 12.

Collections from trekking and camp fees would amount to P2,250,000 or P3,000,000 a month per trail during regular or peak season, respectively, which would be from P13.5 million to P18 million a month for all six trails, granting all the 50 slots a day will be filled up.

Also, an additional fee of P1,000 a day will be paid to a guide for a group of five trekkers and a separate fee of P500 to a porter per 15-kg baggage.

However, only three out of seven trails will be opened next week. These trails are Kidapawan City, Magpet in North Cotabato, and Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur, the only ones whose local government units (LGUs) were able to submit a comprehensive plan that includes a control mechanism.

The trails in Makilala in North Cotabato and Digos City in Davao del Sur will not be opened for failure to submit a plan while the Bansalan trail is closed due to the insurgency problem.

The trail in Barangay Tamayong, Calinan District, Davao City has been closed for quite a long time due to an executive order (EO) prohibiting trekking activities for its potential groundwater source for the city.

Also, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 11 director Ruth M. Tawantawan said in an interview on Wednesday that LGUs benefiting from the ecotourism activities in Mt. Apo will stand to lose P857,500 a day, or P25,725,000 a month, from all economic activities, including the tourism’s allied industries, if the mountain remains to be closed.

From these collections, Joey Recimilla, Kidapawan tourism officer and chair of the ecotourism committee at the MANP-PAMB, said 25 percent will go the DENR, 10 percent to the barangay, 15 percent to the indigenous people (IP), 25 percent to cities/municipalities, and 25 percent to tourism councils.

He said the shares of the barangays and cities or municipalities cannot be used “unless they have an approved activity design how to use the money” while the tribes have the prerogative over their shares whether it be spent for development projects such as livelihood and education.

But Recimilla said it won’t be busy days all the time, noting that during the regular season, he expects only half of the maximum 50 trekkers allowed would be climbing Mt. Apo.

He claimed their local government is even spending more than it is earning from Mt. Apo’s ecotourism activities, just so it could generate economic activities for the “habal-habal” drivers, porters, guides, carenderia owners, sari-sari stores, and resorts.

“What is important is that the government spends, so all the sectors earn. That’s the role of the government,” Recimilla said.

According to the MANP-PAMB resolution passed on March 23, 2017, Manobo tribal leader Datu Rogelio Manapol was the one who raised a motion to reopen Mt. Apo and duly seconded by Datu Samuel Asicam for “socio-economic” reasons.

The assurance of the MANP-PAMB as the Mt. Apo reopens next week is to strictly enforce the regulations such as the Unified Trekking Policy of 2015 and Camp Management and Masterplan of 2016.

Tawantawan said the joint monitoring stations of DENR and LGUs will be placed in all trails, including entry and exit points, and designated basecamps where the trekkers can camp out.

Among the control mechanisms, Tawantawan said, include strictly no camping on the peak area, limit the number of trekkers to 50 a day, and closure of all entry points at 9 a.m. even if the number of trekkers is below maximum.

Rye Glenn S. Trinidad, president of Mindanao Mountaineering Federation Inc., lamented the early opening of Mt. Apo and even told the “pseudo climbers,” who he said do not know how to protect the mountain and keep their own garbage, not to climb.

“Wag na lang kayo umakyat (Just don’t climb). We feel bad with the immediate opening of Mt. Apo after one year [of the fire incident],” he said.

Trinidad said there were policies but not enforced. “May guidelines and policies tayo, pero anong nangyari? (We have guidelines and policies but what happened?),” he added.

Recimilla told those who oppose the MANP-PAMB’s decision to “open your mind” as the decision came from the Manobo tribe who raised a motion to reopen the mountain.

He added that trekking activity is nothing compared with the destruction caused by the banana plantations in Barangay Kapatagan in Digos City.

“They look at the situation of Mt. Apo the wrong way. The climb to Mt. Apo is just an ecotourism activity, you damage nothing. In Kapatagan, thousands of hectares were planted with bananas and vegetables that caused bigger damage to Mt. Apo compared with trekking activities,” he said.

He suggested that trekking activities in Mt. Apo must be managed in “such a way that all sectors in the community are happy.”

Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) acting executive director Chinkie Pelino-Golle maintained the reopening of the Mt. Apo came too early.

Golle said LGUs must provide alternative livelihood for their constituents who depend on the presence of trekkers.

Bryan Tenorio, member of the Cycle for Life, dared the LGUs to lift the trekking fees and leave the maintenance of Mt. Apo to the DENR.

“No more tourist agencies. They’re only after money,” he said.

“We must understand that mountain climbing is not for everybody. If you do not have time to train and educate yourself about climbing, do not climb. We must give some time for your preparation,” Tenorio said.

He said that mountaineering is a sport “that has to be appreciated, not just reaching the summit, but enjoying the whole experience.”

Tenorio said that the ill-prepared trekkers leave their garbage on the mountain.

“They don’t mind. If their shoes get worn out, they will just leave it there,” he 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 the 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, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)