T’BOLI, South Cotabato (MindaNews /8 December) — The mystical Lake Holon here, dubbed as the “Crown Jewel of the South,” will reopen to tourists on January 4, after almost a one-year closure to allow it to rejuvenate and due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, officials said.
Considered sacred by the T’boli tribe and one of the popular tourist destinations in Soccsksargen region, Lake Holon was ordered closed by the local government from January 6 to March 13 for its annual rehabilitation. But before it can reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head in the country, leading to lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. Since then, tourists were barred from going to the lake.
Rodel Hilado, T’boli tourism officer, revealed that Lake Holon would cater to tourists once again starting early next year.
“We are very excited to welcome everyone to Lake Holon once again,” he said in a video message.
Mayor Dibu Tuan said the locality’s economic and tourism clusters agreed to reopen the lake nestled 1,800 meters above sea level in line with the efforts to reboot the local economy from the impact of the pandemic.
Tuan reminded those who will trek to the lake to observe proper health and physical distancing protocols to protect themselves from the virus, which infected at least 33 residents so far (32 recoveries and one death).
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the lake would have been accessible to the public, except for its designated two-month “rest period” early this year, he pointed out.
Tuan said the annual temporary closure of the town’s top tourism drawer has been a measure implemented by the local government unit in the past several years to protect its environment from degradation.
“Lake Holon deserves a break from the influx of tourists. This is the best that we can do to preserve the beauty of Holon,” the mayor, a T’boli native, said earlier.
Hilado said that they have been conducting training and refresher courses for the town’s frontline tourism personnel during Lake Holon’s temporary closures, apart from the rehabilitation and biodiversity assessment of its environs.
The local government first restricted the lake to the public for nine months in June 2014 to March 2015. In 2016, it closed down the spot for about two months. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the lake was closed for over two months.
Tourists largely flock to the lake for the adventure trek, to swim at its cold waters and to commune with nature. When camping overnight, it is advisable to bring thick clothes due to the usually cold temperature in the area.
Lake Holon (previously named Lake Maughan) is nestled on Mt. Melibengoy, also known as Mt. Parker.
The mountain and the lake were named after Frank Parker and Russell Maughan, both US military officers who died when their plane crashed while they were mapping the area in the 1930s.
Long before it became a tourism attraction, Holon, which means deep water in T’boli, is considered a sacred place by the tribe, though it had been associated with death and destruction.
On Sept. 6, 1995, Lake Holon’s crater wall collapsed, allegedly due to treasure hunting activities, sending an estimated 30 million cubic meters of water crashing downstream for 130 kilometers. At least 53 people were killed and P278 million worth of infrastructure and farm crops were damaged.
In 2003 and 2004, the national government recognized Holon, which is part of the Allah Valley Protected Landscape, as the cleanest inland body of water in the country.
From 2016 to 2017, the lake was also recognized among the world’s “Top 100 Sustainable Destinations,” an initiative by the global Green Destinations.
According to folklore, the lake is protected by the so-called 15 Guardians of Holon, each represented by mountains surrounding the lake. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)