Climbers who enter Mt. Kitanglad without permit face fine, prison term

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 12 December) – The 26 mountaineers who were arrested on Thursday for climbing Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon without a permit could be slapped a maximum fine of P100,000 each and/or imprisonment for one year to five years if found guilty based on Republic Act 8978 or the Mt. Kitanglad Range Protected Area Act of 2000.

The mountaineers could he held liable for violation of Nos. 1 and 5 of Section 10-C of RA 8978.

The said provisions penalize violation of “any rule or regulation in the management plan of the PAMB (Protected Area Management Board) or agreements reached before the PAMB in its exercise of adjudicative functions” and “entry into the protected area without a permit from the PAMB.”

Mt. Kitanglad Range, one of the few remaining rainforests in the country, as viewed in Barangay Sil-ipon, Libona, Bukidnon. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Police from Impasugong, Bukidnon also arrested seven guides and porters who escorted the group but released them after they volunteered to testify against the 26 climbers.

Most mountaineers use the route via Sitio Intavas in Barangay La Fortuna, Impasugong in going to Mt. Kitanglad (2,899 masl).

The complaint against the climbers, who are mostly from Metro Manila and Luzon, was filed Friday at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Malaybalay City with NPS Docket No. X-01-INQ-21L-00528, police said.

The respondents also submitted a request for preliminary investigation with waiver of right under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, police added.

The article provides that an officer is liable for detaining a person for more than the 12-18-36-hour period without filing a case in court.

Police identified the 26 climbers as Angel Ann Agpalasin of Tuguegarao City, Raina Ramon of Paranaque City, Augustine Arandia of Quezon City, Laarni Zenia Gaor of Quezon City. Janet Antonio of Marikina City. Patricia Perez of Pasig City, Cyril Innis of Quezon City. Sarah Samson of Muntinlupa City, Jennie Bangugulian of Angeles, Pampanga; Paul Rogen Tupino of Quezon City, Jobert Eupalao of Quezon City, Romeo Abenir of Caloocan City,.  Marlon Labay Jr. of Mandaluyong City, Gerard Andrew Bantug of Nueva Ecija, Kevin Christian Esguerra of Cavite City,  Mark Andrew Arevalo of Quezon City, Keith John Julian of Cadiz City,  Rodel Valenzuela of Manila City, Joven Santos of Paranaque City, Allan Caroche of Pasay City, Aurellio Arevalo of Manila City, Chris Angelico Sabornido of Cainta Rizal City, Edward Perez of Bataan Province, Jose Marx Soguilon of San Luis, Pampanga; Humphrey Ofiaza of Cagayan de Oro City, and Harold Borja of Metro Manila, the reported organizer of the group.

Borja posted on Facebook that he was already on top of Mt. Kitanglad. His post stated, “I never ride the winds of change when everybody does…As I’ve said, don’t worry if I write CRIMES, I also write CHEQUES…To all my HATERS and NAYSAYERS, I’m still on top of the hill. Try harder next time.”

The Protected Area Management Office said it conducted a background check on Borja and found out that the local government unit of Laur, Nueva Ecija wanted him and his group banned from the town’s ecotourism sites for allegedly entering Mt. Kemalugong on March 9-10, 2019 even if it was ordered closed at the time.

Laur Mayor Alexander Daus, in a letter to the Provincial Tourism Office dated April 4, 2019, recommended for a ban on Borja’s “backdoor hikers.”

Among mountaineers, “backdoor” means entering an area without getting a permit.

Since 1995, the PAMB of Mt. Kitanglad Range has limited the number of visitors to 15 persons per day.

In June 2020, the PAMB passed Resolution No. 732 suspending all ecotourism activities in the area due to the pandemic.

In May this year, the PAMB passed a resolution reopening the protected area but limiting entry to Bukidnon residents only.

The mountain range straddles Malaybalay City and the towns of Impasugong, Sumilao, ManoloFortich, Baungon, Talakag and Lantapan. The eight areas share boundaries at the summit of Mt. Kitanglad, a popular trekking site.

Listed in 2009 as an ASEAN Heritage Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range is in the process of applying for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)