‘Cultural sanctions’ eyed vs climbers who entered Mt. Kitanglad without permit

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 15 December) – The 26 climbers and their seven local guides who entered Mt. Kitanglad via Sitio Intavas, Brgy. La Fortuna in Impasugong town, Bukidnon last week without a permit may have to face “cultural sanctions” by the tribal leaders in addition to the court cases filed against them.

Talaandig Datu Lambagani Julius Saway leads a ritual atop Mt. Dulang-dulang in Songco, Lantapan, Bukidnon. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Datu Makapukaw Adolino Saway, chair of the Kitanglad Council of Elders, said on Wednesday the climbers violated their culture by entering the mountain without getting the consent of the tribes through a ritual.

Saway, also a member of the tribal affairs committee of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, said “this is not just about money and the law, Mt. Kitanglad is a sacred area.”

He said he will convene both the Council of Elders and the committee next week to agree on what action to take against the climbers, who were mostly from Luzon and Metro Manila.

The three tribes inhabiting the communities around Mt. Kitanglad – Bukidnon, Higaonon and Talaandig – consider several sites in the mountain range as sacred. They have erected a bangkasu (altar) in each of these sites where they hold rituals for or offer prayers to what they believe to be the spirits of Nature.

The 26 climbers were released Monday night after posting bail of P30,000 each or P15,000 for each of the two cases filed against them. The seven guides were released earlier without charges after they agreed to become witnesses against the climbers.

The climbers were sued for violation of Nos. 1 and 5 of Section 10-C of Republic Act 8978 or the Mt. Kitanglad Protected Area Act of 2000.

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.”

Aside from the permit issued by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), all visitors are required by the PAMB to undergo a ritual before entering any part of the protected area.

A source at PENRO who asked not to be named said all the seven guides were not from Intavas but from other areas of Bukidnon. “One is from Musuan and others are from Valencia City,” the source added.

The source said the guides were told by the reported organizer of the climb, Harold Borja, that they were going to Mt. Kalatungan, a mountain opposite Mt. Kitanglad Range, but were surprised that they went to Mt. Kitanglad instead.

Elders of the Bukidnon, Higaonon and Talaandig tribes perform a ritual before proceeding to the summit of Mt. Kitanglad in Impasugong, Bukidnon. The mountain is sacred to the Lumads or indigenous peoples. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

The guides said Borja assured them that the group had obtained a permit for the trek.

The source said the climbers, who hired an Elf truck for the trip to Intavas, entered the sitio on the night of December 7 and covered the vehicle with tarpaulin to conceal the passengers, and slept at the tulugan (tribal center). They climbed the peak on December 8.

“A farmer informed us about their entry, which we relayed to the police. The soldiers stationed on the summit confirmed their presence,” the source added.

The climbers were told to descend in the morning of December 9, but reached the base of the mountain around 5:30 p.m. escorted by the soldiers. They were then brought to the police station in Impasugong for questioning.

The first time the indigenous people of Mt. Kitanglad, the Talaandig tribe in particular, imposed tribal justice system on outsiders was in 1995.

The tribe subjected a team from the National Museum to a “sala” (cultural penalty) for collecting plant specimens in Mt. Dulang-Dulang, one of the peaks in the mountain range, without their permission.

The National Museum submitted to the “sala” and agreed to pay a certain amount to the tribe. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)