Assessment needed to know length of closure for Mt. Apo

AUTHORITIES have temporarily closed off Mt. Apo to tourists following the Black Saturday fire that has reportedly destroyed more than 350 hectares based on the aerial reconnaissance by the Department of Environment and Philippine Air Force.

Of the estimated total, 20 hectares are forested areas.

Roberto P. Alabado III, regional director of Department of Tourism (DOT)-XI, said yesterday in the AFP-PNP press conference at Royal Mandaya Hotel that all the trails going to Mt. Apo were immediately closed following the incident to ensure the safety of the tourists.

The period of the temporary closure, Alabado said, will depend on their assessment.

“It will be up to the Mt. Apo Natural Park-Protected Area Management Board if the mountain would be totally closed for a long period of time,” he said. “While it is an iconic tourist destination, we have to ensure the safety of the tourists and protect the environment.”

The DOT, local government unit of Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur and other stakeholders are also currently assessing whether to cancel or not the planned International Boulder Face Challenge and vertical climb challenge in April.

Alabado said these may be canceled if there were no trails that are safe for the participants. Should the events be suspended, another option is to pursue an activity that encourages participants to help in rehabilitating the mountain.

The incident, he said, marked a significant impact to the tourism industry as it affected especially the porters, guides and communities that derive income from the tourists. At present, the DOT is coordinating with the local government units on how many where affected.

“It may have a negative effect to the tourism industry. But what is important is that we have to also take care and nurture the nature,” he said, citing that there should be stricter measures to guard against forest fires and strengthen the need to limit the carrying capacity per trail.

Senator Loren B. Legarda, chair of the committee on environment, said in a statement that the DENR and the concerned local government units have to assign additional forest rangers to monitor visitors and strictly implement the Mt. Apo Protected Area Act of 2003.

“Enjoying nature is a splendid experience and is good for the soul but it comes with great responsibility. I hope the forest fire in Mt. Apo was not man-made, because if it was, we must condemn and punish such irresponsible acts,” Legarda said.

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