Contrary to an Inquirer report today headlined “Mt. Pulag off limits to trekkers to prevent forest fires“, Mt. Pulag remains open to hikers. This was relayed to me by Ma’am Mereng Aldas, Park Superintendent of the Mt. Pulag National Park (MPNP). The supposed resolution by the town council of Kabayan, and its town mayor, Faustino Aquisan, is non-binding because the municipality of Kabayan has no jurisdiction over Mt. Pulag; only parts of it fall within its boundaries. Moreover, it is still up to the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) to decide whether or not Mt. Pulag will be closed. Hence, we reject this resolution, and wonder why the Inquirer writer, Delmar Carino or his editors came up with such a misleading headline. Didn’t he consider the implications of such a news to ecotourism, and to locals in Mt. Pulag dependent on trekkers for their livelihood?
As a result of this news report, we have been flooded with inquires about Mt. Pulag’s status. Again, to everyone: Mt. Pulag is open to mountaineers at the moment according to park authorities. If this would change in the future, we’ll try to let you know but at the moment it is wide open.
It is true that fires have occurred throughout the Cordilleras – we have reported this several times. Yet the fires only touched on a very small part of Mt. Pulag National Park, particularly the Akiki trail. And even after the brush fire, the trail remained intact and passable. If there was a need to close a portion of the mountain, they could just have been selective about it (i.e temporary closure of the Akiki Trail). Besides, how can keeping mountaineers off limits to Mt. Pulag prevent forest fires?? We have our code of conduct summed up by three words: “Leave No Trace”. We’re not even It is the local kaingineros, the illegal loggers, which they have to control and keep from going to the mountain because in most cases they are the culprits in these brush fires.
Mountaineers have served as the eyes of the nation in far-flung areas. With outsiders banned from Mt. Pulag, it will be more vulnerable, just like what Ma’am Mereng said in the INQUIRER article, to illegal logging and kaingin — which would spell more damage to the mountain.
We must be vigilant lest this issue be used as a pretext to close the mountain. There have been quarrels in the past between the Muncipality of Kabayan and the DENR over Mt. Pulag, because the annual treks organized by the Municipality are allegedly not being coordinated with the DENR-PASU. Hearing about the “secondary reasons” for the resolution to close Mt. Pulag, which include “issues involving transport groups plying the Mt. Pulag route and to retrain tourist guides” makes me raise eyebrows over the real motives behind this closure. Are certain elements wanting a greater share of Mt. Pulag? We must really watch this issue with grave concern lest Mt. Pulag become another Mt. Apo where each local government gets its pig’s share of the exhorbitant entrance fees.
Mt. Pulag is a national park of national importance. It spans three provinces (Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya) and several towns. Its fate cannot be decided by a town council. Any decision to close it must involve all the national stakeholders in the park. Mountaineers must also be consulted since we are by far the largest group of people who visit Mt. Pulag.