Outdoor recreation is a public good, and all levels of government should support and finance the upkeep and maintenance of hiking trails for the benefit of everyone. Thus, in an ideal setting, there should be no registration fees in most hiking trails, with the possible exception of national or provincial parks that require additional infrastructure and personnel to maintain. This arrangement is what we see in many parts of the world: in Hong Kong, all the trails can be hiked for free – even as they are well taken care of by the government. In the US, too, most hikes do not require any form of registration – with the exception of certain areas in national and state parks. In the Philippines, then, ideally, only national parks like Mt. Pulag, Mt. Apo, and Mt. Kanlaon should have registration fees.
We, however, that in the Philippines, there is little or no support for the national government for outdoor recreation, and that local communities can benefit from the receipt of revenue from hikers’ fees. Thus, while maintaining our desire for the ideal state, we do not object to the imposition of fees. However, any form of registration fee must meet the feeling criteria:
First, fees must be reasonable and commensurate to the activities involved. For dayhikes, only a minimal fee should be imposed. Any fee that is in excess of the minimal amount should be justifiable.
Second, the imposition of fees must be consulted with stakeholders, including mountaineers. Any change in the fee structure must likewise be consulted with various groups, and advance notice must be given so that hikers have enough time to prepare.
Third, fees must be equitable. Whenever possible, students should be given discounts. Other possibilities to achieve equity include having a different fee structure for tour operators and independent hikers. There must be an attempt to enable Filipinos from all walks of life to be able to hike freely.
Fourth, there must be accountability on how the funds are spent. We believe that funds should directly benefit the environment and the community en banc (not just a few members). This also applies to the barangay level. Consequently, government agencies and even private entities should demand fees should be able to issue an official receipt.
In addition to the above principles, we also wish to respond to the following justifications for registration fees:
(1) Registration fees will benefit the community. While this may be true for some cases, we have also encountered instances where the fees just benefit a few members of the community, for instance, barangay captain and his close associates. This is the reason why we must demand accountability (principle #4). Importantly, there are other ways for the community to benefit other than registration fees. Guides, porters, tricycle and jeepney drivers, halo-halo and souvenir sellers are just a few of the beneficiaries of hiking activity – all of which can be lost if an LGU imposes an unreasonable fee.
(2) A higher registration fee will limit the number of hikers, which is good for the environment. While it is true that a higher registration fee will limit the number of people, it is achieving such a goal in the wrong way: by selecting the hikers based on their ability to pay. In the interest of fairness, then, we do not subscribe to this kind of reasoning.
(3) A higher registration fee is needed for garbage collection. A more cost-effective way to keep the mountains clean is to prevent the hikers from throwing garbage in the first place – by orienting them at the trailhead (this is especially important for overnight hikes), by empowering guides to reprimand violators, and penalize the offenders by imposing fines on them – not letting all the hikers to pay the cost.
(4) A higher registration fee is needed to build facilities. The question we must ask is this: What kind of facilities? There is no need to put up facilities in most trails; the mountain is best left as is. While trail maintenance and the building of more durable trail surfaces is justifiable, these are far less expensive than most forms of infrastructure that LGUs contemplate.
(5) The LGU has the right to demand fees because the mountain is under their jurisdiction. It is true that the LGU has some rights over the mountains in their territory, but these rights are not absolute. The whole Philippines belongs to all Filipinos and barangays and LGUs only have limited privileges, which must be accompanied by responsibility.
This is a living document that will be updated as we gather more information and feedback in the future. To the LGU officials who may be reading this: Rest assured that our commitment is to strive for a solution that’s favorable to all concerned: community members, mountaineers, LGUs, and very importantly, the mountains themselves.