THE Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR) on Friday mulled for the permanent closure of Mount Banahaw to the public following the massive fire that ravaged some 50 hectares of forest and grasslands around the mystical mountain.
With the cause of fire still to be determined, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said closing the natural park to public access for good is one of the solutions being contemplated to prevent its further degradation and ensure the recovery of areas affected by the blaze.
“The DENR is now studying the permanent closure of Mount Banahaw to the public, particularly mountaineers and pilgrims, to avoid future incidents of forest fires stemming from human activities,” Paje said.
He noted that the recent fire, which also razed some 92 hectares of plantation within Mount San Cristobal, was the third reported to have hit the Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape (MBSCPL) since 2010.
In 2010, two fires damaged portions of the protected area in San Pablo City in Laguna and Dolores town in Quezon, covering a total of 80 hectares.
The Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) has declared certain portions of the protected area closed to the public until 2015 to allow the rehabilitation of its natural resources damaged by human activity.
Unfortunately, people have been able to slip past the cordons into the prohibited area.
At the same time, Paje said he has already ordered the DENR Region 4-A (Calabarzon) to file charges against those responsible for the blaze.
The environment chief described the massive forest fire as “sad, condemnable and unacceptable” given the extent of the damage it had caused.
“We deeply condemn this act, whether incendiary or accidental, for it not only endangered the lives of nearby communities, but more importantly caused damage to the flora and fauna within Mount Banahaw,” he said.
Paje said suspects in the forest fire could face charges for violation of Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, which prohibits the killing of wildlife species and destruction of their habitat.
Meanwhile, the Quezon Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office rescue team has located the pilgrims who ascended Mount Banahaw on Sunday.
They were identified as tricycle driver Loreto Saculsan Alpapara, 60, of Talon 3 Las Piñas City; Blesilda Lagdameo Clapano, 45, of Imus, Cavite; Melina Vino Anical 27, of Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya; Bryan Abelida Alpapara, 27, of Dasmariñas, Cavite; and seven-year-old Angelic Charise Epita Bolante, 7, of Las Piñas City.
Dolores Philippine National Police MENRO Randy Matibag, Forest
Ranger Magtanggol Barrion and Ugnayan Search and Rescue team headed Adrian Castillo found the six people at the area of Mount Banahaw and San Cristobal protected landscapes of Barangay Kinabuhayan in Dolores, Quezon.
Except for Bolante, all will be charged of violating Protected Area Management Board Resolution 001-2004.
Police disclosed that the suspects arrived at Barangay Kinabuhayan in Dolores, Quezon at around 4 a.m. on March 16 and ascended the mountain on the same day.
They are presently detained at the Dolores Municipal Police Station while the seven-year-old child is under the custody of Department of Social Welfare and Development in Dolores, Quezon.
Mount Banahaw is home to a rich biodiversity of endemic and indigenous plant and animal species. The mystical mountain is a famous site for trekkers and religious devotees during the Lenten season.
The DENR has been coordinating with the PAMB, concerned local government units and law enforcement agencies for the implementation of stricter measures to protect the MBSCPL from intruders.