Santa Cruz, Laguna: Large areas of Mount Banahaw will remain closed to trekkers, mountaineers and pilgrims as the mountain has yet to fully recover from environmental degradation. Officials, however, are keeping certain areas open for pilgrimage and other religious activities this Holy Week.
Mount Banahaw straddles the municipalities of Lucban, Tayabas, Sariaya, Candelaria and Dolores in Quezon and parts of the towns of Rizal, including Nagcarlan, Liliw, Majayjay and San Pablo City in Laguna.
Banahaw, the tallest mountain in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) region and considered holy and mystical site, has shown signs of improvement after a respite of seven years from ecological disturbances such as pollution and incessant hiking.
Its significance in religion and folklore makes it not only physical, but also a cultural landmark.
It is home to Rizalistas and other cults who believe the mountain is the “New Jerusalem”.
To a wider populace, it is a sacred mountain visited every Holy Week by devotees, keeping a promise to regularly climb Banahaw.
Thus it is not surprising that areas in the mountain have religious names, such as “Kweba ng Dios Ama” (Cave of the God the Father) and “Kalbaryo” (Calvary). At its foot village of Kinabuhayan all sorts of amulets, magical stones, and healing herbs are peddled along with souvenir shirts.
Salud Pangan, Park superintendent of Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape (MBSCPL) said this Holy Week pilgrimage to the mountain will be allowed, though confined to designated areas.
A curfew will be enforced and pilgrims would have to leave the mountain after 10 p.m.
The decision to extend the closure, Pangan said, came after a research team that studied the ecology of Mount Banahaw, reported that the mountain had shown some remarkable improvements as a result of the moratorium, but needs more time to recuperate.
The research team headed by Lope Calanog has found the area “highly susceptible to landslide, erosion and flash flood.”
Calanog’s team also has found that the campsite, worship areas and common bathing places for devotees in one of so-called sacred rivers on the mountain in Dolores, Quezon have exceeded their carrying capacities.
In 2004, authorities closed down Mount Banahaw to public until 2016.
The Environment department extended the moratorium by another three years or until 2019.
Because of this, some parts of the 2,177-meter mountain, which spans 11,133 hectares, will remain restricted to the public.
In Dolores, the closed areas start from Cristalino Falls up to Dungaw, Tatlong Tangke and Kinabuhayan village. In Sariaya, areas closed to the public are the Pagbug site in the villages of Bugon and Dulong Ilaya, as well as in Concepcion Pinagbukuran and Concepcion Banahaw. Mountainsides in the towns of Tayabas and Lucban are also closed to the public.