GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Trekking and other related activities in Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato province have remained suspended, a year after it was first closed down due to the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Lawyer Felix Alicer, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region 12 executive director, said Tuesday they decided to sustain the prohibition pending the issuance of proper movement and monitoring regulations.
He said it applies to the entire Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape (MMPL), which covers a total of 120,457 hectares.
Such decision was based on the assessment of the MMPL-Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), he said.
Alicer said the board, which he chairs, agreed to temporarily postpone the reopening of the trekking activities until the PAMB guidelines are updated.
“Clear and specific guidelines for trekking and monitoring must be established and enforced before we open it again to the public,” he said in a statement.
The official said that since the site has a number of entry and exit points in the surrounding localities, the concern on its carrying capacity must also be discussed thoroughly.
Trekking and other activities within the MMPL were suspended in March last year in compliance with the protocols issued by the national Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases in line with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Based on MMPL-PAMB Resolution No. 11, series of 2016, or the revised recreational guidelines for mountain trekking, hiking, camping and other forms of outdoor activities in Mt. Matutum, only 50 people are allowed in its summit per day.
Alicer said he instructed the PAMB, through the ecotourism, sustainable project development and financing committee, to look into the applicability of such policy.
He said it should be updated first before they recommend the resumption of the activities previously allowed at the site.
PAMB, in coordination with local government units situated within the MMPL, have intensified the enforcement of the area’s closure these past months due to reported sightings of trekkers and motorcycle trail enthusiasts.
In an advisory, it said the unauthorized use of any motorized conveyance within the protected area is prohibited and may only be allowed if it is the only practical means of transportation for the indigenous peoples to access their ancestral domain.
Efren Hibaler, MMPL area superintendent, warned that violators could face fines ranging from PHP200,000 to PHP1 million and imprisonment of not more than six years.
Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato’s highest peak, is an active volcano that measures 2,286 meters above sea level.
Home to diverse flora and fauna as well as rare wildlife species, including the Philippine tarsiers, it was declared a protected landscape in 1995 through Proclamation No. 552 issued by then President Fidel Ramos. (PNA)