Mt. Apo Stairway: What's the real score?

I’ve been asked several times of my stand on the plan of Kidapawan City government to build a 7- kilometer stairway to Mt. Apo, our grand mountain. 

At the summit during my solo climb. (photo as published in bworldonline.com)
Although I'm not so vocal about it I think it goes without saying that as a mountaineer, I am against “building concrete stairways” in our protected areas,  for that is tantamount to defacing the last of the natural forests that we have right within our national treasure.

Look at the banner photo of this blog. If it’s not that obvious, that’s the grand mountain's reflection on Lake Venado. The photo was taken during my third Apo climb last year with Filipino, Singaporean and Vietnamese adventurer friends. I can still vividly remember their faces filled with amazement while descending from the summit to the lake. Their experience of the montane forests, the grassland, the rugged trail, the lake and the mystery of just getting there while being blanketed with thick fogs was something they find unique, incomparable even to the higher and more popular mountains they've been to.

Imagine a concrete stairway connecting to the summit and is reflected on the still waters of the Lake. I would not place it there as banner photo to represent my adventures if that’s the case for reasons we all can understand.

Mt. Apo is on the tentative list of UNESCO's world heritage sites as it is being "considered to be one of the richest botanical mountains in the region hosting hundreds of rare, endemic and threatened species of flora." 

Group photo with ASEAN friends

But, what does the Kidapawan City government really mean with building "stairs" and implementing development projects in our most revered mountain?

Instead of posting shout outs via the social networks and organizing a campaign to convene local mountaineering groups in SOCSARGEN region, I opted to inquire for varying opinions first, check for some technical stuffs and clarify the definition of stairways according the project proponents.

We haven’t heard yet from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), a multi-sectoral body mandated by Rebuplic Act 7586 or the "National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992" to oversee developments and decide on matters relating to planning and management of protected areas like the Mt Apo Natural Park. 

We haven’t heard yet of what the Protected Areas and Wildlife Division - Region 12 (PAWD-12) have to say. On what level is the project now? How true is the news?

Reacting on the basis of just one news item published in different news outfits and not hearing from the technical persons would be un-journalistic on my part. So I tried to gather insights on different perspectives. 

So, what’s the real score?

Here’s to highlight some points in my newsfeature on the “Mt. Apo Stairway issue" published on BusinessWorld’s Weekender Edition for this weekend:
  • The PAWD-12, a division of DENR-12 tasked to “manage protected areas and promote the permanent preservation, to the greatest extent possible of their natural conditions”, have not yet received the project plan as proposed by Kidapawan City government. 
  • PAWD chief Ali M. Hajinasser thinks concreting is not necessary in a protected area like Mt Apo Natural Park. 
  • Kidapawan Tourism Officer Joey Recimilla said: “There will be no concrete stairs to be constructed”, not as stated in the news. “No trees will be cut down.” Using wooden slabs is one preference. 
  • He said, the project’s main concern is for preservation and conservation. If development will be introduced it will the one with the least impact to the environment. 
  • Undeniably, the “No to Stairway to Mt. Apo” campaign through social media has taken off and is gaining support and igniting various opinions from the mountaineering community and conservationists throughout the country. 
  • The mountaineering community, as reflected on mountaineer/leader Art Daniel M. Bacus’ statement, believes that “opening Mt. Apo to more tourists would invite more visitors that will produce more garbage.” Mr. Bacus is the vice-president for Mindanao of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc. (MFPI). 
  • “Mt. Apo should be preserved and conserved as it is. There’s no need for any structure,” Mr. Bacus said during my interview. Once the project is allowed, “it will only create precedence for other LGUs to introduce similar developments”, he said. 
Shot from from the freezing cold Lake Venado
  • The 71,796 hectares Mt. Apo Natural Park straddles Davao City, Digos City, the towns of Bansalan and Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur and Makilala, Magpet and Kidapawan City in North Cotabato. Only Kidapawan has expressed of having development initiatives like this for Mt. Apo.
  • According to Mr. Recimilla the “proposal is to make a trail design that will lead tourists to the mountain without getting lost and to address safety issues.” 
  • There is a plan to establish permanent ranger posts with forest guards "as a way to address the issue on wildlife poaching and illegal hunting." Putting up a biodiversity research center in Kidapawan is part of the plan.
  • Mr. Hajinasser said, any development within the park must be in line with the DENR-12’s Ecotourism Management Plan for the protected natural park. So far, there’s no existing ecotourism management plan within the natural park although it is targeted to be finished this year. 
  • PAWD-12 can always recommend to the DENR-12 regional director for the rejection of development projects within a protected area if found unnecessary even if the LGU and the PAMB has approved of it. 
I wish that the above points can give us new insights and refresh our strategies for whatever campaign we are in. 

This issue can be dealt with more calmly. We can join the right forums for thorough discussions on the matter. We have to listen to Kidapawan City LGU and the DENR-12. No need to be combative with our strategies. 

PAMB is another venue where we can have our voices heard by the right people. We can even organize ourselves to help PAWD-12 polish the Mt. Apo Ecotourism Management Plan. There's the NIPAS Act of 1992 and Mt. Apo Protected Area Act of 2003 to back us up. 

Let's go beyond printing campaign t-shirts and doing street marches. We are mountaineers, We can lead. Right?

Just my two cents worth. 

One for MT. Apo!

Cheers!



Or click here for my first Apo Article in Bworld Weekender: A Place of Rest Above the Clouds.

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