Mt.Apo Congressional Climb
KIDAPAWAN CITY – North Cotabato 2nd District Congresswoman Nancy Catamco, along with supporting groups, kicked off to Mt. Apo on Wednesday for the first-ever Congressional Mt. Apo Evaluation Climb, to evaluate the actual situation of one of the country’s favorite tourist destinations.
Catamco, vice chairman of the House Committee on Tourism, said vandalism and volumes of garbage immediately caught her attention while trudging to the peak of Mt. Apo. “I saw names of climbers and organizations painted on stones with car paint; worse, some of them were actually carved on tree trunks. It basically destroys nature,” Catamco said.
Although Mt. Apo National Park has been as a protected area, the current climbing trails and campsites are littered with trash. Recently, volunteers from the Philippine Army’s 38th Infantry Battalion have brought down 350 kilos of assorted garbage gathered from the camp sites. “We have also collected garbage thrown along the trails,” said Ma. Fe Pame, Kidapawan City Investment and Promotion Officer. Much of these wastes is non-biodegradable such as empty tin cans, plastic and Styrofor tumblers and cups, cellophane wrappers, and bottles.
Pame also said that the Kidapawan City LGU has intensified its campaign to develop mountaineers’ awareness on Mt. Apo conservation by enforcing existing policies; however, the problem still remains. Most of the mountaineers responsible for littering and cutting of tree branches are those who use other trails aside from the established Magpet and Kidapawan Trails. Pame bewailed the fact that veteran mountain climbers open new trails and make new paths that worsen the destruction; also creating corridors for soil erosion along the already denuded mountain sides.
After the 3-day evaluation climb, Catamco said she would bring to Congress this concern to call the attention of government line agencies that are tasked to protect the Philippine environment. “We have existing laws that govern the protection of Mt. Apo such as the NIPAS Act, several Presidential Proclamations and the Mt. Apo Act. But still, we observed the same problem. Is it really the law that is our problem or we just don’t care?” she asked without elaboration.
She said, as vice chairman of the House Committee on Tourism, she would ask Congress to conduct a legislative inquiry by inviting the officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other officials of other line agencies to update the House on the implementation of those laws including the Mt. Apo Act. Catamco also said it is high time to curb the problem before Mt. Apo will be totally damaged. One possible problem identified by the solon is the absence of a prosecutor that will prosecute people who violate existing environmental laws. “Had the government assigned a special prosecutor to prosecute violators of environmental laws in the entire country, I think destruction of the environment, specifically in Mt. Apo, should have lessened by now if not totally eradicated,” she added.
Congresswoman Catamco is also aspiring to ask the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to accredit Mt. Apo, the Philippines’ highest mountain, as among the World Heritage sites. Catamco is indeed optimistic that Mt. Apo, which belongs to the 15 biogeographic zones in the Philippines considered to have the highest land-based biological diversity in terms of flora and fauna per unit area, and the most popular climbing destination in the Philippines especially during summer, would meet the criteria set by the UNESCO. “Indeed we have already met the criteria for inclusion in the list. The DENR submitted our application two (2) years ago. But seemingly, it was left unattended and there was no official inclusion that happened,” Catamco said. (Carlo Agamon)