QUEZON – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is considering keeping Mount Banahaw off-limits to the public for good.
This, after a massive fire ravaged some 50 hectares of forest and grasslands on the mystical mountain.
With the cause of fire still to be determined, DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje said closing the natural park to public access for good is one of the solutions 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 in a statement Friday.
The fire was the third reported to have hit the Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape (MBSCPL) since 2010, when 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 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.
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 into the prohibited area, Paje said.
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.
Paje said suspects in the forest fire could face charges for violation of Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, which prohibits the killing of wildlife species and destruction of their habitat.
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 Mount Banahaw from intruders.