July 15, 2024

KABAYAN, Benguet – The mossy forest and grasslands of Mount Pulag, the country’s third highest mountain and Luzon’s highest peak at 2,922 meters above sea level, are showing signs of rejuvenation after it was declared off limits to the public during the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.
But a vast tract of forest cover and a portion of its mossy forest remain threatened by unabated expansion of commercial vegetable farms, which hikers saw while scaling the mountain via the Ambangeg Trail in Babadak, Kabayan.
Officers and members of the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club and some guests scaled the mountain on April 19 to 20 when the biggest media organization north of Manila resumed its annual “Earth Day climb to Mount Pulag” outdoor program.
Mount Pulag Park Administrator, Emerita Albas, told journalists during the pre-climb orientation at her office in Bokod that efforts to protect the forest and mossy covers from human activities such as farming are being sustained despite the dwindling number of forest guards overseeing the mountain.
The Mount Pulag National Park spans 11,500 hectares bordered by the towns of Kabayan and Bokod in Benguet; Tinoc in Ifugao; and Kayapa in Nueva Vizcaya.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera through the Mount Pulag Protected Area Management has opened the mountain for hiking only last March.
Only residents of Benguet, Baguio City, Tinoc and Kayapa are allowed to scale the mountain provided they have prior reservation, are fully vaccinated, and with medical certificate stating they are fit to climb.
Baguio City has been included in the “bubble area” owing to its high vaccination rate, as host communities are also wary of their health when hikers started engaging with residents.
The annual media Earth Day climb to Mount Pulag was in coordination with the DENR-CAR, Department of Tourism-CAR, provincial government of Benguet, host towns of Kabayan and Bokod, with support from Benguet caretaker Rep. Eric Yap, Gov. Melchor Diclas, SNAP-Benguet, Baguio Water District, Benguet Electric Cooperative, Smart, Fitbar, and Sen. Richard Gordon.
Mount Pulag was first opened to individuals outside the bubble area during the Asian qualifier event of the 2022 World OCR Altitude Race Championship last month. More than 200 individuals were allowed within the perimeter of Mount Pulag during the event on March 25 to 26.
The event was held following a series of consultations among government offices, private organizers, and representatives of the host communities. – Harley F. Palangchao