April 15, 2024

The final draft for the long-awaited forest management plan for Mt. Sto. Tomas in Tuba, Benguet will be presented to stakeholders on Oct. 14.
Tuba Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer Clarita Lardizabal said the final draft is the product of a series of consultations between the barangay and local government unit, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, residents of Sto. Tomas, and selected elders and leaders representing the indigenous peoples of the ancestral domain of Tuba.
Lardizabal said a memorandum of agreement on the plan will be signed with the NCIP, DENR, and IP elders and leaders of Tuba domain after the presentation.
The management plan is part of the permanent environment protection order (PEPO) issued by the Court of Appeals in 2015, to protect and preserve the 3,121-hectare forest reservation.
Since 2015, series of consultations were conducted for the crafting of the plan but it was only now that it is being finalized.
Issues and concerns among the community cropped up through the years, which delayed the crafting of the plan.
Prior to the issuance of the PEPO, Mt. Sto. Tomas is one of the known tourism sites of Tuba especially for hikers and sports enthusiasts due to its sceneries.
The mountain is part of the protected Santo Tomas forest reserve declared through Proclamation 581 signed by President Manuel L. Quezon on July 9, 1940.
Association of Barangay Councils president, Councilor Oliver Paus, said the management plan has an agro-tourism component, which would allow sustainable tourism featuring agricultural lands in the area.
He said this would be a win-win solution among the residents, municipality, and tourists.
The PEPO emanated from the case filed by former Baguio Diocese Bishop Carlito Cenzon and Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas citing the reservation’s degradation due to human activities.
The PEPO also bars locals from further expanding their houses and farmlands in the watershed area.
Tourists are still not allowed to visit Sto. Tomas and residents were also barred from making improvements in their residential structures and expansion of their farms.
Lardizabal said after the MOA signing, the plan will be submitted to the DENR central office for approval before it will be transmitted to the CA for its review and action. – Ofelia C. Empian