TUBA, Benguet – The municipal government will only allow a maximum of 400 individuals and 120 vehicles in the various ecotourist destinations within the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation in compliance to one of the conditions of the Permanent Environment Protection Order (PEPO) issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) to prevent the watershed from being severely damaged.
Mayor Florencio Bentres said local tourism stakeholders decided that each batch shall be composed of 12 to 20 individuals and 6 vehicles with 1 tourist guide and that the area could accommodate a maximum of 20 batches.
“We will further discuss the matter with concerned environment officials but we plan to initially implement the regulation of tourists visiting La Presa in compliance to the PEPO and agreed conditions,” Bentres stressed.
He disclosed the local police force and tourism officials will be the ones to regulate the influx of visitors within the Mount Sto. Tomas reservation on a per batch basis and that they are allowed to stay in their desired ecotourist destinations for a maximum of two hours.
According to him, in case visitors comprising a batch decide to stay longer, the tourist guide will look for available parking areas outside the designated parking area to allow the entry of batches that will be waiting for their turn in the police checkpoint.
It was learned that last December, there was a time that over 3,000 visitors flocked to the Mount Sto. Tomas forest reservation just to visit sitio La Presa where the famous television series, Forever More, was filmed from October last year to April this year.
Bentres explained the local tourism stakeholders in coordination with the environment department could increase the number of batches of visitors who will visit the Mount Sto. Tomas area during the peak season, especially from October to May, in order to accommodate the huge volume of visitors but not in defiance of the PEPO considering that such regulation is being monitored by the concerned government agencies and the CA as well.
Aside from regulating the influx of visitors in the forest reservation, the local chief executive cited tourist guides accompanying the batches of visitors are tasked to educate the tourists on the proper disposal of their generated garbage in order to prevent the scattering of waste within the area.
The municipal mayor added all issues surrounding the PEPO are slowly being addressed by concerned government agencies and the local government, especially in terms of their designated roles for the preservation and protection of the state of the environment in the area.
Proclamation No. 581 issued on July 8, 1940 declared over 3,100 hectares of the Mount Sto. Tomas as a forest reservation and that the same order has never been amended since it was issued, thus, lands within the declared area are not alienable and disposable.
Mayor Bentres appealed to visitors who will be encountering delays in going up to La Presa to understand the situation because the concerned government agencies and the municipal government are doing their best to ensure that they will enjoy their visit to the different ecotourist destinations in the area while complying with the PEPO mandate since they will be the ones to be made liable once they defy the order of the CA.
By Dexter A. See