By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Tourists should not be banned from visiting Mount Santo Tomas in Tuba, Benguet because the permanent protection order issued by Court of Appeals, according to Board member Juan Nazarro, Jr., does not prohibit it.
“I read the Court of Appeals decision, in my opinion the permanent protection order does not prohibit tourists from visiting tourist spots in Mt. Sto, Tomas,” Nazarro said.
It can be recalled that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) banned tourists from entering Mount Sto. Tomas, and dismantled vending stalls catering to them in sitio Pungayan (TV series’ La Presa), Barangay Poblacion in Tuba town to implement the protection order issued by the Court of Appeals.
Nazarro, in his bid to re-open the mountain reservation to tourists filed a resolution at the provincial board asking DENR to lift the ban. The passage of the resolution was deferred last August 15 session as the board intends to invite DENR officials to discuss the matter and other environmental concerns of the province in their next session on August 22.
Nazarro said he is aware that the DENR already prepared a master plan for the management of Sto. Tomas but the implementation of the plan is taking too long. “When will the master plan be finished and implemented? When the opportunity is already lost?” he said.
He said tourism activities has been going on in the area even before the “La Presa” rose to popularity. “The La Presa fever will be forgotten and it will be a lost opportunity for Benguet tourism,” he added.
He said that apart from “La Presa” there are other tourist sites up in the mountain that include the station of the cross that is frequented during the holy week, the caves, the view of the Lingayen Gulf to the West and Baguio to the north east, among others.
Nazarro said tourism gives additional livelihood sources for the residents of Sto. Tomas and other adjacent communities by offering tour guide services and transient houses among others.
“Why should the people suffer when it is a case of a former congressman?” Nazarro said.
It can be recalled that the DENR filed a complaint against former Baguio Congressman Nicasio Aliping, Jr. and officials of three construction firms for cutting trees in Sto. Tomas in June of 2014.
DENR Regional Director Ralph Pablo said they are now ready to present the Sto. Tomas management plan to all stakeholders, especially the occupants in the area.
“The principal purpose of this Strategic Master Plan is to optimize and regulate the use of the forestland to its best land allocation and stop the destructive effects of open access conditions of the forest reserve,” the executive summary of the plan states.
The strategic master plan for Sto Tomas outlines how the DENR, local government units and other stakeholders will manage, develop and protect the resources at the mountain. In its executive summary, the master plan enumerates two objectives: 1.) “Empowerment of communities for sustainable forest management and diversification of livelihood options;” and 2.) Improvement of watershed integrity through establishment and enforcement of Forest Management Zones, maintenance or expansion of natural forest, biodiversity conservation and protection, biodiversity friendly agricultural practices and development of eco-tourism sites. # nordis.net