Davao: Mountaineers Death a Blunder of DOT, PAMB

Apr. 17, 2007

DAVAO CITY — A mountaineering group said the fate of Ian Caasi, the mountain climber who drowned at Mt. Apos Lake Venado during the observation of the Holy Week, exposes the absence of concrete policies for the safety of mountain climbers and Mt. Apo visitors.

Jumar Bolo, chairperson of the Kinaiyahan Amomahon, Ubanan ug Bantayan (Kauban) Movement, said the death of Caasi could have been avoided had the tourism department, the primary agency responsible for inviting people to climb Mt. Apo, set-up safety measures which could have assured the safety of the mountaineers.

Over the years, Bolo said, there was a failure on the part of the government to really institutionalize mountain climbing despite the many incidents of misfortunes that befell mountain climbers while scaling up and down Mt. Apo in the past.

The incident would have not happened had government agencies like the Department of Tourism only did their duty to the people. This agency commodified Mt. Apo by charging mountaineers hundreds of pesos in registration fee during climbs and yet mountaineers are not getting what they pay for in terms of services, Bolo said.

We know that the registration fee does not, in reality, assure us of our safety but the DOT takes responsibility over the safety of the mountaineers. Also in reality, it was the DOT who encouraged the people to climb Mt. Apo as part of their promotion program, selling Mt. Apo like a product, and so this agency is supposed to be answerable to whatever will happen to us while climbing up and down the mountain, Bolo added.

Kauban said the failure was quite unacceptable knowing how simple these safety measures are. Part of this, Bolo said, was the deployment of stand-by rescue teams who could quickly respond to incidents like that of what happened to Caasi, especially during peak seasons.

He also said that DOT even failed to put signage in places like the Lake Venado and other dangerous areas enough to send warning to mountaineers. At the time of Caasis death, Bolo said, there was no warning sign anywhere in the Lake Venado area where the campers set-up a tent city.

Caasis death, Bolo said, should serve as a lesson and an eye-opener not only for the DOT but also for the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) and even the local government units that are serving as entry-point hosts for climbers.

These local government units are also collecting entrance fees from the climbers, but the purpose of which are mostly vague, if not questionable and unexplained.

After Mt. Apo was shut down for four years, PAMB allowed its reopening in 2005 after the local government units of Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur, Kidapawan City, and Makilala and Magpet in North Cotabato assured them to limit the number of mountaineers they allow to pass by their entry points.

The regulation and control of mountaineers came with the assessment that Mt. Apo has been for the past many years accommodating a number of mountaineers which were way beyond its carrying capacity.

But even with the closure, many mountaineers sneaked into the mountain. There were even reports that some local government units allow mountaineers to enter the protected area and collect fees despite the standing closure order.

We question and protest the fact many government agencies and units are making Mt. Apo and the climbers their milking cows without appropriately giving back what they must give back to the people and the environment, Bolo said.

Kauban has been lobbying for a local legislation that could address the issues concerning mountaineering in Davao City. It has conducted a number of seminars and orientations not only on basic mountaineering and safety but also on environmental care.

The group is also advocating for responsible mountaineeringwhere mountaineers will instill into themselves their own responsibility to take care of the environment while enjoying its abundance and beauty.

It has been calling for various mountaineering groups to not only give their members with basic mountaineering and safety course but also with environmental inputs.

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