DENR readies charges vs Mt. Pulag forest fire suspects

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is preparing criminal charges against those responsible for the forest fire that destroyed more than five hectares of grassland, including luscious grass and dwarf bamboo plants, inside the Mt. Pulag National Park in Benguet province last Saturday.

Initial investigation revealed that the blaze was caused by an explosion from a butane gas stove brought by a group of hikers from Cebu.

DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the incident did not only recklessly endanger other people who were in the park at that time, it also caused damage to precious forest resources.

“The DENR recognizes the impact of the fire had on the national park and we will pursue all legal avenues to bring those responsible to account,” Cimatu said.

Regional Director Ralph Pablo of the DENR-Cordillera Administrative Region said seven mountaineers led by a certain Kristomar Mackay could face criminal charges for violation of Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act, and Presidential Decree No. 75, also known as the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the DENR is planning to impose additional requirements for hikers wanting to climb Mt. Pulag in the wake of the forest fire.

Some parts of Mt. Pulag have already been declared off-limits to visitors to pave the way for rehabilitation of the area damaged by the blaze.

The forest fire, although suppressed a few hours after it broke out, damaged more than five hectares of grassland stretching from the Saddle Camp Site to the ridge slopes at the northeastern part of the Mt. Pulag summit.

To prevent a repeat of the incident, Pablo said the national park management now plan to designate an open area where cooking may be allowed and require overnight campers to bring portable fire extinguishers.

Cimatu supported such plan, as well as other measures the local DENR office may deem necessary to protect the national park and its visitors.

The environment chief also urged trekkers to observe the park rules not only ensure their safe and enjoyable visit, but also to help preserve Mt. Pulag’s fragile landscape and ecosystems.

"The DENR is mandated to protect Mt. Pulag, but it is imperative that hikers and visitors do their part as well,” Cimatu pointed out. 

“Mt. Pulag has one of the richest biodiversities from the foot of the mountain to its summit and we must all be responsible agents for its conservation," he added.

Aside from adding more rules for hikers, the DENR is also preparing measures to speed up the rehabilitation of the burned grassland area. 

Mt. Pulag National Park is a protected area designated as an initial component of the NIPAS. As such, it is classified as a forest reservation. 

            Section 78 of the Revised Forestry Code penalizes anyone who occupies, possesses and/or causes destruction to forest or grazing lands. This criminal offense includes negligently causing a fire within forest or grazing lands. ###

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