LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- Hearings of farmers illegally occupying and using the Mount Pulag land as vegetable gardens have started on January 11, Mount Pulag Park Supervisor Emerita Albas said.

Albas with Tomas Velasco, Victor Dictag, Walter Pedro, Marcelino Basatan Jr., Emmanuel Dictaan, Samson Guillermo, and Bernard Solano of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in a joint affidavit that farmers within the sacred mountain illegally occupied portions of the Pulag National Park in Sition Tabeyo, Ballay, Kabayan, Benguet.

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The team composed of personnel from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Coastal Zone Management Services, Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) has been roving the periphery of the mountain to assess the condition of the encroached areas.

The inspection team reported, "Our general observations revealed that the area being encroached were cleared and burned in previous years, since the extent of damage to forest resources cannot be completely accounted during the inspection/investigation."

Many people living on the encroached land said they were merely hired to work the gardens. However, none of those questioned could show documents to legitimize their occupancy of the land they are tilling.

The surrounding areas in the Pulag reservation are also in the verge of being destroyed by vegetable gardens setup by farmers.

The National Park that covers 11,550 hectares was established to protect and preserve the natural features of the area such as its outstanding vegetation and wildlife.

It belongs to Northern Luzon's Cordillera Biogeographic Zone. It is also a National Integrated Protected Area Programme site.

Another hearing is set on Monday, January 25, Albas said.