THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has placed Mt. Arayat National Park under a Protected Area Suitability Assessment (PASA), which is part of the long process of elevating the status of the area into a protected landscape.
The new Republic Act No. 11038, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENipas) Act of 2018, mandates all national parks to be designated as initial component of the system and be subjected under a PASA.
“There is very high biodiversity at Mt. Arayat,” DENR-Provincial Environment and Natural Resources officer Laudemir Salac said, adding that conservation efforts must be strengthened to protect the biodiversity of the national park.
Salac said that the elevation of the area into a protected landscape would be ideal in addressing the need to protect the national park in line with the current situation of human activities in the area.
The ENipas Act defines protected landscapes as areas of national significance which are characterized by the harmonious interaction of man and land while providing opportunities for public enjoyment through recreation and tourism within the normal lifestyle and economic activity of these areas.
“In a national park, per se, there should be no human activity in the area. But we must accept that there are already inhabitants in the area,” Salac said, stressing that the protected landscape status would enable the DENR to manage and strongly regulate the activity of the people in the area with the help of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).
The PAMB is a multi-sectoral governing board chaired by the DENR and composed of representatives from the local governments, other government agencies, people’s organizations, and non-government organizations.
Salacsaid that they are now strengthening the PAMB so that it can fully implement its functions under the ENipas Act.
The board decides on matters related to planning, resource protection, and general administration of the protected area, including the delineation of boundaries, buffer zones among others.
Mt. Arayat National Park
Mt. Arayat National Park is comprised of Mt. Arayat and some 3,715 hectares of its rolling and moderately rugged terrain. Mt. Arayat was formerly known as “Bunduk Alaya” or “Eastern Mountain” while Arayat is the name of the town where majority of the mountain’s area is located. Eventually, people began referring to the mountain as Mt. Arayat.
Rising at a height of 1,026 meters above sea level, the mountain is considered as an extinct strato volcano whose circular volcanic crater measures 1.2 kilometers in diameter, according to the DENR. The mountain is part of the Kapampangans’ proud heritage with creation stories and legends revolving around the fabled mountain.
Mt. Arayat National Park covers portions of the eight barangays of Arayat town and another five barangays in Magalang town.
Conservation efforts on Mt. Arayat started as early 1921 when it was established as a forest reserve under Proclamation No. 40.
In 1933, the President Manuel Quezon issued Presidential Proclamation No. 594 establishing the mountain and its environs as a national park.
Quezon had taken a liking to the mountain’s lush surroundings that he began developing his own estates in Keledian, now Barangay Camba, and Barangay Suclayin.
The President and his wife Aurora would often visit their estates which, in a way, helped focus interest on the nearby national park.
President Quezon again issued following Proclamation No. 203 that clearly established the boundaries of the national park. Some10 hectares of the park had been set aside for the development of a recreational facility where the San Juan Baño resort now sits.
In the early 1940s, the Mt. Arayat National Park was a favorite destination of picnickers and visitors from urban Metro Manila. It experienced a gradual decline in the 70s up to the late 90s.
In 2000, the DENR and the local government of Arayat agreed to turn over the operations of the San Juan Baño recreational area to the Department of Tourism to boost the tourism potential of the park pursuant to the provisions of R.A 7690 which declared the Arayat National Park as a tourist spot.
Later on, the PAMB unanimously approved a resolution that will allow the local government of Arayat to formally takeover the operations of the San Juan Baño resort. Mt. Arayat National Park went under a P10-million rehabilitation of its facilities and attractions. The agreement on the management of the national park is set to expire in 2019.
Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) Tess Arbitrario said that DENR studies have shown that the national park is home to 49 species of trees and plants; 86 species of wild birds; 14 species of mammals; and 11 species of reptiles.
There is also a presence of vulnerable and endangered species of flora in the national park like the Arayat Pitogo (Cycasriuminiana) which is currently listed as endangered.
Trees like Kamagong gubat, Tindalo, Kupang and Bangkal are also found in the national park. The populations of these trees are currently listed as threatened species.
The DENR said that there are also critically endangered species of Bitaog and Teak. The listing means that these trees are within high risk of extinction.
Mt. Arayat National Park is also home to lush number of shrubs and orchids as well as birds and other animals.
The mountain is also home to the nearly threatened Philippine macaque.
Regulating human activity in Mt. Arayat has been one of the key issues being addressed by the DENR in the past years.
Salac said that they are also looking into the issue of upland farmers with no tenural instruments, as well as allegations of charcoal making at the slopes of the mountain. Charcoal making utilizes slash and burn techniques that reduce plant cover.
“There is such a thing as production and protection. The objective now is to help people harmonize their activities in the area,” Salac said.
He added that there are also allegations of encroachment, which the DENR is now investigating, into the land areas of the national park in Magalang town.
The DENR’s current socio-economic profile of people in the area, in its Survey and Registration of Protected Area Occupants (SRPAO), showed that there are least 538 who derive their livelihood from the mountain. Salac said that people in the area must be guided on how to best protect the multiple use zone.
The PENRO, he said, aims to strongly regulate the activity in the area, particularly in the multiple use zone of 2,916 hectares in Magalang and Arayat towns. Here activity as well as any developments must be approved by the DENR and the PAMB.
Some 799 hectares of the national park is designated as strict protection zone in which no human activity is allowed.
The DENR also hosts regular tree planting activities in Mt. Arayat to address the lack of forest cover in certain areas of the national park.
Salac said that the elevation of the national park into a protected landscape would greatly benefit conservation efforts.
The DENR is currently doing public consultations among communities regarding the said move. The initiative would then have to pass through the evaluation of the DENR regional and national offices as well as National Economic and Development Authority.
The status of the Mt. Arayat National Park as a protected landscape would then have to be supported by congressional legislation in line with the ENipas Act.