MT. ARAYAT used to be a thickly forested area. In fact, it was declared a forest reserve back in 1921. According to Department of Environment and Natural Resources ( DENR), Mt. Arayat is home to 49 species of trees and plants, 86 species of birds, 14 species of mammals, and 11 species of reptiles. A new plant species, Pyrostria arayatensis, was even discovered in 2017 by a team of researchers from Angeles University Foundation and the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila.

The flora and fauna of Mt. Arayat needs to be preserved. My radio partner Cecile Yumul told me that when they climbed Mt. Arayat’s North peak in 1993, they still saw wild pigs and monkeys. One person I talked to said that there were deers before. A DENR report I read mentioned that there are still monkeys but they are being hunted for food. Some of the wild animals were wiped out due to human encroachment, over hunting and destruction of their natural habitat.

I was told that some of the big trees at the peak of Mt. Araya were felled to give way to the construction of a communication facility. If you look at Google Earth, you will see the tower and a clearing at the peak of the mountain. Other trees were felled for lumber and charcoal production.

Mt.Arayat is classified as a protected area. In June of 1993, it was declared a national park with an area of around 3,700 hectares. Of these, 10 hectares in San Juan Baño was set aside as a park resort. With only a handful of forest rangers and field personnel, the DENR cannot guard the whole of Mt. Arayat.

Now there is good news. Last April, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11684 which designates Mount Arayat as a protected landscape or area. The law still needs Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). The DENR shall issue the IRR in consultation with the Provincial Government of Pampanga, the municipalities of Magalang and Arayat and concerned government agencies.

According to RA 11684, a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) to be Chaired by the Regional Director of the DENR shall be formed to manage Mt. Arayat. The members include the Pampanga Governor, Senators duly registered in Pampanga, the Mayors of Magalang and Arayat, the Congressman of the 3rd District of Pampanga, the Barangay Captains within the protected area, concerned government agencies, three NGOs or PO’s, a representative from indigenous people recognized by the NCIP if any, a representative from the academe ( most likely from Pampanga State Agricultural University) and a representative from the private sector who has relevant experience in protected area management.

The day-to-day management shall be handled by the Protected Area Management Office which shall be headed by the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) which shall be appointed by the DENR Secretary, but the PAMB may recommend from a short list of candidates. A sufficient number of support staff shall also be provided. The PASu and support personnel will have regular plantilla positions.