THE mountaineering activity schedules at Mt. Apo, Sta. Cruz trail are already fully booked for the months of February to April, said Sta. Cruz Municipal Tourism Officer.

Two years after the fire that consumed about 100 hectares of land in Mt. Apo, Sta. Cruz Municipal Tourism Officer Julius Paner said the rehabilitation of the mountain is currently doing good and a lot of green grasses had taken over the previously burnt areas.

“We are doing good. The policies that we have crafted to maintain the mountain and to rehabilitate are doing well. The policies are very comprehensive – no camping at the peak, the number of persons to go is very regulated to only be 50 people per batch. It is religiously followed by the Cotabato trail as well. The burnt portion in the peak is regenerating and is already mostly green,” Paner said adding that for the whole month of January they have decided to close the Sta. Cruz trail for rehabilitation as well as to reorient the people involved in the mountaineering activities which they expect to be participated by a lot of tourists come summer.

When the fire hit Mt. Apo March 2016, it was immediately closed down for climbers and was left so to be rehabilitated coupled with environmental standard procedures. In April 2017, the Sta. Cruz trail was finally opened up but it was only until June 2017 did they start catering to climbers.

“We started with the Mt. Apo Boulderface challenge. Starting June up to December, we catered to about 1,500 climbers. And that generated an employment of more or less 400 [trips] for the guides and 700 [trips] for the Lumad porters,” said Paner.

He added that they currently have 50 trained and accredited guides who also serve as the medical assistant should any untoward incident arise. They also have about 110 porters, all of which are Lumads.

Because of the mountaineering activities, employment and job generation had flourished in the areas surrounding the trails. Not only were there employment for the guides and the Lumads, a number of families had already put up sari-sari store outside their houses while some men are into habal-habal driving for the tourists’ transportation.

Paner said that for every 3 climbers they deploy one porter. In average, a single porter can carry a 15-kilogram baggage. They are paid P500 per day for at least 3 days.

For every mountaineering group composed of five members, a single guide will be needed. The guide is paid P1,000 per day. Aside from the porter and guide fee, Paner said a permit fee of P1,000 is also required from the tourists.

“From this P1,000, it will be divided among themselves. Thirty percent of that will go to the municipal government, 30 percent to the designated barangay, 15 percent to the Indigenous People, and the 25 percent to the Integrated Protected Area Fund of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which will also be used for rehabilitation purposes,” he said.

As they do not want to happen again what happened in Mt. Apo two years ago, Paner said they are observing strict enforcement. A whole team of DENR staff are deployed 24 hours in the two camping sites and all over the trails to monitor and orient the climbers.

“We can close any time when the need arises but as to the standard or schedule when it needs to be closed, we do not have that,” Paner said. However for the entire Holy Week, the municipality of Sta. Cruz decided to close down the trail.

Aside from the Sta. Cruz trail, the only open trails for Mt. Apo are the Kidapawan and the Magpet trails.