STA. CRUZ, Laguna—Large areas of Mount Banahaw will remain closed to trekkers, mountaineers and pilgrimage, as the mountain has yet to fully recover from environmental degradation, but officials are keeping certain areas open to pilgrimages and other religious activities this Holy Week.
Mt. Banahaw straddles the municipalities of Lucban, Tayabas, Sariaya, Candelaria and Dolores in Quezon and parts of the towns of Rizal, Nagcarlan, Liliw, Majayjay and San Pablo City in Laguna.
Mt. Banahaw, the tallest mountain in the Calabarzon region and considered a holy, mystical site, has shown signs of improvement after a respite of seven years from ecological disturbances such as pollution and incessant hiking.
Its significance in religion and folklore makes it not only a physical, but also a cultural landmark. It is home to Rizalistas and other cults, some of whom believe the mountain as the “New Jerusalem.”
To a wider populace, it is a sacred mountain, visited every Holy Week by devotees, some of whom made it a pledge to regularly climb Banahaw.
Thus, it is not surprising that places in the mountain have religious names, such as “Kweba ng Dios Ama” (Cave of the God the Father) and “Kalbaryo” (Calvary). At its foot village of Kinabuhayan, all sorts of amulets, magical stones, and healing herbs are peddled, together with souvenir shirts.
Salud Pangan, Park superintendent ng Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape, said this Holy Week pilgrimage to the mountain will be allowed, though confined to designated areas.
A curfew will be enforced and pilgrims would have to leave the mountain after 10 p.m.
The decision to extend the closure Pangan said came after a research team that studied the ecology of Mt. Banahaw, a protected area, reported that the mountain had shown some remarkable improvements because of the moratorium, but it needs more time to recuperate some more.
The research team headed by Dr. Lope Calanog has found the area “highly susceptible to landslide, erosion and flash flood.”
Calanog’s team also has found that the campsite, worship areas and common bathing places for devotees in one of so-called sacred rivers on the mountain in Dolores, Quezon, have exceeded their carrying capacities.
It was in 2004 when authorities closed Mt. Banahaw to public that ended in 2016. However, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has extended its moratorium by another three years or until 2019.
Because of this, some part of the 2,177-meter mountain, which spans 11,133 hectares, will remain restricted to the public.
In Dolores, the closed areas start from Cristalino Falls and stretch up to Dungaw, Tatlong Tangke and Kinabuhayan village. In Sariaya, areas closed to the public are the Pagbug site in Bugon village and Dulong Ilaya in the villages of Concepcion Pinagbukuran and Concepcion Banahaw. Mountainsides in the towns of Tayabas and Lucban are also closed to the public.