6 pilgrims face raps for breaching Mt. Banahaw environment laws

SARIAYA, Quezon, March 24 (PNA) -– The Mt. Banahaw Park Area Superintendent on Monday said protected landscape authorities are filing charges against the six pilgrims who were apprehended on late Friday afternoon following the 50-hectare grass fire that raged the summit of the mystical mountain.

The charges were filed against the six pilgrims out of the 11 members of the “Hiwaga ng Bundok Banahaw Inc. sect and residents of Las Piñas City.

The six devotees who face charges for violation of environmental laws are identified as Jinky Dumanan, 21; Cristy Estita Bolante, 45; Francisco Alpapara, 73; Tristan Alpapara, 28; Richard Estita, 43 and Emirencia Eugenio Santiago, 44.

The apprehension of the 11 sect members also prompted concerned authorities to terminate the Mt. Banahaw Operations as they now focus on the case to be filed in the proper court.

Investigation panel with the Sariaya police chief traced that the joint mountain search and rescue (MOSAR) team found the six sect members about 10 kilometers from “Binyagan” or the Mt. Banahaw crater late Friday afternoon.

The six pilgrims were given medication and food and brought to the Sariaya base camp to join the Investigating team in the meeting for further interrogation.

Comprising the Investigation Team were Salud “Sally” M. Pangan, DENR-Park Area Superintendent (PASU) of the Mt. Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape (MBSCPL); Magtanggol M. Barrion, MBSPCL Forest Ranger; Sheila B. De Leon, legal counsel of the Search and Rescue Operation;

Senior Fire Officer 4 (SFO4) Florencio Mercurio of Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)-Sariaya; Randy M. Matibag, Dolores Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO)-Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer (MDRRMO);

Aries Chester Malabanan, secretary-general of Ugnayan ng Mamumundok ng Banahaw (Banahaw Mountaineers Association); Emmanuel Calayag, assistant department head, Quezon Provincial Government-Environment and Natural Resources Office (PG ENRO); Marife B. Mendoza, Municipal Councilor of Dolores, Quezon.

Salud Pangan, DENR PASU-MBSCPL said they will not file charges against the first five pilgrims who were rescued earlier because they were not intercepted at the restricted area following the mountain search and rescue operation (MOSAR).

According to the protected landscape law, any such violation has a penalty of one to six years imprisonment or a fine of P5,000 to P500,000.

In an interview, Pangan said “the six pilgrims can be charged of arson and they breached the restricted area based on affidavits, statements and documentations obtained.”

Members of the MOSAR team would also testify because they knew and point to the site where they intercepted the six pilgrims during their operations.

A member of the religious sect admitted that they have indeed lighted candles during their prayer rituals but denied they have any intention to burn the site because of their reverence to the sacred mountain.

Pangan also said there were documentation by the site assessment and inspection team of burnt grasses and “cogon” (reeds), melted candles and some food left-overs at the site.

The area assessment and survey were conducted by the MDRRMO Sariaya, Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), DENR, BFP Calabarzon, PDRRMO Quezon and PNP Sariaya and Dolores stations.

Fire Inspector Glenn Salazar, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Calabarzon said the investigation panel with the BFP and DENR representatives discounted the natural phenomenon cause of the burning of the grasses by direct extreme heat transfer because the incident occurred shortly before dusk.

Firemen and local PDRRMOs assessed the fire incident as grassfire and the first such incident at the sacred mountain’s first “Durungawan” site which pilgrims, devotees and mystical groups ascend for prayer rituals. (PNA)