Monday, March 10, 2008

MOUNT MANUNGGAL: An Epitome of a Sick Mother

I HAVE CLIMBED Mount Manunggal six times. First on September 26, 1992. The last on July 14, 2005. While climbing Manunggal is very hard as it is quite steep, what made it harder is it has no forest cover along its trail.

Deforestation is quite obvious as lands which used to abound with forests are now utilized to grow ginger, garlic, onions, cabbage, eggplants, etc., etc. They say that this part of the area is called the Central Cebu National Park, but, I say, it is the Central Cebu National Farm. Slash-and-burn farming left its mark on the earth as stumps of burnt-out trees are left like tombstones to remind as of man's indifference to his environment.

As always, we start down from Tagba-o in Barangay Tabunan, where we crossed a river that divides Cebu City from the town of Balamban whence Mt. Manunggal is a part of. From the river it was steep climbing all the way. Although Manunggal is only 3,009 feet above sea level, my club, the Cebu Mountaineering Society (CeMS), considered and rated it to be a major climb. The heat of the sun made it harder for want of trees and the trail is slippery and wet caused by the ever-present dew brought in by fogs.

With a heavy backpack you can negotiate Manunggal from the river up to the campsite in about four to seven hours, depending upon your physical fitness and area familiarity. Returning to Tagba-o is quite easy: you could walk or run downhill (provided you have strong and arthritic-free knees) and with a lighter pack it's over in two hours. In all, Manunggal is a good training site to prepare for harder major climbs outside Cebu.

Mount Manunggal is known for being the crash site of the presidential plane, Pinatubo, which crashed on its shoulder killing instantly the dear President Ramon Magsaysay and eighteen others on March 17, 1957. A monument honoring Pres. Magsaysay stands at the crash site, which, incidentally, is the present main camping area for mountaineers. A shrine was also made to house the relic of the Pinatubo – the plane's main engine block.

Later, a chapel was built by the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) for their outreach project. One good reason why Manunggal is attractive to climbers is the presence of a very cool spring which never falters in water volume, come drought or el niño.

On my second climb on March 1993, many mountaineers converged there on the occasion of Pres. Magsaysay's death anniversary and I felt in high spirits due to a show of solidarity and presence of the same kindred souls like I do. I got to know and made friends with climbers from other clubs. We lit a big bonfire as different groups presented different entertainment presentations. It was very memorable.

A year later, we climbed Manunggal in the dead of night knowing that by day the trails will be full of people and very muddy and slippery caused by too many stomping feet. Familiarity with the trails of Manunggal had given us an advantage in doing a night trek. But by day, we observed, too many people had climbed up and many people are still coming. It was an unusual crowd and an air of a fiesta lent the air as people not belonging to any mountaineering group began to destroy vegetation they see, throwing at will plastic and other garbage around. What made it worse is that a lot of plastic were carried off by the breeze and scattered in different directions!

I saw many hogs, goats and hens being brought up to be slaughtered later, but, one pig I saw escaped from its leash and ran downhill so fast leaving its caretakers stumbling in its wake. Amused but disgusted at the same time, we folded our tents after lunch and went downhill for home to protest against the organizers who were promoting that year's climb. Never again that I and CeMS would participate in any activity that would destroy or neglect the beauty of our mountains.

All my other climbs at Manunggal were done not on the occasion of the Pres. Magsaysay death anniversary anymore and, once, on December 27, 1995 I made a solo ascent there and I felt peace with myself and the world. My last climb was with a group of unarmed policemen on training. We started from the trans-central highway in Barangay Gaas, Balamban where we passed by Pingis waterfall, then a boulder-filled river before climbing up.

I saw now a different Manunggal. The monument, the relic and the chapel are still there, but, they have “neighbors” now. Shanties have sprouted selling their wares. The ever-flowing spring is now boxed inside a concrete and water pipes protrude like an octopus' arms to irrigate the farms below. Oh, a row of outhouses are built near the spring. Too many structures built have despoiled the sanctity that is Manunggal.

On the other side of the mountain's shoulder, a DENR (Department of Natural & Environment Resources) station, a visitor's lodge and several huts were erected for purposes of maintaining the government's reforestation project and to house VIPs every time the commemoration of Pres. Magsaysay's death is held every year. It is also that time the mountain's ecosystem croaked and groaned through many agonizing moments as a sheer number of ecologically-impaired people converge to make fun of the environment leaving piles of uncollected garbage and bending and distorting every blade of grass or leaf and branch.

A road now connects Mount Manunggal (making it more accessible to these kind of people) from the trans-central highway and it is all of five kilometers or so in length, one-third of which is concreted. We exited through this road and I bade goodbye to my dear old Mount Manunggal one last time praying that the government's reforestation effort would cover all of the unabated intrusions, the shameless activities and unrestricted development that we have effected upon one of the homes of the rare and endemic bird – the Cebu flowerpecker.

Nearby is Mount Mauyog, almost equal or higher in altitude, but still unspoilt. Very few have camped there and that will be my future camping destination. On my way to Mauyog I will pass by Manunggal and, maybe, give her a kiss accorded to that of a mother. An ailing mother. I will be still around to watch over her concerns and complaints and give her a voice for all the world to hear.


Yet despite man's indifference towards his environment there is always a thin ray of light that gives hope to protect the environment from wanton exploitation and nerve-numbing development. A few voices will start that fire and ignites them into something productive. It takes only a few bold steps to make it roll against a brick wall of dissent coming from people having interests in that area of concern.

I salute the Honorable Eduardo R. Gullas, Cebu 1st District Representative, for doing something to protect our watershed (of which Mont Manunggal is part of) by sponsoring a bill known as the “Central Cebu Protected Landscape” in the Philippine House of Congress which was then enacted into a law. It shall now be unlawful to develop Cebu's watershed area composing the Central Cebu National Park, the Sudlon National Park, the Kotkot-Lusaran-Mananga river system, the Buhisan, Mananga and Lusaran watershed.

Although it doesn't bar people from coming to an fro in sheer numbers that create an ecological impact on Cebu's mountain areas, especially in the Central Cebu Mountain Range, but it does put a stop to all those development that is now starting at its fringes. At least, in this lifetime I lived to see something that ensures the survival of our children and their children's children.

This document is done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer using Trebuchet MS font with size #12.

No comments: