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by Ofelia C. Empian

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera is finalizing the management plan that will lay down the upkeep and protection of Mt. Sto. Tomas in Tuba, Benguet.

Augusto Lagon, head of the DENR-CAR Technical Division, said the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office is expected to finalize the management plan not later than June this year.

He said they have finished the perimeter delineation inside the 3,121-hectare reservation, which will identify the metes and bounds of the reservation and update the census of actual occupants in the area.

The draft plan and land use zoning are being revised after they were presented and got advice from Undersecretary for Field Operations Demetrio Ignacio and Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Marcial Amaro the other week.

“The final draft plan will later be presented to all stakeholders, such as the local government unit, petitioners, Department of Tourism, other government agencies, and the communities affected,” Lagon said.

He added that they would proceed to actual landscape enhancement and operational management of Mt. Sto. Tomas with every stakeholder taking part of the plan.

Outgoing Mayor Florencio Bentrez said the Mt. Sto Tomas area checkpoint in Km. 8 is now manned by the DENR-CAR due to the permanent protection order issued by the Court of Appeals last year that ordered the LGU to “cease and to desist from issuing any permit to conduct activities with the forest reserve, including but not limited to the operation of businesses and the use of the area for filming movies and television shows, without clearance from the DENR, and to cancel the permits already issued.”

Bentrez said they have talks with the DENR to allow residents to operate their existing small businesses in the area such as eateries and stores to cater to the community within the reservation.

Based on records, more than 600 households have been paying tax declarations for lands inside Mt. Sto. Tomas violating the provisions of the proclamation that created the forest reservation in 1940.

Bentrez said they hope that the management plan would help restore Mt. Sto Tomas.