The Philippine government intends to enforce laws banning agriculture and other disruptive human activities in the protected area of Mt Apo, the country’s highest mountain.

The head of Mt Apo Nature Park, Shirley Uy, admitted that agricultural activities, especially coffee cultivation, have encroached on the protected mountain for years.

The secretary of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), Maria Belen Acosta, said the government would again seek the inclusion of Mt Apo in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage List.

The mountain was declared a national park in May 1936. It was also included in Unesco’s list of Tentative Sites in 2009 but was removed in 2015 due to destructive acts such as cutting down trees and overexploitation of other natural resources.

Little by little, we will be implementing the law.

Shirley Uy, Head, Mt Apo Nature Park

She added that only organic farming and the use of endemic plant species are allowed by law, even outside the protected area, in areas designated for multiple uses.

The correct term is we only allow organic agriculture inside multiple-use zones. Trees and other vegetation should not be destroyed.

Shirley Uy, Head, Mt Apo Nature Park

This has caused concern among coffee farmers who cultivate the slopes of the 2,954-metre mountain, especially those who have built their business around Mt Apo and whose beans have won prestigious international awards.

Davao City, Davao del Sur Province and Cotabato Province share a common border through Mt Apo. Some of the farmers were in the area before the Republic Act No. 9237 was passed, the law that declared it a protected area and established its boundaries in 2003. However, Acosta said that the law has clear provisions.

If it is a protected area, it should not be planted with coffee. There should be a clear delineation between the protected part of Mt. Apo and what was already designated as an agricultural [area]

Maria Belen Acosta, Secretary, Mindanao Development Authority

Acosta said a technical working group has been set up to study the scope of the centre’s activities and the gaps it needs to fill.

Head of the MinDA’s Office of Policy Formulation, Planning and Project Development, Joey Recimilla, said the agency has yet to submit a proposal to Congress for the establishment of the centre, which would include a request for funding.

Photo by Jay Jopia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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