A checkpoint to ensure no tourist will enter the protected forest reserve of Mt. Sto. Tomas in Tuba Benguet. (Photo by Hilda Austria)
TUBA, Benguet -- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) reminded the public that Sitio Pungayan, the fictional Sitio La Presa, a strawberry farm in a famous television series aired several years ago, is still off-limits to visitors.
DENR forest guard Romeo Bola-Oy said many tourists are still trying to enter the protected area of Mt. Sto. Tomas where the famous La Presa is situated.
“We continue to implement the permanent environment protection order (PEPO) issued by the Court of Appeals since 2015, so tourists are not allowed here,” Bola-Oy said in an interview Wednesday.
He recalled the PEPO was issued upon the petition of Baguio and Pangasinan residents, who believe that the environment in the area should be protected amid and the influx of tourists.
Bola-Oy and other forest guards, together with the Tuba police and army, are monitoring those entering the premises of Mt. Sto. Tomas, which is a protected forest reserve.
“We have the lists of the name of residents and their vehicles, if they have one, to ensure that only the residents in the area will enter in accordance with the existing PEPO,” he said.
Bola-Oy said they intercept visitors and ask them to turn around and go to other tourist spots in Benguet like the Mt. Pulag and Mt. Atok instead.
“We are also discouraging hikers because some take a different route by hiking to be able to enter the area, which is also prohibited and other forest guards are monitoring violators,” he said.
Bola- Oy added that construction and selling of properties in the area are prohibited by law.
Andoy, 24, resident of Pungayan, admitted that the tourism boom during the fame of La Presa caused them stress aside from the fact that garbage is everywhere.
“Di kami makatulog, laging maingay. Sobra pa ang traffic, nilalakad na naming kapag aalis kami at uuwi sa bahay (We cannot sleep, it is always noisy. The traffic is also overwhelming, we need to walk to and from our houses,” he said.
Another resident, Banglat, 23, added that only a few of them benefit from selling goods to tourists, as most come from other communities.
Issued on July 8, 1940, Presidential Proclamation No. 581 declared 3,121 hectares of Mt. Sto. Tomas as forest reserve and prohibits illegal acts such as cutting or timber poaching, illegal occupancy, mining, squatting or house construction, hunting of wildlife and gathering of plants, dumping of garbage, and earth-moving activities. (PNA)