Tourists driven away from ‘Sitio La Presa’

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has strictly enforced the permanent environment protection order covering Mt. Santo Tomas in Tuba, Benguet, despite the popularity that the place has gained from the former ABS-CBN primetime series “Forevermore,” where one of its villages was known as the community of “La Presa.”

“Population pressure could be the major factor in land use changes in the past as indicated by [the] natural forest fragmentation in some part of the forest zone,” the DENR stated in Tuba’s Forest Land Use Plan (FLUP), which was approved last October 26.

The document adds, “At present, [particularly] in Mt. Sto. Tomas, agricultural farm expansion is slowly creeping deeper into the forest areas. This may continue to pose [a] threat as the population grows and demand for natural resources increases.”

Local police and DENR officials received orders to drive tourists away from the protected site especially on Christmas day, when throngs of motorists tried to enter the renowned place originally named as Sitio Pungayan in Barangay Poblacion.

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Mount Santo Tomas is one of the highest peaks in Tuba, Benguet, with an elevation of 2,260 meters above sea level.

Around 15 percent of the composite volcano’s 27,864 hectares forest land is used for agricultural purposes, with a large part serving as vegetable gardens and rice fields.

“La Presa is not the only destination in Sto. Tomas. We have the burial caves and other attractions [like the Stations of the Cross, mountainside farms and spots offering a panoramic view of Baguio],” Vice Mayor Clarita Sal-ongan said; encouraging tourists to visit other places in Tuba.