Mt. BANAHAW, seen from Tayabas town in Quezon province, becomes a mecca during Holy Week for pilgrims, mountaineers and day-trippers who consider the mountain mystical. DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER LUZON DO SUL

LUCENA CITY — As the season of Lent approaches, government officials have reminded religious pilgrims and nature travelers that mystical Mount Banahaw is still off limits to the public.

“It (Mount Banahaw) is still closed. There are no new PAMB (Protected Area Management Board) regulations,” Magtanggol Barrion, a ranger with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told the Inquirer in an online interview on Monday.

PAMB is a multi-sector body tasked by the government with monitoring Mt. Banahaw, which has been closed to the public since 2004.

Barrion, who patrols Banahaw and adjacent Mount San Cristobal, warned trespassers that they would be punished for violations of Republic Act No. 9847, which names the two mountains as protected areas.

Jay Lim, project director at public interest law firm Tanggol Kalikasan, said the continued closure of Banahaw is necessary as much of the closed area is a strict protection zone.

Sacred sites

Lim reported that, based on his monitoring, the public continues to pose a threat to Banahaw's biodiversity and other natural resources, such as its evergreen forests and clean water.

READ: Respect 'sacred mountain', DENR reminds Mt. trekkers

“Finally, we know that after more than 50 years, Rafflesia has returned to Banahaw. We don’t want irresponsible visitors to the mountains to cause their disappearance again,” he said.

A rare and endangered Rafflesia (Rafflesia banahawensis) is one of the largest flowers in the world, measuring up to 30 centimeters in diameter.

Many people believe that Mt. Banahaw is inhabited by spirits, elementals and otherworldly beings. They climb its slopes and pray at Banahaw's “sacred sites” in hopes of finding miracles, especially during Lent. INQ

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