Hiker from Cebu indicted over Mt Pulag fire, faces P2.36-M fine

Frank Cimatu

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Hiker from Cebu indicted over Mt Pulag fire, faces P2.36-M fine
The 6 other hikers in the group were excluded in the case because 'their acts may not be interpreted to have assisted or aided the respondent,' says the Benguet Prosecutor's Office

BAGUIO, Philippines – The team leader of a group of hikers from Cebu has been indicted over the fire that razed part of the Mount Pulag National Park in January. 

The Benguet Prosecutor’s Office has indicted Raymon Kristomar Mackay, the leader of the 7-member team who camped in Mount Pulag on January 20.

Mackay, the owner of the portable butane gas stove which investigators said had caused the fire, faces a P2.36-million fine. (LOOK: Mount Pulag torched, portable burner found left behind)

Mackay faces charges for violating the Forestry Code, particularly Section 78 which states that a person who “negligibly permits a fire to be set in any forest land or grazing land” shall be imprisoned from 6 months to two years for each offense and pay from P500 to P20,000.

The National Protected Areas System Act of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said that the amount of damage per square meter is P100 multiplied by the area burned. 

The Benguet Prosecutor’s Office said that Mackay’s act of hurling his stove is not arson.

“The act of respondent Mackay in throwing the burning butane gas burner cannot be said to have been motivated by a deliberate and malicious intent to cause damage to the grassland,” the resolution said, but acknowledged that the fire could have been prevented had the team exercised “due diligence.” 

The 6 other hikers, all from Cebu, were initially included in the case but were later excluded  because “their acts may not be interpreted to have assisted or aided the respondent.”   

The fire raged for 3 days, from January 20 to 22, and gutted 23,600 square meters of the national park.  Mt Pulag’s summit had been closed to trekkers and hikers since the fire, and was only reopened last month.

The Benguet Prosecutor’s Office said that Mackay and his 6 companions prepared their late lunch at 3 pm of January 20 while their guide, Miller Nginsayan, was in the base camp shanty. 

Mackay’s stove caught fire and he threw it away, thinking it would explode. The stove landed on the dry grassland and spread rapidly.

The team tried to stop the fired but strong winds and dry grass caused the rapid spread of the fire. Nginsayan also came to the rescue but it was too late. 

The national park is host to a distinct species of dwarf grass found only in one other mountain in the country, Mount Halcon in Oriental Mindoro. – Rappler.com


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