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GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Two Russian tourists were fined after they were caught trekking the country’s highest peak without a permit and guide in violation of government rules.
The foreigners, identified as Aleksandr and Elena Ovchinnikova, said they reached the peak of Mount Apo by contracting a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) driver to bring them to one of the trails, and then walked to the peak using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to guide them.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials said the couple was seen wandering along the Mandangan trail, a popular route for trekkers, on Saturday, March 11.
When the Ovchinnikovas failed to show a trekking permit, they were brought to the Cotabato Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO).
DENR-Soccsksargen director Felix Alicer said the couple failed to comply with the Unified Trekking Policy set by the Mount Apo Natural Park-Protected Area Management Bureau (MANP-PAMB), which requires a trekking permit and a guide.
The 2,954-meter Mount Apo was declared a national park in the 1930s and covers almost 55,000 hectares along the boundaries of Cotabato province and Davao del Sur.
Protected area superintendent Shirley Uy, who handled the case, reminded trekkers to secure the necessary permit and follow the policy to protect the mountain and themselves.
The Russian couple was fined P2,000 each, the usual penalty for first offenders, and were released with a warning that they would be blacklisted if they violated the policy again.
Uy, however, said the government was encouraging foreigners to visit Mount Apo, but asked that they follow rules.
The annual three-month off-season at the Mount Apo Natural Park will start soon, as mandated under PAMBI Resolution No. 06, to allow the area’s flora and fauna to rehabilitate.
From June to August each year, the Mount Apo trails in the Cotabato and Davao del Sur sides are off-limits. – Rappler.com