Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

The Philippines is home to a good many mountains that will treat you to majestic views and an incredible journey with nature. One of these mountains is recognized in the world for its rich biodiversity—the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (MHRWS), one of the protected areas in the country.

It was in 2004 when the MHRWS was legislated as a protected area by virtue of Republic Act No. 9303. 

The wildlife sanctuary, which is situated in the Municipalities of San Isidro and Governor Generoso, and City of Mati, all in the Province of Davao Oriental, initially covered 7,132.78 hectares. However, through local government ordinances and resolutions, 19,520.05 hectares was added to the original protected area of MHRWS, which now has a total area of 26,652.83 hectares.

Mount Hamiguitan represents a complete, substantially intact and highly diverse mountain ecosystem and hosts diverse animal and plant species. It is also a sanctuary to critically endangered trees, plants, and the iconic Philippine eagle.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

This rich biodiversity is what makes Mount Hamiguitan stand out, according to MHRWS Protected Area Superintendent (PASU) Rolly Tapec.

“It was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site and ASEAN Heritage Park, which both recognized the site’s Outstanding Universal Value and substantiated the efforts for the reserve’s protection and conservation amplified by stakeholder cooperation, including that of the involved Indigenous Peoples, and put Mount Hamiguitan in the pedestal, both for international critique and protection,” said Tapec.

MHRWS is one of only five sites in the ASEAN Region that has been designated as both UNESCO World Heritage Site and ASEAN Heritage Park. The other four are Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, which is also in the Philippines; Kinabalu National Park of Malaysia; Lorentz National Park of Indonesia; and Khao Yai National Park of Thailand.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Treasures of Mount Hamiguitan

Mount Hamiguitan is famous for its pygmy forest, which Tapec said, epitomizes nature’s bid to survive in adverse conditions.

The pygmy forest is composed of centuries-old trees—indigenous hardwood such as almaciga, cedar, lokinai, yakal, dapdap, and bitanghol—that were stunted to an average height of only 4.5 feet due to the mineral-rich volcanic soil. Other interesting sights in MHRWS are the Hidden Garden, Tinagong Dagat, Twin Falls, and Black Mountain. 

Mount Hamiguitan houses at least 2,001 known species of flora (1148) and fauna (853), 30 of which are found nowhere else in the world but in the wildlife sanctuary, including the hairy-tailed rat, and several species of pitcher plants, ground orchids, grass ferns, beetles, and butterflies. More are expected to be discovered with the continuous biodiversity research in the protected area.

Tourism Activities in Mount Hamiguitan

The best way to explore Mount Hamiguitan is to go on a three-day trek. This can be coordinated with the MHRWS Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) at least ten days prior to the scheduled climb.

An important requirement here is a pre-climb certificate explicitly stating that the visitor is fit to do extreme activities such as mountain climbing, duly signed by the Municipal/City Health Officers of origin locality.

The San Isidro trail is open all year round, the Governor Generoso trail is open based on special bookings, and the Mati Trail is indefinitely closed until assessed and ready.

All trails lead to the Mount Hamiguitan World Heritage Park, which is located at the buffer zone area in San Isidro town. It is an interactive facility that showcases the wonders of the protected area. It has an interpretation site, a natural science museum, research center and cabin, bird-watching viewdeck, a hanging bridge, a nature trail for leisure hiking, sunset viewdeck, and a cafe. 

The facility provides the perfect alternative to exploring Mount Hamiguitan if you do not have the time and energy to do the trek.

According to PASu Tapec, allowing visitors in MHRWS significantly helps the local communities to have a source of income and provides the needed funding for the day-to-day operations of the protected area. 

But he reminds that following the guidelines when visiting Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary and other sites is very important to preserve the beauty that an ecotourism destination offers.

In the MHRWS, trekkers, porters and tour guides are responsible in bringing down all solid waste generated during the trek. The use of detergents, dishwashing liquid, shampoos and bath soaps in water sources is not allowed.

It is also prohibited to cut branches/saplings, feed wildlife, disturb the nesting and breeding areas of wildlife, collecting or destroying plant species and even remnants of previous forest fires like fallen trunks of old trees.

Tapec said it is of utmost importance to have discipline when visiting protected areas. They are also encouraging visitors to observe and learn when in Mount Hamiguitan, and also to recommend further improvements in managing this very precious natural heritage.

Ways to Get to Mount Hamiguitan

From Manila, visitors may take plane ride to Davao City. From Davao City, ride a bus to the Municipality of San Isidro, which will take around 2.5 hours. Buses are also available from Davao City to Mati, with a travel time of four (4) hours.

If you wish to book transportation from the PAMO Headquarters to bring you to the jump off site and from exit site, you may coordinate with the local government unit.

Government efforts to conserve Philippine PAs 

Currently, there are 247 PAs under the NIPAS, 113 of which have been legislated, 13 have been proclaimed by the President, and 120 remain as initial components of the System. The NIPAS was established by virtue of Republic Act 7586 or the NIPAS Act of 1992, and amended by Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded NIPAS (ENIPAS) Act of 2018.

NIPAS is the classification and administration of all designated PAs to maintain essential ecological processes to preserve genetic diversity, to ensure the sustainable use of resources found therein, and to maintain their natural conditions to the greatest extent possible.

The year 2022 marks the 90th anniversary of PA establishment in the country through Republic Act 3915 that was enacted on 1 February 1932. In line with this, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) signed a joint declaration to support the celebration of the Year of the Protected Areas or the YoPA Campaign, which promotes Philippine national parks.

The DENR, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau, and the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) of UNDP Philippines, in partnership with the DOT and DILG, are working together to promote protected areas under the NIPAS. They are also working with other agencies at the national and local levels to ensure effective conservation and sustainable management for national parks nationwide.