By Lily O Ramos

The Mt. Kitanglad Range Protected Area (MKRPA) has been declared as the 28th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Park.

The pronouncement was recently made at the 11th Annual Meeting of ASEAN ministers of environment where the participants reviewed the region’s efforts on a number of issues, particularly those relating to environmental sustainability of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said Wednesday.

Durano added, “This is just following the objective of the ASEAN group of nations. The ASEAN Heritage Park aims to establish a regional network of national protected areas conserving critical representative ecosystems in the said region.”

The MKRPA is the ancestral domain of several tribes such as the Higaonon, Manobo, and Talaandig.

Popular as a birdwatching area, the MKRPA is also home to Mt. Kitanglad, a dormant volcano touted as the fourth highest peak in the Philippines.

Also known as the mystical mountain, it has a thickly populated forest where some of the country’s well-known medicinal herbs grow.

“Coming at a time when the world is celebrating the year of ecological biodiversity, this recognition pushes us to strive even harder in preserving our natural wealth, and imbibe a ‘green’ consciousness,” said Durano.

Being an ecotourist protected site, the MKRPA is also the abode of the endangered Philippine Eagle and rare winged creatures such as the McGregor’s Cuckoo Shrike, Elegant Tit, Streak-breasted Rhabdornis and Black-and-Cinnamon Fantail.

Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions Eduardo Jarque Jr. added, “Mt. Kitanglad truly highlights the unique balance of having different cultures coexisting in an ecologically abundant area.”

Accessible via plane or boat through the Cagayan de Oro terminal/port, the newly-named ASEAN Heritage Park in Bukidnon is open to tourists, the Tourism department said.

Atty. Victoria Jasmin, director for Tourism Standards, said, “We have a 10-days/9-nights birdwatching package that includes a late afternoon camping in the area to see the rare Philippine Eagle.”

The Lower Eagle View Point and Higher Eagle View Point also offer sightings of the White-cheeked Bullfinch, Cinnamon Ibon, and Mountain White-Eye, Jasmin added.

Other adventure packages for Mt. Kitanglad include a three-day hike up its peak –- a popular must-climb site of seasoned trekkers.

The MKRPA is the third ecotourist spot to become an ASEAN Heritage Park — joining two others which are Mt. Apo in Davao, the country’s highest peak, and Mt. Iglit-Baco in Oriental Mindoro, the domain of the endangered tamaraw.

The long list includes 28 other destinations, namely Tasek Merimbum in Brunei Darussalam; Preah Monivong National Park, and Virachey National Park in Cambodia; Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and Lorentz National Park in Indonesia; Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Lao PDR; Kinabalu National Park, Mulu National Park, and Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia; Alaungdaw Kattapha National Park, Indawgy Lake Wildlife Santuary, Inlay Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Khakaborazi National Park, and Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar; Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore; Ao Phangnga–Mu Koh Surin–Mu Koh, Similan Marina National Parks, Kaengkrachan Forest Complex, Khao Yai National Park, Tarutao National Park, Ba Be National Park in Thailand; Chu Mom Ray National Park, Hoang Lien Sa Pa National Park and Kon Ka Kinh National Park in Vietnam. (PNA)

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