LOST IN FOREST | Sagada mayor: Missing Korean incident is cause for tighter tourism management

June 23, 2017 - 3:07 PM
Trekking in Barlig
In the forest fastness of Barlig, it is easy to get lost without a guide. Still image captured from a video of a trek through Barlig, shared on YouTube by Jindul Matavik.

BAGUIO CITY – James Pooten, the mayor of Sagada in Mountain Province, one of the major tourist destinations in the Cordilleras, said on Thursday that what happened to a Korean trekking tourist in the forest of Barlig, who became the subject of days of search and rescue, is an eye opener for local government units and communities frequented by visitors to exercise due tourism management practices.

Mayor Pooten added that, while he is happy that with the result of more than a week of searching for an adventurous tourist, Korean National Songkyu Choi did not go missing had there been stricter measures on the part of the authorities.

Choi was declared missing in the mountains of Barlig, Mountain Province on June 10. According to accounts, he went alone to trek in the wilderness of Barlig forests intending to reach Mount Battad in the municipality of Banaue in the nearby province of Ifugao.

Trek through Barlig. Mayor James Pooten inset
Sagada Mayor James Pooten in inset. Base image of a foggy trek through the forest of Barlig, captured from video uploaded on YouTube by Jundul Matavik.

After 8 days and 7 nights of continuous search operation by search and rescue teams, a local responder of the Barlig MDRRMO who at the time was looking for wild honey discovered the Korean sheltered inside an agamang (rice granary) in Barangay Latang, Barlig.

Mayor Pooten said that the people of the Mountain Province, the locals and the members of the various municipal disaster risk reduction and management offices (MDRRMOs) of Mountain Province and Ifugao, especially the Mountain Province DRRM Council (PDRRMC), showed their efficiency in responding to situations like what happened to Songkyu.

However, he said, there are lessons to be learned to avoid similar incidents, in the interest of conserving effort and resources as well as lives.

During the search and rescue operations, responders from Barlig MDRRMO, Barlig Tour Guides and Hunters, provincial MDRRMO and the Sagada MDRRMO and some members of the Sagada Environmental Guides Association (SEGA) were dispatched to the forests of Barlig and even used drones in a bid to scan the area more effectively. They were joined later by soldiers of the 53rd IBPA, Cordillera Regional Police Safety Battalion (RPSB), Ifugao PDRRMC and its MDRRMOs from Banaue, Aguinaldo and Mayoyao and with the K-9 units from the Cordillera DRRMC.

“Uray kuma paanawa diay Koreano ta saan a nangala ti guide, saan kuma a napalubosan nga agmaymaysa a nagnagna (Even if the Korean was insistent on not getting a guide, he should not have been allowed to travel alone),” Pooten said. He added there should be coordination for authorities to prevent him from pushing through with his plan to go out alone.

Pooten said there must be a strict rule that visitors, most especially those who are new and not familiar with the places they intend to visit, will not be allowed to proceed unaccompanied.

He said it is very important for tourists to be registered. He also said that the owners and operators of inns, restaurants and home stays should coordinate with the LGUs and their officials in monitoring the stay, departure and safety of their visitors.

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Mt Amuyao traverse Barlig Mayoyao. Click and watch this video clip uploaded and shared publicly by Jindul Matavik on YouTube below: