6 missing pilgrims on Mt. Banahaw found

Posted at 03/21/2014 7:32 PM | Updated as of 03/21/2014 11:42 PM

MANILA -- Six pilgrims who went missing following a forest fire in Mount Banahaw have been found, the Sariaya, Quezon Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) said Friday afternoon.

According to Sariaya MDRRMC Chief Ernesto Amores, their rescue unit located the pilgrims a kilometer away from the area where the statue of the Virgin Mary stands.

The pilgrims' location was about 10 kilometers away from the crater of the mountain, he said.

Amores said all the rescued people, one of them 73 years old, were safe and unharmed but were exhausted and hungry.

Five people, including a minor, were earlier rescued Thursday. The four adults were identified as Loreto Alpapara, 60; Bryan Alpapara, 27; Blessilda Clapano, 45; and Melina Anikal, 27.

The rescued people were allegedly members of the group "Hiwaga ng Bundok Banahaw Inc."

They were trapped after fire erupted on Mount Banahaw on Wednesday afternoon, razing an estimated 30-hectare patch of forest.

The blaze ended Thursday midnight due to rains, said Dr. Henry Buzar, head of the Quezon Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC).

According to Buzar, a team of mountaineers is still up on the mountain to assess the damage caused by the fire, which authorities had said was likely man-made.

Buzar said the people who went up the mountain might face charges for violating Republic Act No. 9847 that sets Mt. Banahaw off limits to the public.

They may also face charges of environmental damage, he said.

Backpackers have been banned from the 2,158-meter (7,080-foot) peak since 2004 to protect the mountain.

Several small sects that worship at caves and springs on its lower slopes continue to have access there.

Wildlife officials of the environment department told AFP, Banahaw's forests, including a 10,900-hectare protected zone, are home to scores of animal species found only in the Philippines, including a species of cloud rat discovered only in 2004.

Ivan Herzano, project officer of the non-government group Foundation for the Philippine Environment, told AFP that despite access restrictions, forest rangers lacked the capability to track all persons who may be illegally entering the protected area. -- Reports from Ernie Manio, ABS-CBN News Southern Tagalog; Junry Hidalgo, dzMM; With Agence France-Presse