LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA—The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) has announced the closure of the Mt. Makiling hiking trail located inside the university campus in the wake of last week’s deaths of two students.
UPLB Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Dr. Enrique Tolentino, on Saturday, said they decided to close the 8.7-kilometer Makiling trail as the university reviews its security policies and guidelines concerning the safety of hikers and visitors.
University officials were likewise concerned that students Mark Lorenz Valdez and Kevin Lagadon, both 18 years old, went hiking in an area where they shouldn’t be.
The portion of the 4,200-hectare Mt. Makiling forest reserve, where the two students were found dead last Thursday, was a restricted area, said Tolentino.
In fact, he added, it was part of the Wilderness Zone or the critical and accident-prone areas closed to trekkers and campers, especially at night.
The decomposed bodies of Valdez, a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition student from Muntinlupa City, and Lagadon, a BS Computer Science student from Caloocan City, were found on Dec. 6 in a shallow portion of a stream in Flatrocks. The autopsy conducted by the police showed that the two had died of asphyxiation by drowning.
Flatrocks, so called because of its huge flat boulder formation, is a favorite hiking site in Mt. Makiling. It is only a kilometer away or a five-minute trek from the trail’s registration area.
“But where exactly they were believed to have bathed was actually a restricted area. There were signages to keep off the visitors but we found out that the signages were already gone, either stolen or removed,” Tolentino said.
Tolentino said the deepest portions of the water, which is connected to the 7-km Molawin Creek, were eight- to 11-foot deep.
“It is not like a swimming pool where there are railings you can hold on to. It’s possible that they didn’t expect the water to be that deep or they had cramps. There were a lot of possibilities but there were no eyewitnesses so we really don’t know what transpired,” he said.
Based on the records of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems (MCME), Valdez and Lagadon logged in at the trail’s monitoring station at 9:05 a.m. on Dec. 2 before they headed to Flatrocks. It took four days before their bodies were found by a group of residents who were planning to swim in the downstream portion of the creek.
The MCME, under the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources, is in charge of the entire forest reserve.
Tolentino said there were not enough forest guards “to virtually guard every nook and corner” of the forest reserve. He said aside from the entry point from the UPLB campus, there are other entry points to Mt. Makiling such as that in Sto. Tomas, Batangas.
The university, meanwhile, issues a statement on its website that “it is closely monitoring security and undertaking steps to ensure peace and order as well as safety of students in the campus.”