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This Mountain in Palawan Is the Playground of the Gods

Even the soil of the mountain is exceedingly rare. 
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On the forest floor of Palawan’s Mt. Victoria, something dark and small scurries, looking for fallen fruits to eat: a Philippine porcupine. It is among the hundreds of mammal species that inhabit the virgin mountain. 

For some people, Mt. Victoria is the playground of the gods. It is home to immense biodiversity, both plants and animals. Recent studies in this area proved that it hosts peculiar and site endemic and endangered species. 

A Philippine Porcupine

Photo by Michal Sloviak.

Although scientists have yet to extensively explore the mountain, new species of plants were already discovered on the few trips they made to the mountain. Carnivorous plants abound on the forest floor and the arboreal growth sites. A frightening species of pitcher plant that eats shrews or rodents was documented in 2007. It was named Nepenthes attenboroughii, after celebrated naturalist Sir David Attenborough. 

A Rodent-Eating Pitcher Plant

Photo by DR. ALASTAIR ROBINSON.
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In February 2021, a new species of Vaccinium or blueberry plant was discovered in the mountain. Vaccinium exiguum was encountered during a fieldwork of the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative. It is the 36th species in the country and the third Vaccinium on the island of Palawan. It is currently known to exist only from a single location on the summit of Mt. Victoria.

A Rare Vaccinium Species Found in Mt. Victoria

Photo by R. BUSTAMANTE.

Even the soil of Mt. Victoria is exceedingly rare. 

The soil of Mt. Victoria is ultramafic in nature. It is composed of the same material as the Earth’s mantle—which means it contains some of the planet’s most valuable metals and minerals. 

Mt. Victoria, like most ultramafic areas in the Philippines, is threatened with mining activities because it holds vast deposits of minerals and other mining-related products. 

Although Mt. Victoria and its contiguous sister Mt.  Anaphan, which make up the Victoria-Anepahan Mountain Range, are teeming with unparalleled biodiversity, the mountain range is unprotected. 

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The Victoria-Anepahan Mountain Range is not legislated as a protected area, hence, there is no legal protection currently in place in the area. 

“There is rampant mining,” a source, who wished to remain anonymous, told Esquire Philippines about the ongoing threats to Mt. Victoria and Mt. Anepahan.

There were threats to the lives of some members of groups pushing for the protection of the mountain range. 

The rampant abuse of Palawan is largely left unpublicized. 

Palawan is considered the last frontier of the Philippines, but much of the public is unaware of the rampant abuse happening on its mountains. 

The Philippine porcupine, which has no natural predators, is currently being poached for the alleged medicinal benefits of its bezoars—a stone-like mass of indigestible material that accumulates in its digestive tract. It is believed to have curative properties in traditional Chinese medicine, but no scientific evidence proves its efficacy. 

A Philippine Pangolin

Photo by Gregg Yan, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
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The Philippine pangolin is also being poached on this mountain. Overseas, a kilogram of Philippine pangolin fetches roughly P50,000 to P100,000 in the black market. The Vietnamese and Chinese highly regard pangolin meat and carapace for their unproven healing and rejuvenating properties. This trade has caused the extinction of local pangolin species in China and Indonesia. 

Bills pushing for the inclusion of the Victoria-Anepahan Mountain Range in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) have languished in the hands of those in power. 

Scientists and volunteers are forced into silence, while covert mining operations destroy the “Playground of the Gods.” But then again, some people are godless, and who is Bathala to stop them from razing his last paradise?

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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