An advisory on Mt. Sembrano was placed in Pinoy Mountaineer since year 2009. The mountain has become notorious for multiple theft and tent slashing incidences. Words spread like wildfire that Mt. Sembrano is a mountain to avoid. It is sad that it has been three years and it seems like nothing has changed. The last account of stealing on Pinoy Mountaineer was dated February 2012. After that, Mt. Sembrano page became less active as its thread became more silent.
"Be wary of people who might join you on your socials at night. They will pretend to be all nice and fun but they actually will be observing. After a couple of drinks and when the whole camp is exhausted and drunk, that's when they will attack." These are the reminders of the Brgy. Chairman of Malaya, Pililla, Rizal before we started the trek to Manggahan Campsite.
|Brgy. Chairman of Brgy. Malaya conducting a short briefing|
The BACKPACKERS had a first hand experience of what Brgy. Chairman described when we climbed Mt. Sembrano on August 18, 2012. Aside from his warning, I got a good grip on what the 'modus operandi' was based on fellow mountaineers' descriptive comments on Pinoy Mountaineer's Mt. Sembrano thread. It was 10:00PM and we were all having fun gathered around the socials mat. We were introducing ourselves one by one. It was my turn to introduce myself and I was formally welcoming our guests when three men approached our socials site. I was interrupted and we moved so that there'll be space for them on the mat.
"Locals kami, locals.. Pa-join lang po", were the exact words of the only person who came closer to our mat.
I asked myself if 'this is really happening'. The picture I dreaded the most was if The BACKPACKERS encounter what the other groups have encountered in Mt. Sembrano. These narrative tales are so familiar. A group of locals with machete near their belt buckle joins the group, have fun and drink, and when everyone's knocked down and asleep, they will attack.
|During our socials at Manggahan Campsite of Mt. Sembrano|
It was my turn to answer the questions coming from the group but my mind was not able to focus. I glance from time to time at the three locals, one of which was seated near our mat and the other two were standing. I could not organize my thoughts when Sir Jojo was asking me some things about the group. I was intimidated by the sharp machete and was concern that the other two locals were not always in sight. True enough, the friendliest of the three seated near us was the distraction, the one standing near him was the bridge on the look out, and the one who was always disappearing in the scene was the fugitive.
THE MODUS OPERANDI
The DISTRACTOR - He has the most stories and interaction with the group. He will laugh with the group. Share some sentiments, make the group at ease with them. He will drink and act slightly drunk. He will make sure that the attention will be on him and not on the others with him.
The BRIDGE - He quietly observes the interaction going on. He will make sure that the attention is on the distractor and signals to the fugitive if one member of the group shows any sign of suspicion. He will check and estimate the alcohol level of the members. He will remember the faces of the persons who have the highest alcohol tolerance.
The FUGITIVE - He is tasked to roam around and survey the camp while the group is having an interaction with the distractor. He will remember the positioning of the tents and will check the positioning of some possible backpacks leaning on the tent. When the bridge signals for an arising suspicion, he will return to the group and will interact again; acting like he left because he just did number one.
When they are done, sometimes they will walk away. They will just return when the camp shows signs of weakness and drunkenness; and using their machete, they will carefully and quietly slash the tents, looting all possible items of the group members. Sometimes, according to Brgy. Chairman, they attack even while the group is having a session ~ this is primarily because the members of the group seem to be small, naive, weak and drunk enough for them to be confident in doing their evil deed.
|Tip: Position your tents as close to each other as possible|
Because our socials had a system, the distractor did not really break in and gain the trust and attention of the group. Our group loves interacting with locals and guides. We have our list of favorite locals that we encountered during our adventures. But that night was different. It had a different tone, an awkward vibe. After some time, the three excused themselves and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
I got alarmed but the socials had to continue. We still have a lot of time to kill as it was only 11:00PM. These culprits do not really care if your group is big or small. Remember they had been doing these for years now. So I knew that some of us needed to stay awake until sunlight. That was one of the suggestion of Brgy. Chairman too. I asked Wilson to sleep early and wake up when the socials is done; which would be his shift to guard the camp. I gathered the BACKPACKER Boys Heinz and Ralph (Mon was already too drunk to be assigned any task) and they also felt the same suspicion towards the visitors. So I asked them to try to be awake at least until sunlight. During that night, the boys did not drink much. But it did not really spoil our socials as we all had a blast. For added security and alertness I did some rounds checking the tents while we were having fun. You will never know when and where they will strike. At quarter past four, the girls were already singing to the tune of 'It's Raining Men' and the boys had to escort them to their tents. A little shower poured and the boys arranged the things outside. Wilson and Mina stayed up outside until sunlight. Because of our strategy, no tent slashing or stealing happened.
|Mt. Sembrano socials|
I got a chance to speak with the local caretaker that morning prior to our summit assault. She told me that these culprits are not really 'locals' in the area as what they claim to be the night before. She assured me that should anything happen, his husband with a machete is doing some rounds too. The only concern I have is that I never saw her husband do some rounds that night. And what's one machete versus three machetes? And if something happens, it's only her husband who will come to rescue the campers because aside from the couple, all of the local caretakers at Manggahan Campsite are all children. I have seen familiar arguments like this on a Mt. Sembrano thread. They said that having caretakers at Manggahan Campsite is an effective way of warding off these rascals...but it was not enough and systematic. Should we pay more than the collected 10Php Camping Fee just to feel total security at the campsite? And I wonder what the local government is doing other than reminding the hikers to be cautious when they're up in the mountains? It has been a known issue for three years but still, the stealing incidences are not diminishing.
"The occurences of the theft were usually during the evening, and they almost always take place at the campsites. There have been no reports of open assaults or holdups. Nonetheless, this thievery is an affront to the healthy relationship that must exist between mountaineers and locals. We appeal to the local governments in Pililla, Rizal and Siniloan, Laguna, to intensify efforts to make these hiking destinations a safe place to be enjoyed by mountaineers and locals alike." - Pinoymountaineer.com
Mt. Sembrano is a very nice hiking destination near the metropolis. But it is sad that many mountaineers and would-be hikers stray away from this mountain because of bad publicity. There are a lot of people who are appealing for a total ban of hiking activities in the said mountain until local government do something about it. But we do not really have to resort to this. If the local authorities can not stop it, we can exercise full precaution when climbing the mountain.
Here are The BACKPACKERS' helpful tips related to the security situation in Mt. Sembrano:
S. Do not bring valuables which are not necessary.
E. If you are a small group, better just day-hike Mt. Sembrano to see its beauty.
M. If you are camping overnight, make sure that someone (or at least 2-3 persons) will guard the camp when everyone's asleep.
B. Do not bring excessive alcohol. It is okay for some people to get drunk, let's say a birthday celebrant, but not all members of the group.
R. Assign a person to do some rounds while you are all gathered in one place.
A. Place your tents as close to each other as possible. Place your valuables (cellphones, digital camera) in one pouch and secure it when you're leaving your tent (or better yet bring it with you).
N. Assign two or three persons to tend the camp when the group is leaving for the waterfalls or for summit assault.
O. Always be vigilant and alert. But this should not stop you from having one of the best hikes of your life.
|For the love of Mt. Sembrano|
The BACKPACKERS' Jump For Joy
The sport that we love has always been risky: traversing from one cliff to another, maneuvering inside dense forests and crossing rivers and ravines. But the risk present in Mt. Sembrano is somewhat controllable. Do not let the bad publicity of the mountain stop you from embracing and witnessing its uniqueness and wonders. Go out and climb it, but please exercise proper vigilance.
I am looking forward to that day that let's say, Imbestigador or T3 will do an entrapment operation to catch the culprits that haunt and destroy the reputation of Mt. Sembrano. Until then, let us just be our own Erwin Tulfo or Mike Enriquez, and refuse to be the victim by observing proper precaution. Happy climbing!
For the full Mt. Sembrano Adventure of The BACKPACKERS, click here