Mayon Volcano in Albay province. (PNA photo by Ben Briones) 

LEGAZPI CITY -- Opposition to a proposed lighting project around Mt. Mayon is mounting, prompting Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara to ask the proponent to put the plan on hold.

Ako Bicol (AKB) Party-List president Elizaldy Co proposed the PHP500-million undertaking during an administration political rally at the Albay Astrodome here last April. He said spotlights set up around Mayon will accentuate its magnificent slopes.

The plan, according to AKB, is a milestone project that will further boost tourism in Bicol.

The party-list group further claimed that lighting up the volcano will “spark” economic activities in the region as it will attract more private investors to do business in Albay.

But netizens, scientists and environmentalists have criticized the plan for being impractical and damaging to the environment.

In an interview on Thursday, Bichara told the Philippine News Agency that he would “toe the line” regarding the sentiments of majority of his constituents who are strongly opposing the plan to light-up Mayon Volcano.

He added that he would ask for recommendations from environment officials and other stakeholders.

“We need to consult and get the sentiments of the people and authorities,” the governor said.

Asked if he would endorse the project, Bichara said, “I have other priority projects in line for the province.”

Dorothy Colle, Albay Provincial Tourism chief, in a text message, said she is "aware of the plan but it needs consultations from all stakeholders. It's premature for me to give statements pending discussions”.

Merlita Tariman, a freelance journalist, said lighting up Mt. Mayon "is one of the craziest, pettiest, ill-conceived proposals" she has ever come across. "Pailawan mo ang mga pobreng kabahayan, hindi iyang bulkan at kagubatan (Light up the homes of the poor, not the volcano and the forests),” she said.

"Imagine our province which suffers from the most outrageous power outages today would like to light up hectares of forest, while it cannot even sufficiently electrify its towns and cities; cannot even complete construction of its international airport for years now; cannot even push faster the operation of its dream modern seaport in Pantao for decades now; cannot even build good farm-to-market roads," Tariman added.

Lawyer Dominador Barrameda, a retired city prosecutor, said, “Don’t mess with Mayon’s natural beauty. It’s God-given.”

Marcial Tuanqui, former Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) president, said the project is not for the best interest of Albayanos and the funds to be used therein must be used instead to light the village roads and other priority government projects.

“Mayon Volcano is best appreciated to be seen in its natural beauty be it in day or night time,” he added.

Architect Kristine Lagman said lighting up a tourist spot is a good idea, but not in the case of Mt. Mayon.

"It is done in other countries, lighting tourist spot, then there is the so-called 'lightings engineer' that design the idea but I think Mayon is not the right subject. Many lives will be affected, the environment, the eco-system, the animals that live within it," she said.

Lagman added that instead of Mayon, the parks, provincial capitol, and the city and municipal halls could be lighted.

Scientists and environmentalists, on the other hand, said putting spotlights around the volcano would affect the environment and the nocturnal animals living in its surroundings.

AKB has asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through a letter for a formal endorsement of its plan to install laser and lights fixtures outside Mt. Mayon's 6-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ).

The certification is part of the requirements for the project to proceed.

Eduardo Laguerta, resident volcanologist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) here, said in a separate interview that a similar letter was received by his office but he advised the AKB to hold a consultation with the proper government agencies, environmentalists, the public, and other stakeholders before proceeding with the project.

The DENR said the project needs to be studied as the Mt. Mayon Natural Park (MMNP) is one of the wonders of the world and a protected area under Republic Act 11038, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) Act of 2018. It added that the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) has management authority over the area.

Lawyer Antonio Abawag, former DENR regional executive director, in a letter to AKB, has referred the project to the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) in Albay for consultation and discussion with members of the MMNP-PAMB. (PNA)