These days there are loud talks about the failure of government, both at the national and local levels, to effectively preserve and protect whatever remains of infrastructures or sites considered as the nation’s heritage. But this is not so in some provinces and cities of the country. Its leaders in both the private and government sectors have worked as one in ensuring that all existing heritage sites and structures in their respective places are well taken care of.
Observant travelers who go to Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, certain parts of Metro Manila, Ilocos and some other Luzon provinces are not merely traveling to these places to see their current physical condition; they are also traveling back in time. And they need not ride some time machines but simply take inquisitive looks on existing infrastructures like churches, museums, century-old residential houses and even nature’s creation.
Carcar City in Cebu is home to centuries old houses made of stones and the hardest of wood varieties. These were once resided by the province’s Spanish and their next generation elites. Bantayan Island is host to a church over four hundred years old. Cebu City runs museum with some pieces that antedate the arrival of Magellan on display. Of course these museums are also dominated by items that are remnants of the Spanish time up to the American and Japanese regimes.
The same scenes are also present in the Negros Provinces as well as in Iloilo. Bohol has its churches that retain or had been restored to their original built and configuration. Not even the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the province in 2013 made the Boholanos abandon their desire to preserve their heritage structures and sites.
In the northernmost part of Luzon, the Ilocos Provinces, the vestiges of old are now the best tourist draws in addition to their fine beaches. And these have given substantial revenue to the cities and towns of the said provinces where the heritage structures still stand like these were right after their construction.
Of course in the national capital region, except for the old churches and some government buildings that were restored after surviving the destruction of the Second World War, the more revered heritage sites and structures are giving way to modern development projects. Even Manila’s remaining urban forest was almost sold to private persons who plan to put up a huge gymnasium. Good thing that newly assumed mayor Isko Moreno has committed to retain the small urban forest.
Unfortunately in Davao City and the rest of the Davao Region, there are no more heritage sites, buildings and even nature’s creation to see and talk about. We heard of a mansion owned by the family of Spanish merchant Don Jose Matute in Governor Generoso (Sigaboy). Based on the description given us by Davao old timers, the mansion was a gem – a masterpiece for an era gone because of reckless abandon by its owners, their heirs, and of course the local government in that town.
More sadly, in Davao City which is supposed to be the center of social interactions among early Davao settlers and conquerors, not a single heritage site can be found today. The city’s early leaders somehow missed preserving and/or restoring the only imposing pre-war building owned by the Awad family located at the site of the present Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and its immediate vicinity.
Today, reading history books of Davao that cover the time immediately before the coming of the first Spanish conquistador Don Jose Oyanguren up to the Japanese occupation gives the present generation of Davaoenos a glimpse of what Davao City and the then undivided Davao Province were. It also tells us of the saga of the men and women who braved to settle in the area despite the hardship and isolation of a place where the newcomers were unwelcomed by most native inhabitants.
Despite all these however, the Spanish time settlers from Luzon and the Visayas were able to make significant headways. They succeeded in setting up the foundation of a Davao that is to be the place where dreams, once nebulous, became reality to many who were more enterprising and persevering.
The settlers, both Spaniards and Filipinos, according to the history books, were able to build communities and put up residences and business enterprises. When the Spanish rule in the Philippines ended and the American regime commenced waves upon waves of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas came to find their luck as well as work for early plantation owners. Foreign nationals like the Japanese, the Lebanese, Chinese and Indians also came, some even much earlier. They established their businesses and later, residences in Davao. The city’s march to progress was only temporarily halted by the Second World War
Davao’s history books also reveal that the golden era in the evolution of society in the old Davao was during the last decade of the Spanish regime and the years of the American rule from 1899 to 1940. Davao’s social elite’s activities and business operations were confined in the vicinity of San Pedro and the then Claveria streets., as well as in the centers of townships like Mintal, Bunawan, and Toril. In these places the residences of then Davao City’s rich and famous were constructed. Business offices and shopping centers dominated the areas’ landscape.
Sadly however, none of the vestiges of the communities of the old Davao that the early settlers painstakingly built survived to these days; no, not from the destruction of the infamous war but from the so-called “development aggression,” and the lack of foresight of perhaps some of the city’s past leaders.
This lack of leadership foresight, and apparent greed for material wealth by some of the heirs of the pioneer Davao settlers, without doubt, resulted to the loss of vintage residential and commercial structures and other landmarks that could have linked Davao’s present to its past. In the process Davao is deprived of heritage infrastructures and sites that the present and future generations of Davaoenos may only have a faint imagination of if they are able to read Davao’s history.
But well, there is the city government and a Davao Historical Society. They have to improve and update the contents displayed and preserved at the new Museo Dabawenyo. This challenge is now hurled on their laps: Aside from what are there in the city museum find any remaining structure or site that could be considered as relevant connection to the city’s long past and let an ordinance be passed to protect that structure or site and have it officially recorded in the list of the country’s heritage. This they must do not tomorrow, next month or a year after. This they have to do NOW!