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Rough Cuts | The man behind the ‘Araw ng Dabaw’

Next month, Davao City will be celebrating its 83rd founding anniversary. But unlike the previous years’ celebration, this coming March’s commemoration will be hardly attended with pompous activities like the usual parade, the coronation of the Mutya ng Dabaw, concerts, street food fest, sports like the international edition of the triathlon, and many others. All these crowd-drawing events are ordered cancelled by city mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio. No thanks to the scare brought about by the onset of the corona virus disease 2019 (CoViD-19) courtesy of Wuhan, China.

Sadly though, a lot of us Dabawenyos have already instilled in our minds that every March of each year we come together to remember our inception as a chartered city 83 years ago. Through the efforts of the late assemblyman Romualdo Cauilan Quimpo, Davao City was granted its cityhood status in 1937.
But how many among the younger generation Dabawenyos know that the commemoration of the granting of the Charter of the city did not come until 1968? How many among the so-called millennials, and even some of those who were born during the baby boomers’ era, that the celebration of the “Araw” was institutionalized by a lumad mayor, the late Elias Baguio Lopez, a lawyer by profession? Lopez was the first and possibly the only Bagobo native to occupy the highest elective position of the city.

We feel it worth every Dabawenyo’s while to get a snapshot of the man who initiated the institutionalization of the Charter anniversary celebration because the annual March event is now very much a part of the history of the city. Knowing why Davao became a city and how we have celebrated its foundation day over the years will surely be an effective guide for us in charting where we should bring the city to, politically and economically.

Yes, educator and historian Gloria P. Dabbay in her book Davao City: Its History and Progress says of the late Elias Lopez as a “born leader and tested public servant;” that the late lumad mayor studied his college at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, taking up Pre-Law and later Law proper.

As a pre-law student, according to Dabbay in her book, he was elected member of the UP Student Council. In his senior year in Law he was elected President of the UP student government, making him the “only one from Mindanao to have been elected to such position since 1908 when UP was established.”  Lopez was also an excellent campus journalist. He was Managing Editor and later Assistant Editor-in-Chief of the UP’s Philippine Collegian.

Because of Lopez’s “leadership qualities and good scholastic standing,” historian Dabbay’s book further disclosed that the young lumad who was already a member of the bar, was offered a UP Fellow Scholarship to the University of Michigan in the United States to take up Master in Public Law. But the Bagobo UP scholar turned down the rare opportunity. Instead he came home to Davao to run for city councilor where he was twice topnotcher.

According to Dabbay in her book, Lopez moved on to become Vice Mayor and later as a two-term mayor.
Among the Bagobo mayor’s solid accomplishments as the city’s chief executive were of course the conceptualization and eventual implementation of the housing and shelter project under the Regional Cities Development Program or RCDP; of course the institutionalization of the Araw ng Dabaw celebration; and his having commissioned the composition of the city’s anthem “Tayo’y Dabawenyo” by musician Guillermo Anajao, with lyrics written by the late Education Director Pedro O. San Vicente.

Moreover, according to Dabbay’s book, Lopez also initiated the highest award the city is now giving to its outstanding citizens, the conferment of which is in time of the annual celebration of the “Araw.” It is the city’s Datu Bago Award.

And remember the Project HOPE which remains a by-word until these days? Again, it was another Lopez initiative. And who would miss the 7-hectare Magsaysay Park that was reclaimed from the Sta. Ana shoreline? Lopez did it.

At the time of his death Lopez was serving as congressman of the city’s third district.

But his demise is not likely to put into oblivion his hallmark achievements that we Dabawenyos celebrate every March of each year, the “Araw ng Dabaw” where the tune of the days as the commemoration progresses is “Tayo’y Dabawenyo.”

Sadly, this year we might have the most subdued commemoration of the event.
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