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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI | The stories we should tell about Davao

I have always been proud to be a citizen of the City of Davao and participating in the “Magsturya Ta!” Forum last March 9, Saturday, at the Holy Cross of Davao College made me even prouder.

It is another awesome collaboration between the Institute of Davao Studies (IDS) and the Davao Historical Society (DHS) to meaningfully celebrate the 87th Araw ng Dabaw.

The forum dubbed, “Davao Unbound: The Remarkable Tale of the First City of the South,” gathered a diverse group of storytellers led by Dr. Patricia Irene Dacudao, history professor at the Ateneo de Manila University; local historian and author, Antonio Figueroa; Museo Dabawenyo and Davao heritage tour guide, Randy Tubo; history professor Kevin Paul Bonotan of the Holy Cross of Davao College; and me in my capacity as a writer of Davao stories and as the longest-serving chief-of-staff of Davao City’s longest-serving mayor, Rodrigo R. Duterte.

It was a whole day activity that started with the opening of the photo exhibit, “Dabaw, Kaniadto ug Karun” followed by the first story-telling session on the “Creation of the City of Davao: The Tale of the First City in Southern Mindanao.” In the afternoon was the second session on “Davao’s Economic Boom and Prosperity” followed by the introduction of the new book of Mr. Figueroa entitled “Streets of Davao.”

If you missed the whole thing when it was streamed live via the Holy Cross of Davao College Facebook page, I recommend you go and check it out and join the conversation about Davao’s rich history.

In Martin Puchner’s BBC article entitled “How stories shaped our world,” he wrote: “From ancient epics to modern novels, some narratives have changed history and influenced the mindsets of generations.”

So the stories we tell ourselves and others about Davao will influence the new generation and how they will shape the city’s future.

Sadly, there is very little we know about Davao’s history.

As Professor Dacudao wrote in the Introduction of her book, “Abaca Frontier: The Socioeconomic and Cultural Transformation of Davao, 1898-1941”: “Mainstream Philippine history, as taught in courses in the national school system, hardly mentions the Davao region.”

She added: “The exclusion of Davao in the history of the Philippines tends to reinforce the notion of Davao as a distant periphery in national life and consciousness.”

I share Professor Dacudao’s view that “this idea of Davao being a periphery is quite misleading” because Davao in its pre-colonial, colonial, and pre-foundational past as a chartered city is “the Filipino story of a frontier and the transformation of its people, and how its multicultural inhabitants faced challenges, both natural and man-made, in pursuit of their frontier dreams.”

Davao is also left out in most books and articles about Mindanao’s history, she noted that most stories focused on “the western part of the island, which is Muslim Mindanao, where conflicts and accommodation between government forces and separatist groups have taken place since the Spanish period.”

It is interesting for me to learn that compared to the rest of the country and the rest of Mindanao, Davao had seemed relatively peaceful during the Philippine colonial period.

During the forum, the resource persons told stories of how Davao was the last to be conquered because the Spaniards, from their ships, only saw the Moros, occupants along the coastal areas who were known maritime traders. They thought it was already occupied territory so they just stayed on their ships and did not bother docking. Besides, Davao was thickly forested then with no access roads making it difficult to explore some more.

They were right to think it’s occupied because according to heritage guide Randy, Davao already had a flourishing economy and a working political system before the Spaniards came. (To know more about Davao’s pre-colonial past, you must take Randy’s Davao Heritage Walking Tour. He is conducting several for free in celebration of Araw ng Dabaw, just contact him through Museo Dabawenyo.)

Later on, when Jesuit missionaries explored Davao and met the friendly Bagobos, they realized not everyone were Islamized. So there were still people who could be converted to Catholicism. And, I guess, that’s how Christianity reached Davao.

Mr. Figueroa also shared that Davao had no connections to the Katipuneros, who were mostly members of the Freemasons. He said there was an attempt to establish a Masonic lodge (at least, a triangle) in Davao Oriental during the Spanish period but it did not prosper. So that could be an explanation why Davao was not part of the nationalist revolution against Spain. Besides, how can they revolt against Spain when they were not really conquered?

Professor Dacudao credited the uneventful and lack of serious conflict in Davao during the Philippine-American War to the development of the abaca industry. So even during the American colonial period, Davao was peaceful because it was busy producing abaca for the global market.

Abaca was also what brought the Japanese to Davao — they were the workers who responded to the increased demand in this labor-intensive industry. This problem of labor shortage forced the industry to mechanize its production. Those machines used to strip abaca were an invention and innovation from Davao.

Davao’s abaca was “a strategically important commodity in the first half of the twentieth century” as it was used as cordage material in the growing navies of Great Britain, the United States, and Japan. Because of this, Davao became a significant force in international trade.

I love how Professor Dacudao captured Davao’s story through her book, “Abaca Frontier.” I especially love this paragraph: “The lessons to be learned from studying this Philippine region’s history is now, more than ever, relevant in the world we live in today, where multicultural Indo-Pacific is seen as a key actor in global affairs…There is wisdom in studying how conflict was avoided and differences were negotiated by multinational peoples creating an economic and sociocultural construct, no more than understanding the roots of war in other places.”

Davao’s story as a frontier town that became a cosmopolitan city demonstrates that multiculturalism, cooperation, entrepreneurship, and peace are cherished community values of Davaoeños from the start. And that is the story we want to keep telling about ourselves for the new generation to carry into the future.


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