BY GAYLEY FUERZAS AND JEFRY TUPAS
DAVAO CITY: On March 1, 1937, 80 years ago, Davao formally became a city in an inauguration attended by then Interior Secretary Elpidio Quirino at the now Quezon Park, a prominent landmark located in front of the Davao City Hall.
From the United States, Pres. Manuel Quezon said the cityhood of Davao was “important in international trade” as it “brings realization to one of my long cherished plans of affording your city every opportunity to make great strides in its political, social, and economic development.”Quezon’s vision was to make Davao a “progressive and model urban center.”Quirino administered the oath-taking of the first mayor of the city, Santiago Artiaga. The seven members of the first city council were also present.The creation of the city was touted as a reaction to the increasing number of foreigners gaining control over the municipality of Davao—among them Japanese businessmen who were instrumental in the vast development of lands into abaca plantations.
It was a political decision that indicated that the locals were independent and capable of running a government of their own.
Historians say the triumph that the people felt with the newly earned autonomy was shown by their excitement to participating in the events prepared by both the newly-born city government and private organizations.
The announcement from the government was specific—for the Davaoeños to come out on the streets and join the inauguration “in their best attire to witness, join, and perform in their assigned roles …”
Davao historian Ernesto Corcino wrote that a three-hour civic parade was staged that day.
Another historian, 89-year-old Librada “Libby” Rufo, said the parade’s route was limited only to the three major streets of the new city—Oyanguren, Claveria, and Hospital (now called JP Laurel Ave.).
Oldest street and language
But the parade ended at San Pedro St., exactly in front of the city hall, according to Rufo. It is the city’s oldest street, named after the equally oldest church in the city, San Pedro Church.
“There were only a few people then, and everyone knew each other,” she said.
At the time it was declared a city, Davao had only about 68,000 residents. “The language predominantly used in Davao then was Tagalog because the residents were mostly immigrants from Luzon,” she said.
During the war in early 1940s, it was said that the longest battle to liberate the country from occupation happened in Davao City—lasting for six months until the surrender of the Japanese to the allied forces in 1945.
“Davao’s destruction, followed by a swell of thousands of guerrillas who wanted to squat in former Japanese-owned plantations, together with a deluge of sickly refugees from the mountains, added to the physical and economic problems of the city,” an article on Davao history said.
The rebuilding of the city was aided by the spate of war veterans and investors. Davao gradually blossomed, its economic growth spurred by agriculture and trade—its lands becoming host to high-value crops that even to these days provide people with livelihood and employment.
“After the war, Bisaya became the lingua franca,” said Rufo.
Soaring high like the Philippine eagle
After eight decades, Davao City is now the center of trade and commerce in Mindanao. Aside from durian, cavendish bananas, pineapples, cacao, orchids, and tropical plants, Davao is also bursting with real estate development, manufacturing, and tourism.
For many, it is the city of great opportunities and endless potential, despite the diversity of its people’s cultures and traditions. And it continues to soar high—just like its most noted icon, the Philippine eagle.
Lemuel Ortonio, chief of the Davao City Investment Promotion Center, said the city grew higher in 2016 with 38,526 total business applications compared to previous year’s 36,950, with 2016 capitalization of P230 million. The city’s annual growth is 6.1 percent.
He also noted how Chinese, Japanese, and other foreign investors have expressed their intentions to pour capital into and establish businesses in the city.
Davao City’s partnerships with local and foreign cities continue, even reaching across borders and forging pacts with those in Japan, Hawaii, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, and Taiwan.
Davao City, the hometown of Duterte, has also been widely recognized as a trailblazer in human development and welfare, economic growth, peace and order, environmental protection, and good governance, among other programs being emulated by other urban centers nationwide.
It is one of the safest cities in the world, consistently on top of child-friendly cities in the Philippines, the most competitive city to do business, most gender-responsive LGU … the list goes on and on.
Under the leadership of Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, the city government is focused on realizing her 10 priority sectors: poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, solid waste management, education, health, agriculture, tourism, transportation planning and traffic management, peace and order, and disaster-risk reduction and mitigation.
Under “Biyaheng DO30: Our Trip For the Next Three Years,” Sara intends to accomplish 30 projects and programs during her term.
Araw ng Davao celebration: A salute to Davaoeños
The journey and the plight of the city and its people have always been celebrated with pride and great anticipation for more productive and better years ahead.
The late Gil Abarico, who had served as Davao City press secretary, said the celebration is an “occasion for assessing and demonstrating Davao City’s capacity for growth and progress along economic, industrial, social, and cultural endeavors.”
Today, 80 years later, the celebration is about reconnecting to the beloved city’s cultural heritage and pride of being Dabawenyos.
Sara said this year’s celebration of Araw ng Davao is a salute to the people, the history, the icons, the industry, the milestones that made Davao City a modern, multicultural melting pot of harmony and unity in diversity.
“On this 80th founding of Davao City, I call on the Davaoeños to stand tall, united, and resilient in the face of various challenges of the modern era,” she said. “Let this milestone remind us to be humble and mindful of the lessons of the past and inspire us to remain resolute as we rise together in unity and prepare for a brighter future ahead.”
Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte said it is a “celebration of the dynamism, the strength, and determination of the city and its people.”
The authors are connected with the Davao City Information Office.