The city also rises


After 8 decades, Davao is Mindanao’s center of trade, commerce
THERE seems no stopping Davao City’s rise. Being the Philippines’ largest city in terms of land area, and now, more known as home to President Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City is a coastal commercial center on the southern island of Mindanao. While it continues to grow and develop in terms of economic enterprise and public infrastructure, Davao, long before what it has become to be known today, had had its share of growing pains.

A closer look of the City Hall of Davao as seen today

The word “Davao,” according to the local historian Rogelio Lizada, is the product of a phonetic blending of terms for the three Bagobo subgroups referring to the Davao River. The Obo, considered to be the earliest aboriginal people of this territory, called the river “Davoh,” while the K’lata (Obo-Ata mestizo), Diangan or Guiangan (Obo-Bagobo mestizo) called the river “Duhwow,” and the Tagabawa Bagobo called it “Dabu.”

Commonwealth Act No. 51
On March 1, 1937, eight decades and a year ago, Davao became a city by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 51, signed by then-President Manuel L. Quezon. The new city was a merger of the Municipality of Davao and the Municipal District of Guianga. A century earlier, it was a land inhabited by indigenous peoples and later colonized by Spain in the mid-1800s under the leadership of Don Jose Uyanguren, who was following orders from Governor-General Narciso Claveria.

Rapid economic progress began in the early 1900s under American rule when roads, telegraph lines, and ports were installed. Abaca and coconut plantations, business branches, and factories were established. The period saw the entry of migrants from Luzon and the Visayas along with the Chinese, Japanese, and Americans.

The city, in its early years, was governed by a succession of appointed leaders—Santiago Artiaga from 1936 to 1939, Agustin Alvarez (1939 to 1940), and Pantaleon Pelayo, Sr. (1940 to 1942 and from May to December 1945).

Japanese occupation
The Japanese landed in Davao on Dec. 20, 1941, and controlled the city effectively. The mayors during the Japanese occupation were Alfonso G. Obonza, Sr. (1943 to 1943), Melencio Sarenas (1943 to 1944) and Donato C. Endriga (1944 to 1945).

The San Pedro Hospital was established in 1948

The city’s economic progress was negated when World War II broke out, however, according to an article written by Antonio Figueroa. He said, “Commercial areas were flattened, roads linking to interior regions were eviscerated by aerial bombs, power supply was totally wiped out, population centers devastated, and nearly every trace of a city on its way to becoming an economic leader in Mindanao disappeared.”

Road to progress
In 1945, the city was liberated by the Americans. Immediately after the liberation, the city government was reestablished. Despite suffering tremendous devastation during the war, the city’s road to progress resumed. In 1946, the Davao Light and Power Company, Inc. was revived. Despite its damaged machinery, it was the first sign of hope that the city would again rise from the ashes of war. Other establishments were opened, like the San Pedro Hospital, in 1948, and the Apo View Hotel, the first high-rise building in the city, in 1953. Educational institutions like the Mindanao Colleges (now University of Mindanao), Rizal Memorial Colleges, and San Pedro College were also founded.

The old capitol of Davao City

In 1955, Republic Act 1368 was signed into law, providing for the election of the city mayor, vice mayor, and 10 city councilors. In November 1955, the first local city elections were held, and Carmelo Porras was elected mayor. Elias Lopez, a full-blooded Bagobo, was elected mayor in 1967, serving until 1971, and again in 1980 up to 1986.

Region XI
In 1967, Davao Province was divided into Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, and Davao Oriental. Davao became the regional capital of Southern Mindanao; with further political reorganization, it became the regional capital of the Davao Region—which has since replaced Southern Mindanao—and a highly urbanized city in the province of Davao del Sur. The region, designated as Region XI, groups Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao Occidental.

The city had continued to grow well into the 1970s, but political developments in the country also made a tremendous impact on the city, especially when then-President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, in 1972. By the 1980s, the city was again plunged into turmoil. It became a bloody laboratory for urban guerrilla warfare waged by the communist New People’s Army. In 1986, shortly after the EDSA Revolution, which toppled the Marcos regime, the new government under Corazon Aquino appointed OIC officials across the country: Davao got Jacinto T. Rubillar (1986 – 1987) and Zafiro Respicio (1987 – 1988).

Boy Scouts of the Philippines building in 1962

Rodrigo Roa Duterte
In the 1988 local elections, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a former fiscal and a son of the last governor of Davao Province, rose to prominence. He was elected mayor of Davao City for three consecutive terms until 1998. Under his stewardship, peace and stability returned to the city. Davao was again enjoying years of unhampered economic progress.

In the late 1990s to the 21st century, as testament to the city’s growth and competent governance, Davao was awarded by AsiaWeek newsmagazine as one of Asia’s “Most Livable Cities.” It was also dubbed the “Most Culture-Friendly City in the Philippines,” the Philippines’ “Most Livable City,” “One of the Safest Cities in the World,” and the list went on. Davao has since shifted steadily into a more cosmopolitan city with advances in information and communications technology, becoming one of the country’s most modern and progressive urban centers.

Investments have continued to pour in, with capitalists expressing their intentions to put up businesses in the city. Under the leadership of Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, the presidential daughter, the city government is focused on addressing her top 10 priorities—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.

Trade, commerce center
Today, after eight decades of being a city, Davao is the center of trade and commerce in Mindanao. Not only is the city rich in agricultural products like bananas, durian, cacao, and orchids and tropical plants, it also is bustling with real-estate development, manufacturing, and other industries. This year, for instance, the big-ticket High Priority Bus Project is expected to start. In partnership with the Asian Development Bank, the project provides for public-use buses to replace PUJs, or public-use jeepneys.

Davao City continues to be recognized for people development and welfare, economic growth, security, environmental protection, good governance, and many other best practices being emulated by other local governments across the country.



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