Davao Belongs to Us All

Nonfiction by | April 15, 2012

A city is like a coin. It has two faces: one shows the head; the other, the tail. The head is what the tourists like. It’s number one in their itinerary. The tail they hardly visit. Or if they happen to visit it at all, perhaps it’s by accident. Maybe they got lost. Maybe it’s a necessary passage, an unavoidable route that they have to take, to get to their actual destination. Either way, it’s out of the plan. Tourists, foreigners, and Filipinos alike, hardly visit a city to see both faces, unless he happens to be a UN Special Rapporteur mandated to gaze at both head and tail.

Davao City is no different. It has two faces. One is beautiful; the other, ugly. One is serene; the other, noisy. One is hospitable; the other, hostile.

Ask any tourist what they like about Davao, and you get a plethora of answers: Durian and all its by-products (Durian jam, Durian cake, Durian pie, Durian cappuccino, Durian candy, etc.), Mt. Apo, Philippine Eagle, Kadayawan, Crocodile Park, People’s Park, the Dutertes, the Central 911, the stability and order, the cleanliness, and the relative peace and quiet of the city.

Then ask the same tourist if they know, drop by, or ever heard of Tionko Avenue where, if night falls, prostitutes trooped and congregate; or Piapi Blvd., Barrio Patay (BarPa for short), and S.I.R. Matina—few places in Davao notorious as a safe haven of petty thieves, drug-users and pushers, and other outlaws—ask that tourist, and you get a point-blank ”No.”

For tourists they have a choice to visit or not to visit those places. For a Davaoeño like me, who has lived here for twenty-three years now, it seems that I don’t have any choice. I have to live with what Davao has got to offer me whether I like it or not. I have to accept that Davao will always have two faces no matter how I try to make a facelift on it.

But, in fact, I do have a choice. I can, for instance, choose to live in Cebu that is beginning to look like Makati, what with its skyscrapers sprouting like mushrooms here and there. I can choose to live in IloIlo City where the suffocating and congested city streets and sidewalks are absent.

Yet I choose to live here, although leaving Davao is not an utter impossibility. Some people I know have made that choice, too.

Most of my colleagues in Stella Maris Academy of Davao, where I teach for almost two years now, are not born and raised in Davao City. My two High School Librarian friends are both from Digos, but have been in Davao for more than a decade, though they still go to Digos every now and then. Two of my male colleagues are from Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte. My co-Social Studies teacher and classmate in college is from Mati. Our principal is from Sta. Cruz, Laguna. One Filipino teacher is from Zamboanga del Norte. One Physics teacher is from Pantukan. I also have co-teachers from mainland China. My girlfriend, who teaches MAPEH in the same school, is from Kapalong.

Though we came from different parts of the country, born and raised under different circumstances and stations in life, what binds us is that we’ve all found a home here in Davao.

I haven’t gone to too many places outside Davao City. The farthest that I’ve ever been to are IloIlo and Cebu. And on the two occasions that I was there, I could say that Davao City offers the same wares and wonders, goods and getaways, and scenic spots and services, which those places offer.

But I think what separates Davao City is that it belongs to us all. It belongs as much to me as it belongs to my colleagues from Digos, Sto. Tomas, Pantukan, Mati, Kapalong, Zamboanga, Laguna, and China.

Davao belongs as much to Dawn Zulueta (who lives, by the way, in one of the high-end subdivisions somewhere in Buhangin) as it belongs to the Maranao vendors at San Pedro Street, to the Koreans of DCLA at Uyanguren, to the Filipino-Chinese traders at Monteverde Street, and to the Badjaos on Davao’s busy streets.

Davao belongs as much to the Dutertes, Nograleses, Bonguyans, Villa-Abrilles, as it belongs to our favorite kwek-kwek vendors, to the multicab drivers, to the funny barker in Gaisano Mall who is wont to say ”Sit erect,” ”Sit properly,” and ”Move sideward.”

Davao belongs as much to the prominent Davaoeños as it belongs to the many obscure men and women who make Davao City colorful, vibrant, and throbbing with life.


Arvin Ortiz teaches Social Studies IV at Stella Maris Academy of Davao. He blogs at arvinantonio.wordpress.com.