LUGAR LANG|Ironies lost on Davao

BY NEXT month, I will have lived in Davao for 10 years, but I have never felt more alienated in this city than today. When I decided to move here from Baguio City to start a new life, I was filled with hope. I had heard Davao called the “land of promise” and I imagined it might do for me what Baguio did not. On my first year here, the stress of the move and starting life over caused my blood pressure to rise like never before. Or maybe it was all the durian I had been eating. Still, I felt that Davao City welcomed me and my children warmly, because it was used to internal migration. Even the lingua franca, Binisaya, is a distinct dialect of Cebuano mixed with Filipino, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, and maybe Lumad languages depending on where you are.

Writer and historian Macario D. Tiu, in his book Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory (2005), says that Davao history is “a history of conquest and migration and the ensuing conflict over territory and resources.” He devotes an entire chapter to settlers during the colonial periods: Spanish, Japanese, American, and Filipinos “composed of a mix of adventurers, convicts, parolees, and disciplinarios” who had to survive in an existing locale of “hostile Moro and Lumad populations.” Reading this book, I realized that Davao did not really allow itself to be conquered; that in fact, it is a history of resistance to colonizers.

Since moving to Davao, I have witnessed efforts to rename the major streets so that they are not named after the oppressors, e.g. Oyanguren, Claveria, Magallanes. But so far, the new names have not taken root, thanks to the jeepney drivers and locals who refuse to refer to the streets as R. Magsaysay, C.M. Recto, and A. Pichon. Even more unfortunate, Bolton Street is still named Bolton Street despite the heroism of Mangulayon, the only Lumad who had killed the highest ranking American official of the Davao colonial government. One might say this matter of street names is a trifling matter, but when we refuse to acknowledge the significant historical roles and events, we contribute to our continued occupation. We may be long independent from the Spaniards, but continuing to honor Oyanguren by invoking his memory on a constant basis in Davao’s Chinatown is proof that our minds are still colonized.

Many residents look forward to Araw ng Dabaw in March due to the holidays and the usual festivities but do not know that the day actually commemorates resistance against the Japanese in Davao. Because of their success in the abaca plantation industry, the Japanese controlled the economic and political life of Davao. The “Act Creating the City of Davao,” which was formally proclaimed on 1 March 1937, was meant to prevent the further encroachment of the Japanese in the city.

By then, the violence committed against the Lumad over tribal land disputes had risen to alarming rates. Thus, displaying Japanese flags in Mintal during the Davao visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January this year was a historic irony only possible in a country given to “moving on” and historical revisionism. The local news coverage of the event was cute, with no acknowledgement of the war crimes against the Davaoenos, which Tiu calls an “orgy of killing and rape.” Another lost irony is that this year’s Mutya ng Dabaw, the epitome of a “true Dabawenya” according to the City Tourism Office, is a young woman named Reina Kobayashi from North Cotabato.

But what has ultimately alienated me from the community was the presidential campaign and triumph of Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of Davao City for seven terms. Normally, people would have their respective choices during elections and these choices would be respected. But the 2016 elections were marked with virulent attacks on social media against those who did not support Duterte, especially those who live in Davao. One of my Facebook friends posted a long tirade calling us “ungrateful Davao citizens” for not supporting the mayor’s bid. That was the only account I “unfriended” during the campaign because it went against everything I believe about a democracy. The last time I checked, Davao was not a fiefdom, and whatever the mayor had done for the city was his job and mandate. I do not need to be grateful for it, nor repay him for it by voting for him. One of the things I love about my life in Davao is that I am not beholden to anyone here. Like many other migrants, I built my new life here on my own resources and capabilities, and I did not need some “friend” to tell me otherwise.

After Duterte became president, we had hoped that the polarization caused by the campaign would diminish. But so far, it has only gotten worse. The president’s threat of Martial Law hanging over our heads has made life in Davao for those of us in the opposition unpleasant, to say the least. And the continued terror being wrought by rabid Duterte supporters on social media is unbearable. I used to believe the tagline “Davao: Life is Here,” but now I’m not so sure.

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz


Posted in Opinion