IN the 1970s, Davao City became known as the “killing fields” of the Philippines, earning the moniker as the country’s Nicaragua. As a result, the rest of the country shunned this once bustling and promising city. But it changed after the 1988 elections. The newly elected mayor, Rodrigo R. Duterte, did an impossible task—that of restoring peace and order of a city that was divided by religion and ideological belief.
“I hold it as an article of faith in the government that there can never be development and progress in any city or province in the country, unless there is stability, unless there is peace and order,” said Duterte, who is rumored to be running as the country’s next President.
From being tagged as “Murder City,” Davao City became “one of the most livable cities in the Asia” (both sobriquets were bestowed by the defunct Asiaweek magazine). Indeed, Davao City has gone a long, long way. Today the city is one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
Most recent visitors who come here describe Davao as a land of exotic beauty and rich culture. “Davao is probably the least exposed of the country’s urban areas, and the most appealing,” contends Gregory C. Ira, a Filipino-American friend who visited the city together with his family. “It’s a great holiday hideaway, what with its lush greenery and exotic wild flora and fauna that contribute to its picturesque view,” he adds.
The de facto capital of Mindanao, Davao is one of the largest cities in the world with a total land area of 224,000 hectares. Its boundaries encompass commercial areas, as well as beaches, mountains and forests. Approximately, it is 7.8 times the size of Cebu and three times that of the entire Metro Manila.
Situated beside Davao Gulf, the city is dominated by the country’s highest peak, the 2,954-meter-high Mount Apo. The dormant volcano is home to tribes, such as Bagobo, Manobo, Mandaya and B’laan, and its fertile rolling foothills are teeming with exotic fruits, like durian, marang, mangosteen, rambutan and pomelos, as well as the country’s second flower icon, the waling-waling.
If you want to see waling-waling up close, then go to the Malagos Garden Resort in Calinan. Other species of orchids abound, but the resort is more noted for its amazing bird show every Sunday. The show strikes a serious environment note to the audience: Save the birds before they’re gone forever.
One bird that needs to be saved from extinction is the Philippine Eagle, the country’s bird icon. There are several of them at the Philippine Eagle Center, just 2 kilometers away from the Malagos Garden Resort. Don’t fail to marvel at “Pag-asa,” the very first tropical eagle bred in captivity and hatched scientifically.
If crocodile is your thing, visit Davao Crocodile Park in Maa. This 5.4-hectare mini zoo houses several of the two species of crocodiles found in the Philippines. It is here where you can find the country’s second largest known crocodile—at 18 feet—which is aptly named “Pangil” (Filipino for “fang”). It also houses wild cats, python, turtles, monitor lizard, monkeys and various kinds of birds.
Far from the center of the city is Eden Nature Park and Resort in Toril. This 80-hectare cool mountain resort is a testament to how man’s ingenuity and concern for the environment can create a paradise on earth. At 2,650 feet above sea level, it offers breath taking views of Davao City and the Davao Gulf.
Now, let’s do the tour in the heart of the city. Start at the city hall in San Pedro Street. A few distant walk is the legislative building, whose façade has the famous freedom statue designed by the talented Kublai Millan. Adjacent to the statue is the historic San Pedro Cathedral (built in 1847 during the Spanish period under the leadership of Don Jose Uyanguren, the Spanish conquistador of Davao).
Not far from the Catholic cathedral is the D’Bone Collector Museum (shades of one of those Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.) in Barangay Bucana. You will be mesmerized to see a 41-foot, or 12.4-meter long sperm whale (which has the largest species of toothed whale). Bones and skeletons of snakes, tarsier, marine turtles, various fish species, different sizes of the mouths of sharks and birds abound.
From there, take a taxi and tell the driver to bring you to People’s Park (yes, its Davao’s counterpart of Manhattan’s Central Park) in Legazpi Street. It’s a place where people gather around, stroll and cross bridges, watch man-made waterfalls, or sit under the beautiful trees.
Davao comes alive with the celebration of “Kadayawan sa Dabaw” every third week of August, coinciding with the harvest of fruits, flowers and agricultural products. Major thoroughfares are set ablaze with dancing and cheers with the indak-indak sa kadalanan (street dancing), a spectacle of performers in ethnic-inspired garments dancing to the beat of tribal music, and the Floral Float Parade, which features floral and agricultural bounties.
Now, let’s talk about the food. There are plenty of them and visitors have several choices. First of all, try eating the controversial durian, which smells like hell but tastes like heaven. If you hate the smell, then you better drink durian coffee at Java Jive in Quirino Street.
Chicken afficionados can go to Dusk ‘Til Dawn Restaurant and order its most flavorful chicken wing. Enjoy a Filipino dinner al fresco up a hill at Dencio’s Hilltop. Ranchero offers the best baby back ribs in the city. Yes, you can have fresh tuna kinilaw in most restaurants in the city.
Before leaving Davao, don’t forget to visit the Aldevinco Shopping Center in C.M. Recto Street, right across the Marco Polo Hotel. There are pearl inlaid chests, brass cannons, gongs, batik shirts, wrap-around skirts, native cloth and bags. You can always find a little something to bring back home instead of the usual T-shirt.
“It is a city by appearance but a village by heart. It is a city by appearance, but a home by heart.” That is how columnist Rene Lizada describes Davao. In a way, it is!