The Davao I grew up with was the late 60s to the 70s, maybe to stretch it further the 80s. Then was kind of a very laid back life. And it is the Davao that was stuck in my mind, not the Davao I left in 2000. This is always the topic I would always discuss with my sisters. I am trying to write this, before everything becomes a blur, while I still can. And my apologies, this will be long, unlike my other articles.
Davao then was the undivided province. It was divided May 20, 1967. Then to me, Davao City when the center of the universe. There was always an awe when you talk of the city, to most Dabawenyos actually.
My parent’s wedding, April 29, 1961. My Lolo Demetrio on the father side, on his one and only visit to Mati. My Lola Along (Salud) was still in mourning when my parents married. Lolo worked in Parang in the 50s with my Dad who had to cut short his studies in UPLB due to my Lola Dionisia’s sickness. My Dad never left Mindanao actually, only to meet my Mom in Mati after being assigned there. My Mom’s wedding dress was a modernized Maria Clara, which was done by relatives (my Dad’s) in Manila, only to travel over a thousand kilometers before their wedding.
I was born at the old Brokenshire Hospital, along Magallanes in 1962. So consider me a full-fledged Dabawenyo. My nickname as to my family came by some weird instance. Dolphy and Panchito (yes, them the comedians) and some other stars (yes those years), gave me my nickname while playing bingo. They were on a provincial tour, and so while taking a respite in my Tita Betty’s house, playing the game, my mom suddenly went to labor. That was my only brush with celebrities, and that will be the last.
My parents brought me to Mati where a house built in my Lola’s farm in Sudlon. We also lived in Licop for a brief period, Valgosons had a logging concession there, so my Dad had to do a lot driving around as the chief mechanic. A lot of company vehicles would pass by our farm, and one day, one passed in a rush. My Mom, only realized later that it was my Dad who was rushed to Mati Baptist Hospital, a radiator he was repairing blew up in his chest. Those were probably the few times my Dad gave her a scare. That farm also witnessed three more of my siblings added to the family.
Life in Sudlon was idyllic, just like any child’s. It was one of my best years. Playing anywhere, the creek or the hill. There is that something with living on a farm. At times, we would also live in the Valgosons compound in Matiao. It was there where we met my Dad’s other workmates and their families. Like the Estoestas and the Roques, family names that’s been etched in my mind forever.
Still, nothing beats the life I had in Sudlon, there is that cacophony of sounds, the crickets, the birds, the tuko, the uwaks, and the call of cousins for an afternoon play. Hahaha, my Mom would get annoyed with me slipping out from a customary afternoon nap.
I was surrounded with family speaking the vernacular, Minandaya or Dinabaw. It sounded weird as if people were fighting, it was loud but it was something I can identify with. It was always a comforting sound of chatter everytime I would go home.
The 60s was kind of an interesting time, every Friday, my mom would bring me to the city. The reason was, I was diagnosed with RHD. We had an appointment with a lady doctor, Pangan was her last name at Bolton St. The appointments went on for a year until the doctor told her I was okay with a warning, nothing physical, even cub or boy scouts activities, no playing much, nothing. She would at times bring me to a restaurant or kitchenette called Princess which was just across the doctor’s clinic. Shopping then was either Usa Department Store or maybe Magnos, or to include Aldevinco Shopping Center. Hearing the chacha and rhumba music now.
Our ancestral house in Mati, not sure when it was built, probably right before the war or after. The balkon was, from what I heard, where my lolo would give his election campaign speeches. He was the vice mayor or Mati, until his death in 1960. I remember seeing a picture of then President, the late Diosdado Macapagal visiting his wake. Thanks to Birador for the photo.
We moved to the city, all the way from our farm called Sudlon (aptly called as it was quite a distance from the Mati Poblacion) on April 20, 1970. It was my grandmother’s birthday, not sure why my mom decided to move that day. My guess was, as my dad as the chief mechanic, there was an available truck we can use, and we can only use that day.
Not even sure why the move. I guess my mom wanted to be near my dad, who was reassigned to Davao as a shop superintendent for the Valgosons motor pool. Most times he had to go to Calinan as that was where Valgoson’s logging concession was and getting home late was a common occurrence. Plus of course, there were other underlying reasons for it.
Upon arrival, we stayed for a few days in what people who worked at Valgosons called Boys Quarter. It was where you have the Apo View banquet hall now. The Valencias also a huge white house in front of that, where one of the daughters, Tita Linda Cruz with her family lived.
We moved to an apartment at Nidea St. in Bo. Obrero, very near Stella Maris actually. The intention was that was the school we would go to, the uniforms were the same with our previous school called IHMA in Mati. That was the plan, but upon learning that we repeat a year for a subject we didn’t go through, my mom decided that Assumption College was the best bet, never mind the new sets of school uniforms.
My dad when he had time would drive us around during the night. Favorite was Davao Memorial Park with its “dancing” fountain. There we would just play to our heart’s delight. Weekends would sometimes be going to my parent’s friends, the Ordonezes of Toril or have a dip at Talomo beach, which then was considered really far. Dad was a workaholic, and probably Mom was kind of annoyed with it. Hahaha.
Talomo Beach, maybe 60s, ebayfind. In its most pristine state.
Speaking of Talomo, I don’t know if you guys saw a landing barge named Meranti that would occasionally be docked there in the 70s to maybe early 80s. My Dad, as he worked at Valgosons, gave us access to the barge. Kind of there’s not really many memories of taking a dip at Times beach. It was probably later that we would go there later in the 80s.
After living in Bo. Obrero for about two months, we moved to Cortes where we resided for about maybe four to five years. Twice we moved, within the same stretch. My brother and I would have a haircut at Bien’s Barbershop along the same street. Among gupit sa kanunay was white side wall, it came to a point ningreklamo nako sa akong mama nga gusto pud kog sinultero. I could hear until now, the barber’s smirk hearing the word sinultero. Always loved the smell of the talcum powder, can’t remember the brand, and a little pomade (Three Flowers) and some massage to add to the service.
Cortes street then was dusty and would get flooded during rains, but was a short walk to Davao Savings and Loan Association which was where my Tita Betty worked. My Mom would always drop by her after also a short visit to then the office of Valgosons, which was on the second floor above Uno Studio. From our rented house you would get a good view of Mt. Apo. Also, our house was just beside Tita Betty’s house.
Mom and us kids, on any given Sunday, in front of the City Council which the previous provincial capitol.
Around 1972, my parents quite had a scare, anti-Marcos protesters who studied at U.M. would every night pelt our houses as Tita Betty’s husband was a ranking officer at U.M. That scared my parents, who would bring us to a relative’s house for safety reasons.
Bolton was another short walk from our place, which then was also part of the shopping district of Davao, together with San Pedro. That was the place to be seen, and kung gustong magtipid, Uyanguren was the place to shop, to stretch that hard-earned peso. School supplies were always Alan’s Commercial on the corner of Bolton and Rizal. I can still smell the wax paper used to cover the books, the erasers, Mongol pencils!
My sisters, Dang on the left, Lenlen on the right.
Going around was always easy as AC (auto calesa) was every present. All the streets then were two-way. We would always experience gridlock during the pre-Christmas shopping rush. The old San Pedro Church, who can ever forget that. It had that musty and dusty smell. Sundays were always to be there, my Mom was kind of a devout Catholic. With my dad was always by the door, when he had the time to go to church. Most times, it was always at work at the Valgoson’s motor pool at Bajada, where you now have the Pitrade building. Bajada that time, traffic was a trickle, not much was there, besides, it was already considered far. Sunday walk was always like this, church, then to Merco at San Pedro, or any of those small restos kung nagatipid. There was one store, Bustamante Jewelry who I thought, why was always closed. Forgot that when we passed by, it was always on a Sunday, Lol.
There were a few choices on grocery shopping, there was Me Hang, and right across it was Davao Grocery, and walks ahead was Ping’s, which was in front of Aldevinco. Malls were none existent, just a few department stores here and there. I remember Ilustre was pretty desolate, and the opening of Gaisano Ilustre in the late 70s, designed by Architect Manuel Chiew was pretty much the talk of the town. Eating out too was limited, mostly Chinese restaurants and a few Filipino. When somebody had a birthday, we would always go to the International Restaurant. This probably influence me in my later years, I would always gravitate to the familiar, the tried and tested.
My Dad’s passport photo.
By about 1973, my dad decided to leave for Indonesia to work in another logging concession of Valgosons. We were growing up, and my parents thought of, it was in the family’s interest that he leave and work in Indonesia for more money.
Before leaving, my parents decided that we go back to Mati. My dad had to drive us off to Mati, with whatever things we had. Not sure if that was then the height or the start of Moro rebellion in Davao Oriental.
Sadly it was also the lowest and saddest point in the family. My Tito Leo who was a policeman volunteered after the military asked him and other policemen buddies to go after the rebels. When they got to the ambush bridge kilometers from Mati, a bullet hit a policeman friend who was in front then him. One bullet, two lives. Both died instantly and another buddy on the scene. Sad day of a maybe carefully planned ambush. After learning of their deaths, my parents decided again to bring us back to the city. Months after that my dad had finally left for Indonesia.
His passport, second I think. All worn out.
After he left, there was kind of an empty feeling for all of us. While we were used to not seeing seem as he was a workaholic, it was a different feeling of not seeing him for a year.
1974 found us moving to another location in Cortes, the Valencia Cottages. This was where we met Tito Emmie and Tita Elaine Valencia. And that was also the time where I went to Davao School of Arts and Trades in Bo. Obrero. That school opened up my eyes to poverty. While we were okay, never realized that there students of my age who almost had nothing. Here you have the common tao, kids of carpenters, drivers or who were just down and out. One day they were your classmates, the next day, they were gone, dropping out because of poverty. From my point of view, tuition at Trade School was not really much, but of course, this gave you a different take of life.
At the Valencia Cottages, we were to meet people who one way or another are related by work at Valgosons. Wonder where they are now. The only people who until now have really kept in touch are Tito Emmie and Tita Elaine Valencia nee Subido. They would also be our neighbor in Panorama. The Subidos would later become really good family friends. The couple has, even until now have a profound impact in my life. Tita Elaine would later be my ninang sa kasal in 1992. Our first Christmas at Valencia Cottages was the unforgettable one, my brother and I got some game boards, big deal then. But that was to be my Mom’s first Christmas without my Dad, and going to be a yearly affair without him since then.
Above photo of the family with the Estoestas, whose friendship started when my Dad was still single, in Mati. My Dad was in Indonesia for work, Tito Jules Estoesta was home for vacation. The Estoestas move to Manila in the 80s methinks. They are of a tough Ilokano breed and sometimes, my brother and I would spend some summers with them, and Elmo, their eldest son with us. It was in the early 90s where we reconnected through Jun Estoesta. It is only Tita Veny who still with us. Tito Jules and my parents have passed on.
Cortes was pretty much accessible when you want to go movie watching and there were lots of cinemas like Crest, Lyric, Golden, Garmon, Galaxy, Ideal, Eagle and New Davao. Favorite was Crest, not sure why. My early memory of Eagle Theater was of a movie of maybe Nora Aunor or Vilma Santos which my sister went to watch with our then katabang. My Dad was in a panic when they were not home after watching so we had to drive to pick them up. That was the first time I saw the animated neon lights of the theater, with the wings flapping. I was awed.
If you grew up in the 70s, you wouldn’t miss the always shown on the holy week movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. There was also a local tv production of the same movie, shown I think on Channel 13 or one other channel. There was also an afternoon variety show televised from a local tv channel, with a studio along Claveria. It was on the topmost floor, with us students excitedly taking our first elevator ride. Until gikasab-an mi sa person manning the elevator. Lol.
My favorite photo of my parents. Dad was home on vacation from work in Indonesia. You can see the man who was really in loved with my Mom who was always in her happiest when Dad was home. Every early morning, we would hear them talk about a lot of things. Sort of catching up with each other’s lives. Dad was in his prime when he left for Indonesia only to go home and retired in 1990, exhausted, tired and old.
April of 1975, we moved to Panorama Homes. That time, it was considered “layo”. Layo means, having to take an AC, which then was plying downtown to Buhangin. And when you say downtown, meaning your take-off point was Boy Scout. All those, AC and the longer PUJ (Fiera or Sarao) had to queue for all northbound destinations at Boy Scout. That time, Boy Scout was already dilapidated. My every day was like this going to school, walk for about a kilometer to Buhangin, then take a ride and get off at Trade School Drive in Bajada, then walk again for another 4-500 meters to Trade School, then, of course, all the walking inside the school, and the same thing again going home. My only complaint then, then dust that would cloud the road. It seems drivers have a penchant for going fast when they see somebody walking along the road, some kid in them likes those dust clouds.
Our house in Panorama, one of the early settlers there. You can just imagine the amount of real estate we could play, roam around and explore.
Panorama Homes was probably where I grew, in terms of awareness. It was a wide expanse of land, ravines, forest (well, sort of), too much space to explore. Saturdays that was waiting to play, rough and tumble, literally. There were probably between 20-30 families that had kids of my age, always on the get-go. From a Japanese bunker to newly bulldozes cliffs to unfinished houses that were our hideouts to making huts with anything we can use. It was the world to us. As long as we had our breakfasts, to make sure we were home for lunch, and home finally by five in the afternoon. Strangely our mom always allowed us to just roam and play during Saturdays and occasionally Sundays. And strangely we never had major accidents, maybe some cuts or bruises, but that was it.
Our summers were always excited with the expected visit of some cousins, accompanied by some lolas, and days would just fly so past that their sometimes weeks or a month of the visit would be rudely interrupted by the going home. Some days we would go downtown, did a lot of window shopping at those newly opened department stores like Datu Complex (oh our faces riding for the first time the escalators) or Felcris or Happy Emporium.
I took Architecture for about three years, my first two at University of Mindanao. I had a passion for designing buildings, but not for Math. I went to Manila and studied at National University for a year, only to decide that Fine Arts was for me. I came back to Davao and to my parent’s consternation, shifted to Fine Arts.
Fine arts years at LCA, with Bievenido Banes and Glesor Moreno. We were kind of the pioneering batch.
I took my art studies at Learning Center of the Arts, which would later become Ford Academy of the Arts. One summer, I would get to meet Jai Ford, the owner’s son who would introduce me to eastern philosophies. Weirdly I would do yoga on the roof of our house, and watch sunsets every afternoon. Hahaha.
By 1984, I moved to PWC where I finished my Fine Arts, to fulfill my promise to my parents that I finish my studies. It was there where I met my future employer and mentor.
This was a tough decade for us, with my Dad losing his work as Valgosons lost its logging concession in Indonesia and had to lay off all its workforce. For about two years, his remittances were just a trickle and nothing much was heard from him. Later we heard that he had to sell his personal belongings just to survive. It was probably his toughest time, and we didn’t have an inkling about it.
Davao in the 80s was beginning to experience something else, The communist insurgency was at its height. Walking nights was always a cautious one. It was a time where Dabawenyos lost its innocence. Whether it was just plain criminality or rebel and government-related killings, it was a time of not trusting anyone. I remember one old man who just trying to buy something at the store was just randomly killed, no provocation, nothing whatsoever. Felt pity for the man, it was a senseless death. People I or my friends know was just dying on the streets or in the safety of their homes. The 80s was just too much to bear. While on the one hand, I was trying to understand the world, there was another world trying to suffocate me, with the senselessness of it all.
The 80s was a decade of discovering jazz music. And of course, collecting records and cassette tapes too. There was a store just near Borgaily’s, can’t remember the name now. They had a pretty good stock of jazz fusion records and tapes. Other favorite spots to while away time was Alemars, Gaisano Ilustre to have a refreshing mango shakes, Rizal Park, to buy my favorite sinugbang mais (glorious!).
This is the Davao I grew up with. It may be different from others as to how they have experienced Davao. This is also the Davao that is stuck in my head, not the city which I left in 2000. It is a growing city, albeit a burgeoning one. We all have a piece of Davao in our hearts and minds, and hopefully, this is also the piece which we will pass on to the next. For what its worth, Davao will always be home to me, while I am now based in Toronto (to be precise Ajax), there is always that yearning to go back and be home again.
My apologies, this is a continuing edit. I have to add as much as I can, while I can. – Paul.