My Reasons for Falling in Love with Davao

Falling in love with a metropolis is like falling in love with a whore: you share her with countless other lovers, and you struggle to make your intimacy with her as uniquely yours as possible. You call the city your home, but so do thousands – or millions – of others, and you ask yourself if you can really call it your own.

But my love affair with Davao city, this urban heart of Mindanao, was never complicated by such a predicament. While I grew up in suburb-cum-rural Kidapawan two hours away, I was born in Davao, and true to my being a Kidapawanon Davao was always my first love: with my youthful imagination I believed, as I still do, that I was destined for Davao. Kidapawan was the familiar, the hearth of familiarities. Davao was the romantic, the realm of possibilities. And as such romances go, the love affair is total.  Yeah, I share her with a thousand others, but she is the city of my destiny, all of her, and that includes the people.

This has come to be a problem for me recently. While I still consider Davao one of my hometowns, I spend much of the year in Dumaguete now, and continued obsession with this city is a recipe for homesickness.

But what can I do? Every time I come back here I find another reason to love the place. Davao non urbs, sed orbis, I found myself muttering to myself once on a jeep to Lanang. And I realized that yes, I will only suffer if I continue to linger in Davao while I am away, but far more important than that, this love is teaching me to love the world I was born in. Such is the beauty of romance, that no amount of the suffering that comes with it can discredit the value of its intense sublimity.

I am literally, as the Jesuits would put it, finding God in all things here in Davao. The political, the gastronomic, the cultural, the idiosyncratic. From the tiniest details to the very systems that run the city. Not everything I find here is unique to Davao, of course. But that it’s there and it gives pleasure just goes to show how much of a melting pot this place is, and how much for the good that confluence has become.

Can you blame me if I find myself utterly delighted that:

The taxis in Davao are the best I’ve known: I’ve been to several other cities in the Philippines already and a few outside the country, and I still think Davao has the best taxis. You’ve probably heard of this by now, but what’s the big deal about? Well, the drivers are very honest. Expect to be given the exact change when you pay down to the centavo, or rounded off to your benefit when the driver doesn’t have loose change. They’re also really polite, and if you’re lucky considerably cultured: I had met taxi drivers who can speak Arabic, German and French, and it was a taxi driver who introduced me to Maguindanao Pop (yes, there is such a thing). For the children, the colors are fun (and there’s no need to be confused, you can ride on all of them, all you have to know is that the black ones accept credit card payment).

Digong occasionally drives a taxi: I’ve heard of this from first hand accounts. If you’re lucky (or unlucky as the case may be), you may get to hop on  a taxi driven by one of the most popular political figures in the country. With political experience spanning over two decades, Rodrigo “The Punisher” Duterte, multiple time mayor of Davao, is so popular they staged a rally to call on him to run for President (a call he has consistently dismissed). He reduces mere senators to groupies and lectures Justice Secretary-wannabes.  Known for his no-nonsense attitude peppered with pamalikas and tough stance on crime (something that gets him into trouble with the CHR), Digong has almost single-handedly transformed Davao from just another rural Mindanao city to the economic powerhouse it now is. And yes, in spite of his busy schedule as mayor the man still finds time to pull of something as wacky as driving a taxi. To know the people’s thoughts firsthand, he says, and (albeit jokingly) to earn extra income as the mayor’s salary isn’t enough. But mostly to get the chance to be held up (how badass of a mayor can you get!) I haven’t had the honor yet, but I’m bringing the autograph notebook just in case. Oh and he also oversees traffic personally.

I can walk around the city at the dead of night and feel completely safe: To put it bluntly, it’s stupid and very dangerous to commit a crime in Davao. Duterte, of course. In the recent rescue of the kidnapped businesswoman Sally Chua, the DCPO demonstrated what becomes of criminals in the city: bullets to the head. And Digong also succinctly put Davao’s attitude to crime: “Don’t f*ck it in this city.” Outside the law there’s also the (sexy) urban legend of the Davao Death Squad, a shadowy organization, portrayed iconically as men on motorcycle, carrying out a systematic purge of repeating criminals. A local police force that has won awards for its efficiency and a vigilante extrajudicial peace keeping force have all led to Davao being dubbed for a time as The Safest City in Southeast Asia. And at the same time…

Davao also has the fastest and most efficient justice system in the country: If you’re filing a case, file it in Davao. As of 2013, Davao has the fastest rate of prosecutions in the country.

Takoyaki is sold on the streets as streetfood!: I remember at least one street vendor selling them along Oyangguren, but there’s bound to be more. It’s 30 pesos for 4 pieces. Oh the joy!

People here punch red tape in the face: Of course I’m talking about Inday. When useless red tape (in this case marching orders from the sheriff) would mean people will get hurt, the ethical thing to do of course is to do away with it, and the then-mayor understandably sided with the latter option. Nothing personal against the sherriff, but what was a few hours postponement of the demolition of that squatters area for avoiding people getting hurt? But the sheriff insisted, and Digong’s daughter (her own woman, I must be quick to add), tired from being up all night due to recent floods, lost her temper. But what is more amazing for me is that the people of Davao had their priorities right: there was a massive Pro-Inday campaign when she was threatened with suspension. The Dabawenyo knows that while what she did was of course wrong, she was standing up against a bigger and more pervasive evil: useless, cumbersome red tape. Digong himself also addressed this frequent illness of Philippine governance: he imposed a 72-hour limit for acting on local government transactions.

I can drink water from the tap: Davao has one of the most potable waters in any Philippine city, strange for a metropolis. Admittedly it’s not as good as Kidapawan tap water, but it’s still sweeter than any water I’ve had elsewhere.

Nobody is afraid to say their minds here: Contrary to Digong’s image as a tough politician,  Davao is one of the most politically tolerant – and opinionated  – cities I have been to. Unlike in most cities in the country you don’t need to get a permit to stage a rally here (unless if it’s going to disrupt traffic, or if it’s tantamount to trespassing) and stage a rally they do! Someone  I am proud to call a friend, Ash Lagon, has lived the life of an activist to the fullest in Davao, even going so far as getting himself jailed for overdoing it (that he will harbour no resentment at my calling his incarceration “overdoing” shows the tolerance of the Dabawenyo). While Digong has denied any involvement in the vigilante killings of the alleged DDS, his public statements are hardly critical of them (offering 5 million for somebody’s head isn’t exactly being critical of vigilantism), and he remains associated with extrajudicial justice. And yet in glaring opposition to this, Ateneo de Davao joined the CHR-organized indignation rally against extrajudicial killing, and nobody was silenced. The local media pundits don’t pull their punches either: Gary Covington of Sunstar Davao for instance is always an amusing read, he never runs out of things to complain about. Even the Dutertes themselves defy the conventional definition of a political dynasty by disagreeing with each other (multiple times). To be in Davao is to be free to speak your mind, and living here will rub on you the spirit of free speech.

I don’t have to be afraid of being hit by a stray bullet, or even a loose piccolo, during New Year: Of course, Davao is proud of its now decades-old firecracker ban. Christmas season here is pyrotechnics-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet: in the absence of one source of noise, all other options are exhausted – torotot, banging pots, trailing tin cans and steel roofs from bicycles, and of course budots played with the loudest possible volume: fireworks sound like crickets here in Davao. And  I cannot for the life of me comprehend why an idiot would fire a bullet in the air and expect nobody to get hurt. Needless to say, we have zero fireworks related casualties here every year. Why is it so effective? Simple: report a neighbor who uses fireworks and you get an extra 5,000 to buy yourself some ham!

I have seven malls to choose from, and almost all of them have a Booksale: The two SMs (the one in Lanang being the biggest Mall in Mindanao), Gaisano Mall, Ilustre, NCCC, Abreeza, and good-ol’ Victoria Plaza, and there’s more coming! I might be wrong but there’s only one Booksale in the whole of Negros Oriental, but in Davao if you don’t get Booksale you have cheap, brand-less secondhand bookstores. I once got an anthology of detective fiction short stories for 20 pesos, and while I could not find a copy of Bobby Villasis’ Suite Bergamasque in the author’s own home province, I found two copies in SM’s Booksale, also for 20 pesos – oh you get it. Davao is a sweet place to be in for a bookworm.

I can get published, and people will read me: As a writer-wannabe I find comfort in the fact that Davao is gratuitously writer-friendly. There’s an intimate but vibrant literary community, with the  Davao Writers Guild in the center. Each university has its own healthy campus literary scene, and there are local venues for publication with a guaranteed readership. The DWG runs Dagmay  and occasionally the Tubao Book series, and Sunstar Davao accepts essays from beginning writers. There’s also a healthy bloggers’ community, and a large number of Davao-based online publication venues. How sure that people will read you when you publish in Davao? I don’t know if the rumours are true (the vanity-trip certainly is!) but apparently a poem of mine published in Dagmay is being taught in literature classes in the University of Mindanao!

It’s a great place to be an artist in general: Whether you’re in visual arts (the National Artist Victorio Edades and the contemporary Kublai Milan being examples), music (the Ayalas of course), or performance arts (art choreographer Agnes Locsin and my teacher the theater director Noy Narciso), Davao is a city where artists live. It may need a bit more to be a city of artists, sustaining the arts as a viable industry, but it’s going there.

People: Davao is a candy shop that specializes in eye candy. Some of the cutest, hottest, coolest, sexiest, prettiest, most breathtakingly gorgeous people I’ve seen I saw in Davao. And no, I don’t mean the billboards, you see them flesh and blood. And clothes, glorious clothes. As an urban city Davao is very fashionable – heck, it’s common knowledge that Wednesdays at the Ateneo de Davao – wash days – are fashion shows of their own. I even found myself thinking once that the congregation of good looking people in GMall (with many San Pedro students) ought to be declared a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Creme de la creme? There’s this pretty Philo major from Ateneo de Davao who sings and debates – nevermind.

More people: Davao is arguably the primate city of Mindanao – heck, when Misuari pulled off that Bangsamoro stunt he declared Davao his capital to lend credence to his claim. As such, you find in Davao a level of migration from all parts of the island that you don’t see anywhere else. This makes Davao society very diverse, and you meet all kinds of people there. In my time in Davao I’ve met Atheists, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, indigenous animists, Mandayas, Kalagans, Tausugs, Maranaos, Magindanaws, Bagobos, Filipino-Chinese, Americans, Iranians, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, wannabe-Koreans, and everything in between.

I can think on the jeeps: I’ve always been very fond of the jeep. This relic of the wartime past is still the main means of public transpo in Davao, and while it takes time to get around with it, I invariably used the time to think. In my early days in Davao I would just hop on a jeep, not knowing where it leads to, to familiarize myself with the city. The ride from Toril to Lanang will feel like an Odyssey (Davao is very wide),  and that long span of time is ripe for rumination. Both the play that got me into the Iyas and Silliman workshops and the short story that won me the Nick Joaquin last year were conceived on a jeepney ride – heck, this article came to me while I was along Bajada!

I can eat strawberries all year round: my religion is strawberries, and Davao is heaven. Locally grown strawberries from Dizon Farms are available every weekend at Robinson’s Supermarket in Abreeza at a relatively cheap price. Oh bliss!

There’s wifi almost everywhere: The malls, the coffee shops, the restaurants, the universities, if you need to Google something or make an FB status, it’s just one corner away.

There is a lone tree standing at the south end of the Bangkerohan Bridge, right in the middle of traffic. That tree (I think it’s Malibago) makes me realize the beauty of solitude every day.

Baby Back Ribs and Potato Salad at Coco’s: Preferably together. There are three branches of Coco’s in Davao (Torres, Victoria Plaza, and Matina), so you have no excuse. In the Torres branch look for Francis, he’s the best waiter in town.

I can sing TM Revolution’s “Hot Limit” in a videoke and somebody can sing along with me: The videoke in question is at NCCC’s arcade. But the bigger picture – Davao has a vibrant otaku community, and it’s a great place to be an anime fan. Cosplay, gaming, model-making, you name it, there’s a community here. There are several actual cosplaying guilds.  And Mindanao-wide Anime Conventions are held here almost annually. Some of my friends were even behind this blog called “Cosfail Davao,” which gave metacricitism about the community – the fandom here has reached self-critical advancement. For exposure to actual stuff, there’s the annual Eiga Sai, free and open to the public, which screens Japanese films to quench the Japanophile’s thirst. Dasu toko dashite  tawawa ni nattara houmono no koi wa  yare  soukai!

Ticoy from Star Bakehouse & Hopia Factory: I grew up with this tikoy, and whenever I come home I always buy a pack (it’s available in almost all gorceries, but is only found in Davao). It’s the only tikoy I know without any filling, and it has  a distinct vanilla taste. With espasol from Burgos of Kidapawan, my childhood is complete!

Yan ganing Davao Filipino: I’ve said enough about this already – I just love the way Tagalog is spoken in Davao – heck, it’s one of the things that have come to define my writing. Yan ganing mahaluan ng Cebuano ang Tagalog na hindi ginasadya ng nagsabi kay nakasanayan na. It captures that sociocultural specificity of the middle class youth I’ve come to know and fall in love with. The variety is young and cute if not sexy. I and Mike Gomez tried to translate the title of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go.” “Huwag mo na lang gud ako bitawan be” – God that’s erotic.

Suman sa Lihiya from Jaltan: The latik is sticky heaven!

The city is one of the most collectively liberal-minded in the country:  Inday favoured the legalization of prostitution! Also, it takes a great degree of tolerance to accommodate diverse faiths in one city, and Davao most certainly is not a place for intolerant radicals and fundamentalists. The anti-discrimination ordinance recently passed also speaks volumes about local attitudes to faiths, sexualities, and ethnicities.

Comida China at Dencia’s: Another childhood flavour. My mother has been frequenting Dencia’s, located in front of Gaisano Ilustre, since she was in college – her two children have already graduated college and we still frequent it. Other loyal patrons to this institution of Davao cuisine will insist on Lugaw with Tokwa’t Baboy, and I will not contradict them –  that’s good too! – but the comida china is what’s unique with Dencia’s.

Neo-ethnic music: In Davao, by “Original Pinoy Music” we mean “precolonial-inspired”: Davao has been an important stage for the development of Philippine neo-ethnic music. Joey Ayala and Ang Bagong Lumad of course, but many others as well. Personally the best musician in Davao I know is  Nonoy Narciso (his voice and arrangements always make my hair stand). If only the neo-ethnic musicians would go one level higher and begin experimenting with synthesizing.

Ateneo de Davao’s library: Not being an ardent Atenista here, but I first read the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber when I was in first year college thanks to the Ateneo de Davao library, and that is a very difficult book to find. Ateneo de Davao also has the Mindanawon Library, composed mostly of the personal library of Fr. Albert Alejo SJ. It is a veritable collection of ethno-historiographic books, many of which are exquisitely rare.  Of course, there’s also the beautiful view of the acacia trees, the sweet fact that there’s porn hidden in that library (my personal secret!) and you can get a good nap on the fifth floor.

There’s an island where the Tamugan splits from the Davao river in Marilog: It was covered in mist when I saw it, and I still dream about that place occasionally.

Quiboloy, Appointed Son of God: Whether you believe him or not, you have to admit it’s impressive that Apollo Quiboloy is the world’s most successful Messiah Claimant. National politicians travel to the remote outskirts of Davao, up the rugged path to Mount Tamayong, to get his endorsement. And I wouldn’t mind thinking Davao is the New Jerusalem! Finally, anybody who has been to his church’s Garden of Eden Restored will admit that, for all the issues of Ancestral Domain grabbing that may surround it, he has made the place gorgeous.

Puto bumbong from Eden’s Lechon: It’s so liberally garnished it’s overwhelming. They insist on using muscovado instead of plain sugar. And for just 30 pesos!

History really is a battlefield here: The clash between colonial and post-colonial historiography could not be felt more than in Davao. This is perhaps personified by the tension between the narratives of Davao’s two founding figures, Datu Bago and Don Jose Oyangguren. Colonial historiography, articulated best by Aida Rivera-Ford, hails Oyangguren as the bringer of civilization to Davao as its first Spanish Governor, with Datu Bago, the local pan-tribal chieftain, as a bandit who led a barbarian’s revolt. But postcolonial subversion, demonstrated best by Aida Ford’s student Macario Tiu, instead paints Bago as the rightful ruler of the precolonial order, and Oyangguren as an invading foreigner. The Dabawenyo, unlike other Filipinos, has a choice of historical reading.

Budots: (warning: that link will lead to Absurdity) People hate it and find it annoying (justifiably I admit), but there is much to be said about this repetitive and often meme-laced techno-synth bassline music. There is almost no literature about it, but by most accounts Budots emerged from the lumad slum-cum- squatters area that is Davao’s Boulevard. This leads some to call the music “urban ethnic,” and there we can already surmise its importance in sociocultural study. Budots is often accompanied by a stereotyped form of dancing with movements that mimic rather ethnic acts like planting rice, shooting arrows, or pounding rice. Not only that, there’s also something postmodern about Budots’ tendency to incorporate, seemingly at random, sounds from pop culture from Gwiyomi to dialogue from Bituing Walang Ninging. This in postmodernism is called pastiche. Urban ethnic postmodern – those are heavy concepts! But more on Budots in another article.

Rainclouds: It goes for all urban skies. Rainclouds cast shadows on day skies and make night skies glow in orange. If we can’t have aurora borealis, that’s a simple substitute.

traveling to Samal island is only worth 15 pesos!

I can time-travel with a Leoncio Deriada story: some Leoncio Deriada’s fiction captures Davao in the fifties and sixties, when it was still largely rural and agricultural. The Davao of today is a far cry from it, and it’s eye-opening to read how things have changed. Juan Luna Street used to be a watering hole for carabaos but is now lined with high end boarding houses and a computer shop. Artiaga street was a coconut grove but is now in the middle of the urban area – the list is endless.

Cebu Pacific is scared of us here: CebPac has been visibly improving their services lately, and I feel it most in Davao. I suspect it was largely because of the recent fiasco at the Bangoy airport. Of all the cities they could screw up in, they had to do it in opinionated Davao!

We have local ordinances that are better than national law: Several years before the RH Law was passed Davao already had a Reproductive Health Ordinance. Similarly, as Congress is still queasy over Freedom of Information legislation, Davao’s Sanggunian had no issues taking up an FOI ordinance, and it is the mayor who cautions, not against the FOI but on its possible redundancy in case a national law is made. There is also of course that Anti-Discrimination Ordinance as well. Now if only they enforced the no-spitting ordinance better.

Lumads here are empowered, and they are visible: Don’t be surprised to see a full blooded Manobo or Mandaya in Davao and find that said Manobo or Mandaya happens to be more articulate than you. While IP rights remains an issue, in Davao, as is the case in this part of Mindanao, many lumads at least receive adequate education and are very empowered. I am proud to personally know a very intelligent lumad, Aiyan Aquino, who is a full blooded Mandaya. It also helps that in Davao, like in areas with IPs, the IP community gets an automatic seat in the city council. There’s nothing like that in NegOr for instance, where the aeta are largely invisible.

The Shanghai rice and onion rings at Jack’s Ridge: Order whatever you want, just don’t forget these two. You won’t regret it!

Of course, the view at Jack’s Ridge too: in a fit of romanticism I once described that view, the skyline over Davao proper from the Matina hills, as seeing “a galaxy of street lights, with cars as slow moving comets.” Also the monkey.

Even the most stringent ordinances have unexpected benefits: Of course I mean the liquor ban. The 12 midnight curfew of selling liquor in Davao city proper has unexpectedly boosted nearby Samal’s economy, as partygoers opt to cross the Pakiputan (remember, 15 pesos!) so they can drink more. What unknown benefits could the Smoking Ordinance have brought!

Exotica: Crocodile sisig, Durian coffee, kwek-kwek with seaweed: Davao is full of strange things to try for the adventurous. You can sell your soul to the Durian at Magsaysay park all you want. If you want to be more literary you can go be a Dog Eater, but I doubt you can find the stuff in Artiaga street these days. I guess somewhere in Mintal, or Calinan, or the other outskirts.

There is always something new whenever you come, but if you know where to look, the old things you love are likely still there.

This list will go on and on, and I will probably continue to add to it as I find new things to love in this city. So when I tell you to come visit Davao, I’m not saying some generic invitation, I’m bragging from the bottom of my lovestruck heart, squealing like some hopeless fanboy.

You have got to visit Davao.





3 Comments on “My Reasons for Falling in Love with Davao”

    • Karlo Antonio G. David says:

      Hi Brent, haha. Yes, unfortunately I’m still alive hahaha

      So, how’ve you been?

      • Really sorry for the late reply! I haven’t been checking my emails.

        I’m good! Could be better, I suppose. Yet again I recently found myself a victim of unrequited love. Basted, to put it in another way. But I’m slowly getting over it and I see better days ahead.

        And how have you been?

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