Davao: city of superlatives

Here’s what you learn when you go to Davao just to admire eagles.

The much-touted piece of trivia that Davao City is the largest city in the country always had me imagining an urban jungle whose sprawl surpasses that of Metro Manila. That idea excited me, in a dubious capacity as a ‘city explorer’, but at the same time it worried my conscience, because the congestion of Manila is terrible for a myriad reasons, none of which would be pleasing to see replicated somewhere else in our archipelago.

It was both a delight and a disappointment then to realize that the nominal vastness of Davao is nothing like that of Manila’s. Delight because, as a tour guide in Museo Dabawenyo dutifully pointed out, more than eighty percent of Davao City’s territory is in fact rural—sparsely populated, fresh, green. And the city government intends to keep most of it that way; there were mentions of development plans and city ordinances intended to limit urbanization (or, euphemistically, ‘development’) of the city’s greener districts. Coming from Manila, it’s certainly refreshing to find a major city government in the country caring, or at least affecting a concern for, nature. (Only time will tell if Davao will stay pro-environment, or be tempted by unsustainable prosperity.)

On the other hand, the actual size of urban Davao means that there isn’t as much for me to see around in the way of man-made environments, i.e. city architecture. Downtown Davao, the blocks surrounding the city hall, is a blend of the weariness of Manila’s Quiapo and the sleepiness of my hometown, Malabon. Davao City’s growth so far has definitely been horizontal rather than vertical—Marco Polo Hotel is the only visibly high-rise structure in the downtown area, and serves suitably as a compass if you feel like wandering around.

Photo of old buildings located along San Pedro St. in downtown Davao City.
Buildings along San Pedro St. in downtown Davao City.

As to why the city’s official boundaries remain so expansive is still unknown to me. The size is absurd when compared to the neighboring territories: Davao City is larger than the rest of the province of Davao del Sur combined. Wouldn’t it be somehow more efficient and effective for governance if the territory were to be chopped up into several cities and municipalities? I can’t be sure, I’m not some public policy expert. I’m guessing that local legislators and executives want to retain the ‘largest city’ title for the vague pride and prestige of a superlative. Competing for the largest, biggest, longest whatever, no matter how Guinness World Records-silly it becomes, is a Filipino hobby after all.

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A closer look at ‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating’: familiar journeys and unexpected discoveries

It may be distractingly beautiful, but like any good film there is more to ‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating’ than its spectacles: here is one reading of the poetry that extends beyond the postcards.

Perhaps all forms of storytelling are, in essence, also forms of travelling. Even when a story does not, literally, take us to unfamiliar places, it will always at least transport us, figuratively, to unfamiliar situations. Every story that introduces us to new characters is a visit to the home of strangers; the most profound tales are expeditions to the unlit depths of human hearts and minds.

Sakaling Hindi Makarating, then, is twice a travel film, because it pairs the figurative journey of its characters with the premise of a literal voyage. Far from being the typical touring blockbuster, which treks through various locations purely for spectacle, Sakaling Hindi Makarating distills the beauty from each of its destinations, then uses this essence to chart its characters’ arcs in consequential ways. By its end, it feels almost regretful that one regular feature film can accommodate only so many settings, while keeping the itinerary meaningful.

Warning: this discussion shares extensive details of the film’s plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’; this was written mainly for those who have seen the movie.

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‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating’: a tribute to the “beautiful process” of coping with heartbreak

The passion project of a film is a gorgeous love letter to journeys of all kinds, be it across an archipelago or through the depths of heartache.

Director Ice Idanan, when asked how she came up with the story of Sakaling Hindi Makarating, does not hesitate to share that it was directly born out of personal experience. She wrote, initially, to help her cope with heartbreak, and the first story drafts thoroughly reflected the bitterness she felt at the time. But as months passed, she found beauty in the process of recovering from pain and rediscovering herself, and this newly brightened outlook similarly found its way onto the pages of her script.

Portrait of Ice Idanan, director, cinematographer, co-writer, and co-producer of Sakaling Hindi Makarating (2016).
Filmmaker Ice Idanan had four roles in the making of Sakaling Hindi Makarating: director, cinematographer, co-writer and co-producer. (Press kit photo)

It would take many more years and many more pains before Sakaling Hindi Makarating would be completed—at least one script development and two film financing grants later, to be exact—but the film will finally arrive in theaters across the country.

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The Taoid Museum in Laoag, an Ilocano tribute to a Cordilleran heritage

Here is a well-made museum in the lowland city, about the culture of the neighboring highlands.

When tourists, myself included, proclaim that we ‘like’ the culture of a city or country we have just visited, I wonder what we truly intend to say. While in Vigan, for instance, do eating an egg-filled empanada, taking photos of colonial-era houses, and learning to say Naimbag nga malem!, while having fun, already count as ‘liking’ the Ilocano ‘culture’?

Unfortunately, culture extends deep beyond these superficial experiences. Travellers have time to appreciate its displayed gems, but not enough to suffer its habits. In primary school we are taught that the Ilocanos are known for being a thrifty people: do we travellers like that particular trait of Ilocano culture? Ignoring the fact that tourism is rarely a thrifty activity for the traveller, the question is irrelevant. When we tourists say we like Ilocano culture, we are only talking about Vigan’s beautiful houses, Bangui’s magnificant windmills, and Pagudpud’s fine beaches.

Perhaps as an atonement for this tourist’s guilt, I ensure that museums are always part of my opportunities to travel around the country. Museums are essential to overcoming the limitations of tours when appreciating a place’s culture; they show us the practices, products, and persistence of a culture that we cannot see by simply strolling through the streets or by buying souvenirs. This endeavor is possible because museums are built by people who have dedicated a lot of their toiling hours learning a culture beyond its most visible trappings.

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Baguio: the eternal and the environmental

Baguio’s unique character as a Philippine city requires a similarly unique dedication to its protection.

Baguio is a young city. It is only over a century old—practically an infant among the historical cities and towns of the Philippine archipelago. As recently as the turn of the 20th century, while ilustrados and invaders quarreled over the serious matter of sovereignty in the lowlands, the area known as Kafagway was only a grassland inhabited by humble Ibaloi folk, quietly tending to their cattle. A few years later, after inevitably winning the Philippine-American War, weary Americans stumbled upon this cradle of a land in the mountainous Cordillera region. Exhausted by lowland Luzon’s tropical air, they must have fallen homesick at the first whiff of Kafagway’s chilly midland winds, so they quickly decided that they will build a resort town in that place. Baguio was born.

Flowers with dewdrops at Burnham Park, Baguio City.
Flowers at Baguio’s Burnham Park.

Yet, despite this young history and the absence of a Spanish heritage that most of the rest of Luzon Island enjoys, Baguio has already attained for itself an immortal character. The numerous artists and authors who have made this place their home attest to the sense of the eternal pervading the midland city.

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