By Jun Ledesma

Why is there life in Davao City?

DABAWENYOS have a declarative statement that aptly encapsulates what this southern capital is to its roughly 1.6-million residents: LIFE IS HERE!

Let me walk you briefly from where we came from. Since 1988 when Rodrigo R. Duterte took over as Mayor he rallied the people to rise against organized crime, terrorism, and drug syndicates.  We have just exited from the reign of terror then under the communist regime when the mass base of the Red Army rose against the ferocious liquidation squads of the  NPAs. It was a people’s uprising we called then Alsa Masa.   Contrary to some uninformed belief Alsa Masa is not a vigilante group. It was a mass uprising. 

In hindsight, the NPA collapsed by its own weight. At the start, slum dwellers looked up to them as liberators as they liquidate in quick fashion local thugs,  robbers, abusive policemen, and barangay officials.  The NPAs extort money from the rich warning them of the death penalty if they refuse to pay “people's tax”.  Moreover, as they grew into seven fronts (battalions), they extort money from businessmen. By this time a new Marine Commander, Col Rodolfo Biazon, and a new Regional Commander of the Integrated National Police, Col. Dionisio Tan-gatue Jr. assumed their respective posts. Tan-gatue lost no time in coming up with the Davao Death Squad, a phantom force used as a psychological weapon against the Sparrows.  This was popularized by an intrepid radio commentator Juan “Jun” Pala an erstwhile communist propagandist who returned to the folds of the law when Tan-gatue assumed command. The top cop extensively utilized  Pala in counter-propaganda. At the helm of the Metropolitan Distrct Command is also a battle-ready police officer, LtCol. Jose Calida. 

In the  NPA front,  their collectors were ordered to start collecting taxes from their mass base. At first, the “donation”  of two chupas per month of rice was affordable but when this was raised to a ganta and ₱50 per week it became a heavy burden to the mass base that can hardly eke a living since many businesses had closed. To instill terror to force the poor to come up with cash and supplies, the Sparrows executed their own collectors. The victims grew up in  Agdao, an enclave that used to be the lair of armed communist insurgents.  They were known to be kind and considerate to the poor who cannot afford to come up with their cash  “contributions”.  But the NPA liquidation squads do not have that kind of emotions.  After days that the collectors came short of targetted amount and taxes in kinds the Sparrows ordered the residents to gather in a basketball court where they shot the three collectors in cold blood.. as if that was not enough, they were also bludgeoned as a coup de grace. 

That night, Agdao and many slum areas in the coastline of the city became a battleground between the NPA liquidation squads and the slum dwellers who, this time, were supported by urban partisans of the NPA many of whom were relatives of the victims.  The phenomenal uprising was dubbed “Alsa Masa”. That night only the staccato of gunfires and eerie howling of the wounded and the dying could be heard. By daylight, the urban center of Davao  City was cleared of NPAs.  The height of the atrocities happened between 1984-to 1985. 

Prior to the gruesome event, there were already perceptible resentments against the high-handedness of the NPAs. Both Tan-gatue and Calida had sensed this. The Metrodiscom head had secretly recruited valuable assets in Agdao and other NPA lairs. Intelligence network was also established by Tan-gatue. Finding DDS to be an effective psychological weapon, he added two more: “Christian Soldiers for Democracy” and “Contra Force”.  Pala is the only person behind the three phantom forces. Contrary to published claims of Sen. Leila de Lima and the oft-repeated fake news of Rappler, Duterte never had anything to do with DDS as he was just an Asst. City Fiscal during that time when the Reds was practically in control of Davao City. Furthermore, DDS has no warm bodies except for Pala behind a microphone.

With the NPAs gone, drug and kidnap-for-ransom syndicates started operating in Davao City.  Extremists' adventurism did not spare the City. They took advantage of divisive and weak leadership following the expulsion in 1986 of elected officials during the revolutionary government of Corazon Aquino. Zafiro Respicio and Rodrigo Duterte were appointed Mayor and Vice Mayor respectively. The two however were of different principles. Corruption,  in an unheard-of magnitude,  was the order of the day.  When finally Aquino called for a regular election in 1988, Duterte ran against Respicio and decisively won. The third candidate was Jun Pala who was at the apex of his popularity. Respicio, the anointed candidate of Cory,  demanded a recount, but in the process lost even to Pala. 

From then on Duterte waged an unrelenting war against all forms of criminality that beset the City and all the shenanigans in the local government bureaucracy. Davao City, once called the Killing Fields of the CPP/NPA became the land of peace and prosperity.  Since then the grateful populace elected Duterte as Mayor for a total of 23 years and practically unopposed. 

In time Davao City was acclaimed as the most livable place, child friendly most competitive, and most peaceful. The national and international rating agencies said so.  With the menace gone, vanquished during the no-nonsense term of Duterte, and continued later by his daughter, Inday Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio, the population of the city nearly doubled.  This made Boy Abunda, ABS-CBN ‘King of Talk Show’ asked the question: “Bakit pag pumunta ka sa Davao you feel safe, you feel secured....”.  Still another feather in the cap for Mayor Inday Sara in particular is the 9% growth of the city’s economy. Truly Life is Here!

The healthy business climate in Davao City has drawn new investors from all over. It has become a veritable hub of call centers, home to over a dozen sprawling super-malls, its landscapes metamorphosed from what was once a  laidback city of rusting rooftops to hotels and condominiums buildings racing for the skies. The second biggest volume of banana exports in the world is shipped from its ports. Mayor Inday Sara organized a Regional Political Organizations, Hugpong Ng Pagbabago (HnP), primarily to strengthen the bargaining power of the Davao region with the legislative and executive departments. HnP had since then linked up with other regional political organizations and had since then proven to be a potent force. 

Mayor Inday Sara Duterte is also behind the creation of the Davao Metropolitan Development Authority which was sponsored by Deputy Speaker Isidro T. Ungab in the lower house. The bill had recently passed the 3rd reading.  The bill is now in the Senate and will be co-sponsored by Davao Senators Christopher “Bong” Go and Bato dela Rosa. The proposed DMDA incorporates some vital data from the plan conceptualized by Arch. Jun Palafox.

In the meantime, The high priority bus system project, also started by the lady Mayor is set to go full swing this November although I have some reservations on this target on account of the Covid -19 pandemic. However with the vaccination drive in the City now in full swing with the vaccine supplies now coming in steadily it is not farfetched that herd immunity will be achieved before the year ends. If this happens a lot of other projects in the pipeline and in the various stages of implementation will be accelerated. For now, nothing is stopping the city from constructing its bayside boulevard, laying underground the power and communications cables, constructing of another by-pass highway, and concreting of barangay roads.

So don’t be surprised if the elusive Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte cannot be reached to get her reaction on her top ratings in the Presidential surveys and the mushrooming of “RUN INDAY SARA RUN” banners, posters, and caravans. The iron lady from the South is simply busy but the last time I heard, she said something like “ I will be obliged where destiny leads me”. 


About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.