MY parents were probably some of the most quintessential migrants from Manila. They had literally blazed their own trails in the jungles of Compostela in the 1950s, an ocean away from the upper- and middle-class comforts of Manila.
Yet over the years, more and more people have cast a second look at Mindanao, specifically at Davao, and decided to stay for good.
What is it in Davao that has lured them over and prevailed upon them to remain here?
Back in the Eighties, Nani de Leon was a senior policy research analyst at the National Council on Integrated Area Development, then headed by Cesar Virata. He then joined Business World, first as a reporter, then as city editor, and finally as Mindanao bureau chief in 1997. That was the time when he felt that “living in Manila became difficult” and decided to relocate here.
Since he arrived with his wife, Nani had made Davao his second home and could speak the local dialect. Although he didn’t have close relatives here, his family spent summer vacations in Davao and its environs even much earlier, enabling them to assimilate more easily.
“My wife and kids are all convinced we're staying here for good. The city and its people have been good to us,” he says. Today, Nani may have retired from journalism. But he’s active tending his fruit trees (his reportorial beat then was agriculture and agribusiness). Now a grandfather, he has raised his family here, built a house, and bought some properties. His son is a doctor employed at several city hospitals.
Yvonne Lucindo-Biyo is a similar story. I first met her sometime in 1999 at the regional headquarters of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) here in Davao. She was senior staff there, and I was on the Mindanao board.
PBSP was, and continues to be, one of the largest and most successful private sector-led foundations in Asia, and Yvonne had spent some time with PBSP-Manila before heading south and joining the Davao team. She carries a Business Administration degree from UP Diliman.
If work brought her here, why did she stay on? I asked. Yvonne admits that “the first couple of years were marked by frequent flights to Manila. Any reason I could find to go back home was enough for me to get on an airplane.”
But at the end of the day, she admits “it’s the quality of life Davao offers… provincial living with big-city amenities.” And quickly adds: “Nature!” That one certainly alludes to the city’s famed proximity to the pristine beaches and the foggy mountain resorts.
For Myra Tañada-Medina, love brought her to Davao. Her mother had told her, “Kung saan si Fred, doon ka.” That’s Fred Medina, her husband-surgeon and avid diver. “So there was no question about it,” she recalls. “I would move to Davao and leave Manila.”
Myra comes from an illustrious lineage, being the granddaughter of the late great statesman Lorenzo M. Tañada, Sr., and national artist for Architecture Juan F. Nakpil.
Having graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University, she enlisted in Ballet Philippines as a scholar, taught ballet, and joined the Jesuit Volunteers Program.
It helped that world-class contemporary choreographer Agnes Locsin, Myra’s ballet teacher, was from Davao, as was the late moderate activist Rey Teves, who was a friend of Myra’s sister Karen. These “assured me there was a healthy civil society with like-minded people in Davao,” she says. From Day One, she was in her element.
I met Myra shortly after her arrival from Manila when President Ramos established an Office the President-Mindanao in Davao City. We were both senior aides, and, she muses now, “I knew I was contributing in a very relevant way to the development of Mindanao.”
She adds that “nation-building and peacebuilding have always been values I hold dear, and I felt and knew in my heart that if I had been in Manila, I probably wouldn't be doing what I do now.”
She had grown enamored of Davao’s relatively laid-back charm. When she and Fred were starting out, she recalls that only the small utility vehicles and jeeps would traverse the city streets, with hardly any traffic.
“I welcomed that change compared to the everyday traffic I had to hurdle in Metro Manila. I also loved seeing sheep on the road—imagine, sheep in the big city!”
Family life was obviously a key factor, realizing that raising children here compared to the bigger metropolis was easier. This meant a balanced life of work and recreation, like her children attending swimming lessons and martial arts sessions, among others.
“Annelle took ballet classes, Eman was in a soccer team, and Miguel formed his "biboy" dance group. They had a wide array of pets: dogs, fishes, goats, rabbits, white mice, and even a turtle,” she says.
Myra has never looked back since then.