Textby Marifi S. Jara, Mindanao Bureau Chief
FORGET, for a moment, that Davao City is the hometown of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Ignore that the city has been touted by its former longtime mayor as “Exhibit A” for his kind of governance.
Now… think of nature — of flowers and fruits, of mountains and eagles; imagine gastronomic delights — fresh produce and the bounty from the sea, chocolates and cheeses, fusion dishes, comfort food, culinary sophistication; and envision a diverse people who pride themselves for collectively pushing to make Davao a more metropolitan district while keeping that small-town graciousness and feeling of community.
This portrait of Davao, detached from the constant political rumble, is at its liveliest come August when it celebrates the Kadayawan, among the country’s biggest festivals and one that is rooted in pre-colonial traditions.
Kadayawan’s forerunner, the Apo Duwaling Festival, derived its name from three of Mindanao’s — and Davao’s — distinctive markers: Mt. Apo, the durian fruit, and the waling-waling orchid.
Apo Duwaling had its origins in the thanksgiving rituals of indigenous communities which were later embraced by the sundry migrants from other parts of Mindanao, as well as the Visayas and Luzon.
The shift of Apo Duwaling to Kadayawan broadened the festivity to include everything madayaw, a local term that encompasses what is good, beautiful, and cherished by the people.
And while the Apo Duwaling was originally a post-Martial Law initiative of the government to promote Davao as a tourism and investment destination, the private sector in the past few years has been taking a bigger role in organizing the Kadayawan.
“We are proud to be Davaoeños, we are proud to showcase what we have here. We have so many opportunities to come together, especially in the tourism industry where we unite,” said Capt. Ronald C. Go, past president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. and last year’s co-chair of the Kadayawan organizing committee.
“If we tell a consistent story of what Davao is like, of what Davaoeños are like, then people will come and people will enjoy Davao City,” Mr. Go said during this year’s pre-Kadayawan party hosted by the Seda Abreeza hotel on July 25.
Tourism stakeholders are giving a particular push for the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment, with facilities having grown steadily in the past six years.
“What’s now going for Davao is its range of accommodations in various categories for the vast number of MICE visitors,” said Kennedy V. Kapulong, Seda Abreeza Hotel’s general manager and chairman of the MICE Davao Executive Committee for four years.
Seda, the Ayala group’s hotel brand, opened its Davao branch within the Abreeza mixed-use complex in 2013. This was shortly after the nearby SMX Convention Center was launched in September 2012, providing the biggest MICE venue in the city.
“The (Ayala-Abreeza) mall opened (earlier) in 2011, that’s even way before (Mr.) Duterte became president, because Ayala Land already saw the potential of the city,” said Mr. Kapulong, a Luzon native who, after having worked in other hotels abroad, packed his bags five years ago for the Seda Abreeza posting.
Mr. Kapulong said the MICE committee is a public-private sector collaboration that aims to make sure that such events and gatherings get full support for other tourism-related requirements — from airport reception to transportation service, accommodations, dining, tours, and even shopping discounts.
“It’s a unique program… the whole city is organized to welcome delegates,” he said, citing that in the past three years, the number of major MICE events assisted by the committee has grown steadily, from only nine in 2015, to 13 in 2016, and 17 last year.
Daphne Jezelle G. Alojado, branch manager of the SMX Convention Center Davao, said they are looking at hosting up to 350 events by the end of this year, including regional and smaller-scale local occasions.
“Everyone would agree that having a president from Davao City is one factor of attracting guests to the city. Although, I must say even though we hadn’t got President Duterte at that time (the opening in 2012), there had been really interest for Davao City and it increased even more. He’s an added attraction to the city,” Ms. Alojado said.
Property consultancy firm PRIME Philippines, in a study released last week on the impact of the Mindanao-wide martial law on Davao City, also indicates a growth in the hotel sector after the initial shock in the first couple of months last year.
“We believe as consultants that ML (martial law) is healthy for Davao City because if there is no ML, the uncertainty will now be on security, which is a bigger problem… ML was the solution to prevent real estate values from dropping,” Prime Philippine founder and Chief Executive Officer Jet Yu told media in a briefing.
The PRIME report also projects a further boom in the hotel sector, pointing to the MICE promotion program.
“They come as tourists, then eventually they become investors, our economy grows, then we become truly a world-class destination,” Mr. Go said in a short speech at the party, where he also made a jesting reference to the President’s uncharacteristic and unexpectedly short, serious State of the Nation Address two days earlier.
Davao will forever be in political chronicles as the home of the country’s first president from Mindanao.
Mr. Duterte, for good and bad, has earned a permanent special spot in the local museum and has become an inescapable conversation piece with people visiting the city.
He is, for now, the city’s most famous child.
And perhaps, even long after he has taken a bow from the public stage, will be as synonymous to Davao as the beautiful waling-waling, the pungent durian, and the mighty Philippine eagle. — with a report from Maya M. Padillo