Davao del Sur’s oldest town bets on history to attract tourists

Posted on July 09, 2016

DAVAO CITY -- The Sta. Cruz Tourism Office is now gearing to enlist the municipality as the oldest town in Davao del Sur province, making it a new tourism product and an alternative tourist destination to Mt. Apo, which is temporarily closed to visitors.

Being considered the mother town of Davao del Sur, the territorial lands of Sta. Cruz prior to the division of Davao Province included the municipalities of Digos, Bansalan, Magsaysay, Matanao, Kiblawan, Hagonoy, Padada, Sulop, Malalag, and Sta. Maria that used to be its barangays before.

“We are now planning to introduce new product to our new mayor Alexis Almendras. This is our alternative offering while Mt. Apo is temporarily closed,” said Julius R. Paner, Sta. Cruz tourism officer.

Based on the concept paper entitled “Heritage Tourism Development Project of Sta. Cruz,” the project intends to integrate Sta. Cruz history into its pool of tourism products.

While the town has already met success in promoting its unique culture, beautiful natural attributes, and exciting adventure activities; incorporating its history is very timely and appropriate since it is the oldest in the province.

The project also aims to establish a type of heritage tourism that will identify places and activities for visitors and tourist enabling them to appreciate the town’s past.

Besides identifying heritage sites and structures, it will also offer alternative destinations to tourists and visitors, especially those concerned about local history.

Once it takes off, the host community is expected to earn profit, thereby encouraging them to take care of the structures.

The Municipality of Sta. Cruz is the oldest town in the province of Davao del Sur. It is already 131 years since it was created as a municipal political unit. The exact date of the creation of Sta. Cruz was October 5, 1884 and it had been an active participant in the making of Mindanao’s and Philippines’ histories. From the Spanish rule to American regime, to Japanese occupation, to Philippine Declaration of Independence, to Martial Law era, to EDSA Revolution, Sta. Cruz’ story was intricately interwoven into the country’s saga.

This gulf town was originally called “Labo,” a Bagobo word meaning marshland. Labo is situated in between a confluence of two mountain streams where waters were as clear as crystal and was but a short distance from the coast.

Mr. Paner said the municipality of Sta. Cruz will turn 131 years old on October 5 in time for the Araw ng Sta. Cruz celebration.

“We are thinking: why don’t we try to showcase our history to tourists who are interested on the history of a certain town?” he said.

Records and testimonials are sketchy about how Sta. Cruz derived its name.

Official records from Manila archives disclosed how the town got its official name during the Spanish Civil Administration.

It was documented that on October 4, 1884, Angel Rodriguez, the Spanish Governor General of Mindanao Province arrived on board the warship “Gardoqui” escorted by a sergeant, a corporal, and 12 perons from the capital’s detachment. Christian and non-Christians greeted them with banners where the word “STA. CRUZ” was embroidered. The next day, October 5, 1884, Rodriguez blessed the town and thus created “Sta. Cruz of Mindanao.”

Currently, the town’s houses built during Spanish time are being inventoried and research on their significance in the said municipality are now ongoing.

“We also visited old structures and ask permissions from the owners if they are willing to open their old houses to the tourists,” he said, referring to three to four houses.

“From now on I will start posting pictures related to Sta. Cruz History. We will be gearing up for a new tourism product being the oldest town in the province at 113 years old and we deemed it proper and appropriate to have it integrated into our pool of tourism packages,” he said. -- Maya M. Padillo