Davao’s Concerned Citizens

Davao City is 79 years old this year. Although it is the age of a senior citizen, it is still quite young for a city. Compared to the City of Manila, the country’s capital, which dates back to the 1500s, Davao is a very new city. But what makes it a leading city in the Philippines, despite its young age, is its concerned citizens.

I am a Davaoeña, born and raised in Davao City. Although I have lived in many places in the world, Davao is my home. As they say, you can take the girl out of Davao but you cannot take Davao out of the girl. The quality most people admire about me is my passionate involvement in causes that benefit the larger community. And I tell them that it is the Davaoeño spirit inside me. Indifference is an alien concept to the people of Davao.

The Davao of my childhood was a closely knit community where everybody knew everybody and we all cared about one another. We followed the lives of our relatives, family friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers then the same way we follow telenovelas and celebrity tweets today. We always bumped into each other in the same restaurants that would turn into a fiesta where people from one table are related or connected to people on the other table.

We may not know everyone we see at the restaurants now, but we still eat the same food we love made by the people we know.  We still prefer to eat at home and we only bother to go out to eat if they are serving something really special that we cannot make at home with ingredients we got from Bankerohan.

We love to eat as much as we love to talk. We are passionate about food the way we are passionate about ideas and causes we believe in. We want food prepared fresh and uncomplicated, just like how we want our ideas. We hate pretentiousness in everything, especially in food and in politics. We do not like paying too much for food and ambiance. We already live in the food basket of the country with the most amazing natural views, we don’t need extra. That is why we also do not want spending too much on window dressing and on government projects designed to impress rather than to serve. We know who we are and what we have so we prefer to keep things simple and real.

Davao may look different now at first glance with the shopping malls, fast food restaurants, tall buildings, and heavy traffic but, at its heart, I believe it is still the same closely knit community of concerned citizens.

The Davaoeño “concerned citizen” is still very much alive and well in all of us who live in this city, whether we were born here or not, whether we have lived here for decades or just for six months. I don’t really know why. It must be the food.

I am proud to note that Davaoeños are the most “pakialamero” (involved in an almost interventionist way) people in the world. We love getting involved in everything. Our problem is not how to make Davaoeños participate; it is how to keep them away. Exhibit A is our very own “Araw ng Dabaw” parade that just keeps getting bigger and longer each year.

We are so opinionated we cannot resist sharing our social commentaries on current events. As a young girl, I would wake up every morning to radio programs with various concerned citizens bravely naming names of politicians and officials and voicing out their thoughts and feelings about what is wrong with their city, their country, and the whole world. And when I wanted a more thorough discussion on the issue of the day, I could always count on my socially aware jeepney driver. Yes, Davaoeños always know what’s going on in the world and they always have something to say about it. You could not get them to shut up. So it is not really a surprise that we are the most active city in social media in the world.

That annoying person who keeps raising his hand during that open forum in your national conference? I bet he’s a Davaoeño. That person who always volunteers to be in all committees of your national organization? Chances are she’s from Davao. That group who insisted to be the intermission number in your national convention because they have a socially relevant message? Yup, they are from Davao, too.

When Davaoeños decide to go on strike, it is really a “Welgang Bayan.” When we feel strongly against something, we go out to the streets and express ourselves non-violently, of course, and our local government makes the entire city an all-rally zone. And when we support a cause or a person, we are not shy about showing our love and mobilizing our own resources to proclaim it to the world and we do not need to ask permission from anyone else to do so.

To me, our super concerned citizens make Davao truly special and unique from any other city in the Philippines.  Our longest-serving city mayor, Rodrigo R. Duterte, keeps getting elected as our leader because he embodies the “pakialamero” Davaoeño spirit to the hilt (you know, taking matters into his own hands). He intervenes all the time to get things done. He audaciously sets outrageous goals and sets ridiculous time limits to accomplish them.  He is not being unrealistic, he is being a Davaoeño.  And, yes, he has a mouth that would not shut up.

I would like to think that Duterte’s increasing popularity outside of Davao City is because being a concerned citizen is becoming cool and hip and fashionable again among Filipinos. “Deadma” (indifference) is out and “pakikialam” (involvement) is in. And I believe that is a very good sign. Because a leader like Duterte can only succeed with the support of many concerned citizens.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, March 10, 2016