A decade of social, economic and political growth (2006-2016)

The rise of former Davao City mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte as the country’s 16th president in 2016 has literally and figuratively altered the socio-economic and political landscape of the country, specifically benefitting southern Mindanao. More than just a cause for celebration among Mindanaoans, his ascendancy necessitates an appreciation of the socio-economic impact and the political direction he has bequeathed to the city, in particular, and the Davao region, in general.

The amazing growth the city has achieved in the last decade is best seen in the growth of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. Among the highly urbanized regions outside Metro Manila and Cebu, Davao City has led Mindanao in terms of information technology (IT) development. All around, as a result, new IT structures have risen, resulting in tens of thousands  of job openings and adding oodles of money in the economy of the metropolis.

The massive development of the city is also reflected in the thousands of subdivisions that dot its landscape, the construction of skyscrapers to cater to condominium patrons and companies needing office spaces, sale of the sports utility vehicles and high-end cars that add traffic to the already jammed streets, and the increase in new investments recorded in the city’s business bureau. Progress may have come with attendant problems, but it has made the city the new assets capital.

A better gauge of a city on a fasttrack to development is the mushrooming of billeting facilities. Hotels, apartments,  inns and pension houses of all kinds are appropriately addressing the volume of tourists, guests, and visitors entering the city, especially after Duterte scorched the campaign trail with his colorful language and handily won the electoral contest. Though there has been a decline in nocturnal pubs for night owls due to stringent regulations on drinking and smoking, the rise of corporate centers indisputably has also defined the city’s growth horizon.

Agricultural shift

Starting as early as its first seven decades ago (1893-1963), Davao became a world shipping destination mainly because it was the leading global supplier of abaca fiber, erroneously labeled in most accounts as the Manila hemp. This product did not only drive the local economy; it also triggered opportunities that were linked to the socio-economic growth of the old town and the province, in general.

But with the invention of the plastic-based cordage and twine, the abaca industry slowly took a near-fatal plunge, necessitating a drastic adjustment in agricultural priorities and the shift to banana and new crops. This change provoked positive inroads following the development of idle lands, and the reopening of the region to large-scale cultivation of farms. In the next decades, Davao reestablished itself as a global player in the field of plantation economy.

Davao City, as an agricultural market, has also trained its initiative on other farming endeavors, such as revitalizing the coconut industry, while strongly promoting ventures that encourage the manufacture of food-based products and cultivation of new, high-yield crops in demand worldwide. The highlights of this new paradigm focus on coffee and cocoa, now the most sought-after millennial articles.

To its credit, the Malagos Garden Resort, a privately-owned farming village, has pioneered in cacao advocacy, inspired by the huge global demand for chocolate. Its entry into an immensely competitive world of cocoa and choco was a huge gamble that eventually paid dividends. After earning a name for its Malagos wine, the outfit introduced Malagos chocolate, a pure, all-natural product that have so far earned four international honors.

In 2013, Malagos chocolate, to the surprise of naysayers, won the Asean Best Food Products Recognition Awards (Singapore). This was followed two years later by credits from the  International Chocolate Awards (2015, Germany) and the Academy of Chocolate Awards (2015, United Kingdom). Last year, it brought home the plum as winner of the 2016 Great Taste Awards, so called as the ‘Olympics of the Food World’ (United Kingdom). Beyond serving tablea, the native chocolate, the resort also holds the distinction of building the country’s first chocolate museum and the first chocolate park anywhere in the archipelago.

Statistically, Davao City contributes only eight percent of the country’s total export of cacao, a drop in the bucket, so to speak. To address the global demand for the commodity, the city, in 2011, launched its Cacao Development Program, with an aim to plant 1,000 hectares with cacao, and opened its Cacao Agribusiness Zone Center at Tugbok district.

On the other hand, coffee investment in the city’s countryside regions has also shown positive strides. With Davao contributing only 13.1 percent to the national coffee output, the urgency to expand the industry, in part due to the growing demand for native-grown coffee in iconic café establishments, has become an imperative.

Leading the initiative to put Davao City on the coffee map is a company known as Mt. Apo Coffee, Inc. Owned by a prominent local family, the business focuses more on propagating the indigenous civet droppings, the most expensive in the world, and the Altura coffee.

Coconut, on the other hand, remains stable despite the wanton cutting of old trees in small plantations and the million trees uprooted by Typhoon Pablo. Overall, Davao region has around 30 million productive coconut trees that greatly contribute to the national output. In terms of banana production, Davao region leads with 37 percent share in the national export.

Dizzying investments

In the past decade (2006-2016), the volume of investments that has been introduced in the roster of economic players has trebled. An important factor in the rise of capital is the city’s improved peace and order, and the better than expected reviews Davao gained from respectable institutions abroad.

2006, in some ways, projected itself as the ‘year of soaring’ for the city. That year, the Jakarta-based Sriwijaya Air made its maiden flight to Davao region, signaling that the once rustic metropolis was pushing for a more liberal global agenda of growth. With a burgeoning population needing space for health imperatives, the city opened the People’s Park the following year. It was also in 2007 when SV More Group of Companies opened its Pharma Nutria N.A. Corporate Center at Bajada district. From here, the years that followed would be magical.

In 2008, in recognition of the role the Chinatown has played in the city’s growth, the business district’s first symbolic archway was inaugurated. That same year the first hospital for mariners, the Gig Oca Seamen’s Hospital at Agdao district, was opened. To address the dizzying rise in port transactions, the national government inaugurated in 2009 the Davao Port Expansion Project,  and later the P870-million passenger terminal building project in 2009.

Ayala’s entry in Davao’s investment landscape was formalized in 2011 with the opening of the 10-hectare Abreeza Mall, a joint venture with homegrown Anflocor Group of Companies. Later, its trademark hotel, the Seda, and condominium project, Avida, were also launched.

2012 saw the rise of SM Premier at Lanang District, the second mall of the Henry Sy conglomerate in Davao City The following year the 204-room Park Inn by Radisson , the city’s second five-star hotel opened its doors to the public. It was also the year when leading Malaysian lending institution, the Maybank, opened a branch in Davao region. As a testament to the growing business transactions in Davao, the city inaugurated its City Hall Annex in 2014.

2015 saw the rise of Tebow Cure Hospital, one of the country’s most modern pediatric orthopedic surgical care, and the inauguration of the Colorsteel Systems Corporation plant, which wa in response to the expanding order for better housing materials in the subdivision industry.

In a way, 2016 hosted numerous investment initiatives. At nearby Panabo City, the Davao International Container Terminal (DICT) was formally opened, the P35-billion AboitizPower’s Davao baseload power plant was inaugurated, the Gokongwei-owned Go Hotel was launched, and the 300-MW coal-fired power plant of Therma South, Inc. at Binugao, Toril, was instated. That same year, the city opened its P268-million, 11-hectare sanitary landfill at Tugbok District.

Topping the 10-year investment cycle was the installation of Duterte as Mindanao’s first president, an event that more profoundly pushed Davao City to the forefront of national and global socio-economic and political developments.

Passion for ‘bigness’

Recognized as the country’s city in terms of area, Davao City’s resolve to be at the top of the socio-political equation takes a deeper significance in that it hosts many landmarks that by Mindanao standards are definitely the biggest and largest.

The marathon to establish local records took a giant step on December 17, 1998 with the opening of the 18-storey Marco Polo Hotel which, in 2015, became the first five-star billeting facility in the great South. Its height did not only introduce the definition of a skyscraper to the city, it also set a record for the tallest edifice in Mindanao, which is double the tallest structure found anywhere in the city and adjacent regions.

Davao’s sobriquet as ‘home of big things’, mainly modern amenities that set the city apart from other urban centers of Mindanao, extends to other facilities now regarded as icons.

In the field of health, Davao City hosts the largest medical hospital outside Metro Manila, the 1,000-bed plus-capacity Southern Philippines Medical Center, home to the only burnt hospital and heart center outside the National Capital Region.

Moreover, the city is home to four of the trend-setting academic institutions in the South: Ateneo de Davao University, the largest sectarian school; University of Mindanao, the largest private university; University of the Philippines Mindanao, the state university with the largest campus; and University of Southeastern Philippines, one of Southeast Asia’s best state schools.

Davao City is not only the domicile to the most number of malls anywhere in Mindanao, but it also prides itself of ‘owning’ the largest conference facility, the SMX Convention Center.

Soon, the ‘miracle city of the South’ will become home of two of the country’s largest coliseums, namely the UP-Mindanao Sports Complex, a state-funded athletic facility, and the record-setting P7-billion KJC (Kingdom of Jesus Christ) King Dome owned by Sonshine Sports Management, an affiliate of the religious group ACQ Ministries.

In the field of penology, the city government, in stride with the need to address congestion in detention facilities, is planning to build a modern jail that can accommodate 5,000 inmates in Calinan.

Davao region is also known for its ‘largest’ achievements, three of them are the Tagum Development Corporation (TADECO), as the largest family-owned banana plantation; the Monfort Bat Cave, home of the world’s largest colony of rosette fruit bats; and the world’s largest and heaviest rosary beads at the Tagum Cathedral in Tagum City.

Tourism arrivals

Records at the Department of Tourism (DOT) show that tourist arrivals in Davao region in 2016 hit 2,110,210, an increase of 11.4 percent from the previous year. In part, this growth was connected to the sudden national curiosity brought about by the electoral triumph of Duterte as former mayor of Davao City.

Officially, there were over 1.2 inbound passengers (8,668 flights) recorded in the first nine months of 2016 alone, which is actually a deficit of more than 300,000 passengers compared to the target of over 1.5 inbound passengers (13,321 flights). Also, some 1.3 outbound passengers were recorded against the target of 1.6 passengers.

Side by side with tourism, the city has grown to become a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination. The exodus of people attending regional and national gatherings in Davao City, mostly social, economic, tourism, and political initiatives, has encouraged the robust growth of the hotel industry. To accommodate the influx of MICE participants, hotels, as a result, have expanded their function rooms.

Since the first international convention in the city was held in 1994 at the Bangko Sentral, the number of global and Asian initiatives hosted by Davao has tremendously grown by leaps and bounds. With President Duterte holding the chairmanship of the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the graph of international conference has shot up impressively in 2016 and 2017.

Cementing the claim that the city is the new normal in the growth of Philippine cities are the cache of awards, mainly national, regional, and international, which has added glamour, glitz, and gist to Davao’s fame. Its rise to the top may not sound frivolous to some, but her achievements underscore her fabulous transformation from a rebel hotbed to a global player.