FAST BACKWARD: 1916: the year Davao town was under water

On June 29, 2011, Davao City, due to deforestation of forests in Marilog District, suffered 30 deaths after the headwaters of Matina-Pangi River swelled after only an hour and half of heavy downpour. The state agency Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration measured the abnormal rainfall at about 20 millimeters per hour, or 393 cubic meters per second.

In some areas like Bago Oshiro, Puan, Tamayong, Calinan, Bangkal, and Matina Pangi, rain gauges recorded 60 millimeters of rain in just three hours, which caused soil erosion and river siltation. As a result, close to 15,000 families, mostly living near riverbanks, were displaced.

Two years later, on January 19, 2013, floodwaters caused by the Davao River overflow forced around 40,000 residents to evacuate to higher grounds. The Central 911 dubbed the calamity as “one of the worst floods [to hit the city] in terms of magnitude or volume of water.”

Hard hit by the deluge were the areas of Maa, Matina Gravahan and Bankerohan, in the first district, and Bacaca and Tigatto, in the second district. The inundation also affected the towns of Santo Tomas, Kapalong and Asuncion, in the province of Davao del Norte.

Jade Subdivision, situated along the bank of Davao River, was submerged in water.

Four years later, in 2017, another destructive flooding occurred, submerging agricultural lands after the five major rivers in Davao del Norte overflowed, affecting over 4,000 families. As a result, the province activated its Incident Command System and suspended classes.

Affected by the deluge were the towns of Braulio E. Dujali, Kapalong, New Corella, Asuncion and Carmen, including the more than 15,000 people from the six barangays in Kapalong. The flood initially placed under water the towns after the Libuganon River spilled over.

But the disaster was no comparison to the two destructive prewar floods that devastated Davao region a century earlier, one in 1912 and another in 1916.

The most destructive ever to sink the town of Davao, destroying Davao Bridge (now Gov. Generoso), and leveling the roads and abaca plantations of Lapanday and Tigatto, which are situated close to the Davao River banks, took place in 1916. A report in the Philippine Weather Bureau Bulletin described this tragic event in detail:

“In the morning of January 22 the Davao River began to rise above its ordinary level, and in the afternoon the waters had overflowed its banks and reached this town.

“On the 23d the waters rose to their maximum height, and in the evening began to recede. On the 24th the river resumed its normal conditions.

“The rushing waters had destroyed everything they found on their way, while many trees were uprooted and washed away to the gulf. All the plantations situated within the flooded area were completely or seriously damaged; and it can be surely stated that the losses in such an extended region were very great.

“This flood is the most destructive ever experienced in this town. It is known that in 1912 there was a great flood here, but it was scarcely half as bad as this one.

“It is said that at Moncayo, one of the municipal districts situated to the north of the province, as well as at Tagum and Macgum, the water rose to a height of about 35 feet above its ordinary level. The town of Moncayo it is said to have been practically destroyed.

“Some of the roads leading to Tigatto Estate were completely destroyed. The wooden bridge over the Davao River, recently constructed, was destroyed and washed away to the sea.

“The total losses in the province can be estimated at P50,000.”

Calculated against inflation, P50,000 in 1916, then the equivalent of US$25,000, is worth US$586,000.00  or P29.3 million in 2017!

But the greatest damage in any great flood affects not the human population, but the animals. British-Australian historian Greg Bankoff, in his 2007 article titled ‘Bodies on the Beach: Domesticates and Disasters in the Spanish Philippines 1750–1898,’ wrote, citing José García, the commander of a schooner assigned with military governor of Mindanao in 1891:

ʻWith respect to the animals…the greater part of them have been killed some drowned by the waters, and the others by the multitude of fallen treesʼ. Animals were literally dragged off their feet by the force of water and ʻthrown into the seaʼ. So strong was the flow that a horse and rider found it impossible to negotiate a passage through even quite shallow waters.

Statistically, floods kills animals as they sweep across inundated communities, at times totally destroying poultry, livestock, beasts of burden (carabao, horse, and cattle) and domesticated animals. Bankoff said a flood in Baganga, Davao Oriental, which occurred near the end of the 19th century, resulted in “the loss of pigs, ducks and chickens… was apparently total.”

Beyond climatic disturbances that result in the overflow of rivers and the inundation of communities, a flood has also a significant ethnocultural impact among the tribes of Davao region, a story of inundation that curiously replicates the biblical flood that caused the construction of Noah’s Ark. This first appeared in the February 3, 1909 edition of The Mindanao Herald, a American-owned daily newspaper based in Zamboanga:

“They [the Manobo tribe] tell of a great flood that covered the whole earth when all the people were drowned, save two men and one woman who were carried away. A large eagle came by looking for men one day and offered to carry them back. One man refused to go but the other man and the woman were carried home on the back of the eagle.”

Flood, as a natural disaster, is something man can only mitigate in terms of destruction.