FAST BACKWARD: The town of Alberique

Don’t look now but Tigatto was a town in the twilight years of Spanish rule when Lapanday (formerly Belen), the former stronghold of Datu Bago in 1848, was host to a sprawling abaca plantation owned by Syrian migrant Juan Awad. When the Catholic missionaries arrived on the area, the place was a predominantly Moro enclave.

Tigatto was given the name Alberique by missionaries, and it was situated on the riverbank of Davao River, about 6.5 miles (10.46 kilometers) west northwest of Davao, according to the 1902 Gazetteer of the Philippines. As a township, the Americans assigned in the area two teachers—a male and a female—to attend to the educational needs of children.

With the arrival of priests in the area, Tigatto, which counted Ma-a as one of its districts, became Chritianized in 1900. The pueblo was first organized 1895 as can be deduced from a letter dated December 6, 1896, which Fr. Saturnino Urios, SJ, the parish priest of the Davao, wrote while at Peñaplata, in Samal Island. In his communiqué to the Mission Superior, he mentions of a trip to Alberique, most likely in November 1896, to attend the celebration of the town’s fiesta whose patron saint was St. Saturninus.

“It was the first such celebration in that settlement. The Moros are more advanced than addicted; Alberique is far, if not one hour away and, besides, it was my patron’s day. For these reasons, we noted much activity there; also, growth and good mixture of new and old Christians. The Davao principalia [elite class] came to greet me. We proposed a toast and served something prepared by the ch0ir leader. At the same time, they gave us something to honor the Assessor and the Medical Officer who ate with us, since we had invited them to the feast.”

This being the first fiesta, the town of Tigatto could have been established a year earlier.

This is corroborated by an earlier letter dated October 17, 1895,  which Fr. Jose Alque, S.J., later the second director of the Manila Observatory, sent to his Mission Superior from Davao while en route to Mati from a visit in the town of Alberique:

“Sunday, September 22, I left with Fr. [Lorenzo] Peiro for Alberique, the new Moro settlement close to the Davao River, about nine kilometers from the sea. The site is excellent. The temporary church is very poor, the huts half finished, the streets well laid-out but choked with brambles for land of hands. The general impression is that of a town abandoned as it was just beginning to be built.”

Fr. Algue, a meteorologist and scientist, attributed his grim observations about the town to the famine that spread to the lower section of the Davao Gulf, which affected “dispersed newly established settlements and forced people back to the upper hinterlands in search of sustenance.” Despite their efforts to survive, “several [residents] have succumbed to hunger and misery, above all among the Moros living on the lowest-lying lands.”

In an earlier letter, Fr. Urios also cites Alberique as one of the “settlements in interior,” along with Oyanguren, Garellano, Oran, Melilla, Aviles, Segorbe, and Santa Isabel. Where these other population centers were situated and what are their present names are engaging subjects for future researches.

In the 1917 Report of the Philippine Health Service, filed after the 1916 flood that put the town of Davao under water, the place was already home to the Tigatto Public School.

Affirming the classification of Tigatto as a town, was a letter dated June 1, 1916, from Fr. Mario J. Sauras to Fr. Jesus Jose Iglesia, SJ, the provincial of the congregation in Davao, saying:

“Dearly beloved confrere: I have just arrived from the neighborhood of Tigatto where, thanks to the favor and help of some good Filipinos, the feast of the Blessed Patriarch and Spouse San Jose, patron and protector of the small town, was celebrated today, the day of the Ascension of the Lord.”

At the tail-end of the war, Tigatto bore the brunt of aerial bombings after the Japanese forces fled to the area. According to the History of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 (1988), on May 7, 1945, napalm bombs were put down directly on top of the Japanese naval headquarters at Tigatto and blanketed the building in flames. The enemies suffered heavy casualties that hastened the collapse of the retreating foes.

Although the area almost became an abandoned settlement following the rise of insurgency in the late eighties, the disintegration of the Marcos in 1986 saw the return to normalcy of a former town that today stands out as a subdivision township. Some of the residents there are descendants of Christians relocated from Hijo in 1892 under the stewardship of Fr. Urios.

Classified as rural by the Philippine Standard Geographic Code (PSGC), Tigatto, a district of Buhangin, is now home to close to 15,000 inhabitants and host to a growing thriving number of commercial establishments.