FAST BACKWARD: Port of Davao, circa 1928

Two decades after its opening, the port of Davao, by 1928, was already a huge earner for the government, something the authorities was happy about given the numerous bureaucratic difficulties that had to be hurdled before it was finally allowed to operate.

The port’s dramatic rise in terms of customs collections was later highlighted in the 1928 Annual Report of the Insular Collector of Customs addressed to the Finance Secretary Vicente Aldanese.

Comparably, the port, official records show, collected P49,316.36 more than the previous year, which was attributed to the increased import and export of all items or commodities that were subject to foreign taxation. The total customs receipt of Davao port in 1928 amounted to P224,697.35 as against the prior year’s P175,380.99.

Entry of foreign liners and the expansion of trade and commerce at the port of Davao was hugely influenced by the booming abaca plantations that produced quality hemp for the foreign market. These fibers were not only in demand in the world market; they were also coveted for their strength and durability, especially for use in defense requirements.

Moreover, the internal revenue receipts also appreciated from P2,006.64 in 1927 to P30,254.52 the following year. This was due to the operation of a bonded warehouse at the port, which allowed the direct import of petroleum products. This was the first time in the port’s history that collection for the highways special fund was done, which amounted to P27,841.18.

The annual report declared:

“The total foreign trade of the port of Davao during the year [1928] reached the amount of P13,762,805, of which P927,255 represent the value of imports and P12,835,550 that of exports as compared with P11,184,541 in 1927, of which P428,674 represent the value of imports and P10,755,867 that of exports.”

On the part of the import trade, the port’s income doubled than that of the previous year due to the entry of petroleum products. In terms of export, trade registered positive results that amounted to P2-million increase over the value of exports from the preceding year.

Among the principal commodities imported and exported in 1928 are as follows: for export, the articles, to cite a few, included wheat flour, cotton goods, fish products, manufactures of iron and steel, meat and dairy products, gasoline, and kerosene; for exports, the products included abaca, copra, and lumber, among others.

The annual report also disclosed that during the year in review a total of 19 vessels from abroad, with a total tonnage of 76,204, docked at the port, sharply smaller than 1927’s 27 direct entrances, which had an aggregate tonnage of 99,968. Of these foreign steamers, 37 flew the United States flag, 26 from Japan, and 19 from Great Britain.

For other vessels entering the port, mainly interisland, there were 67 ships with a net total tonnage of 239,642, as against the 54 liners that called port the previous year, which had only a total tonnage of 203,501. The report continued:

“During the same period 43 vessels engaged in foreign trade, with a net tonnage totalling 166,120, were cleared for foreign ports direct, as compared with 43 of such vessels, with an aggregate net tonnage of 163,433, in 1927; while 39 vessels engaged in such trade, with a total net tonnage of 149,725, were cleared through other ports of entry during 1928, as compared with 38 vessels engaged in the same trade, with an aggregate net tonnage of 140,036, in 1927.

“During the year, 79 coastwise vessels entered this port with a net tonnage totalling 48,998, as compared with 38 entrances of such vessels, with an aggregate net tonnage of 43,998, in 1929; and 78 vessels, with an aggregate net tonnage of 48,516, were cleared from this port during the year, as against 92 vessels in 1927, with a net tonnage of 43,971.”

Moreover, it was reported that seven ships, with a total capacity of 49.95 tons, were registered in 1928 for the bay and river traffic, including a lighter, a vessel with auxiliary engine, and motor launches. Fifty-three vessels with an aggregate net tonnage of 378.08 were issued licenses, 40 of these were for the bay and river traffic while the remainder were for coastwise trading.

For one reason for another, elven vessels in the bay and river traffic, with a total net tonnage of 43.44, were removed from the register in 1928.

Confiscations were also included in the Annual Report of the Insular Collector of Customs:

“Two seizures were made during the year, one of 43 bundles of gunny sacks for being unmanifested and one of 71 packages of Chinese playing cards brought in by a Chinese passenger in his baggage. Disposition of these seizures according to law was pending at the close of the year.”

Seizure of Chinese playing cards predated the 1928 haul. For violating the customs and opium laws, 13 packs of Chinese playing cards were confiscated in Manila alone in 1921; 277 packages in 1922; 16,710 pieces in 1924; 4,308 sheets in 1925; 54,733 sets in 1926; and 4,210 sets in 1927.