FAST BACKWARD: Dividing Davao City into two

The move to divide Davao City into two urban centres was strongest in the early years of the Duterte mayoralty (1988-92). Local politicians voiced out a worn-out position that such plan would in the end result in two progressive metropolitan hub. Under the plan, the common and natural boundary for the reconfigured cities would be Davao River.

Strongly opposing the move to slice the city was the mayor himself who saw such sinister plan as political accommodation. It goes without saying that any attempt to partition territories at the instance of Congress or at the instigation of politicians is deemed as gerrymandering.

This attempt to divide the city would later spill over to another move, which was to create new districts. Under the 1987 Constitution, it only requires a population of 250,000 for a new congressional district to be created through legislative action.

Historically, the plan to split the city first cropped up after the January 1980 local elections resulted in a deadlock. Luis T. Santos, the KBL official bet for city mayor who was later labelled by the press as “the squatter of City Hall,” lost to Elias B. Lopez, the Nacionalista’s choice.

A February 22, 1981 article entitled ‘In Philippine City, Politics Provides Comic-Opera Overlay’, which came out in The New York Times, reported:

“The candidate of the opposition Nacionalista Party, Elias Lopez, received 2,000 more votes but has not been proclaimed the winner. Moves before the Election Commission and the courts have perpetuated the deadlock, and Mr. Santos, backed by the influence of the national Government, insists that he is legally in office until the contest is decided…

“Mr. Lopez, however, is also close to the President’s party, and Mr. Marcos’s local friends, with the President’s cooperation, are working out a Solomonic compromise, resolving in one maneuver the election deadlock and the problem of Davao’s unwieldy dimensions.

Coincidentally, on Feb. 20, 1981, which was the story’s dateline, Pope John Paul II was at the Davao airport to say Mass. The city’s official newspaper, Ang Barangay, which was distributed among the Pope’s entourage, featured a portrait of the Pope and a sabotaged photo of Santos win a typed-in caption, ‘’an impostor.’’

In a nonchalant disclosure, Santos said Antonio O. Floirendo, the President’s kingmaker in Mindanao, had confirmed of the plan “to split Davao into two cities, providing employment for both men with a claim to the mayoralty,” adding ‘’Davao will be divided within the year.”

Floirendo, however, clarified the division of the city would still be put to a plebiscite.

Under the plan, one part of the divided city would be given the name New Davao, while the other, consistent with the idea of President Ferdinand E. Marcos, would be christened Imelda, after his wife, who was at the time minister of Human Settlements.

To his credit, Floirendo did not support the notion of creation an Imelda City. However, if the President insisted, he would not be in a position to stop the proposal. But Santos was amenable: ‘’I’d love to have it Imelda City.’’

The division, though, did not materialize. In March 1981, Lopez, a University of the Philippines alumnus like Marcos, was installed by the Commission on Election as the rightful winner in the previous year’s electoral contest.

The idea of naming places after a living person, though, is not allowed by law. Of course, under Marcos’ dictatorial regime, such prohibition was easily removed by means of a decree and the impediment of creating a city named after Imelda could have been negated outright.

But this was not the only instance when a place in Davao was renamed.

On November 25, 1977, President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1247, creating the municipality to San Mariano, now Maragusan, under the province of Davao. The town’s original appellation was named after Mariano, father of the President, with the ‘san’ as a prefix without any religious significance.

Two years later, Batasang Pambansa passed on April 4, 1979, Batas Pambansa Blg. 23 creating the town of San Vicente, later renamed to Laak, also in Davao province. The name was inspired by Vicente Duterte, former governor of the undivided Davao and father of incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte.

In 2001, Rep. Manuel Zamora, now vice-governor of Compostela Valley, filed a bill renaming the province of Compostela Valley to Davao de Oro. Last December 8, 2016, the provincial Board, with Zamora presiding, passed a resolution support the proposed chance of name.

On August 19, 2017, during the closing ritesa of the provincial chapter congress of the Lady Local Legislators’ League in Davao City, Rep. Maricar Zamora, daughter of the original proponent, expressed optimism the initiative renaming the province would be passed soon.

But to get the imprimatur of the provincial population, the proposed change of name will still have to be put to a plebiscite.