The choice of Santa Ana as the location of the port of Davao was chiefly due to the presence of export houses in that barrio, and the many abaca-pressing firms adjacent to the area. For one thing, there was already the Santa Ana pier that was mainly built from wood.
But there were also other reasons why the new location was strategic in terms of administratively managing the various piers, docks, and jetties already existing in Davao.
M.M. Saleeby, then manager in the Philippines of Hanson and Orth, a company engaged in hemp-buying, suggested in 1925 that the future new wharf, which at the time had already been allotted P100,000 for construction, be close to where the warehouses were.
“Everyone is grateful for the prospective new pier, on which P100,000 will be spent this year, but we all hope it will be located at the end of the street where the export houses are, instead of beyond the old pier where traffic is always congested and where passage to and from the new pier work would only add to our transportation difficulties…
“Besides the pier, other transportation and communication facilities are needed in Davao and warranted by the development there. For instance, the post office is in Davao while the export houses are all in the barrio of Santa Ana. We have to send our telegrams by messenger over this distance, two kilometers, and if after 5:30 p. m., when the post office will be closed for the day, he must then go on to the wireless station, a distance of two kilometers more.
“A branch telegraph station should be installed in Santa Ana. Failing this, there should be telephone communication to Davao and the wireless station. It now requires more time for our messages to pass between Davao and Manila than it does for them to pass between Manila and New York. For the former we ordinarily estimate three days.
“A first class road is also badly needed north and south from Davao to connect the plantations with the capital and the port.”
Two years earlier, H. Forst, general manager of Macleod and Company, one of the oldest American exporters of Manila hemp, also made a similar observation on the need to have a wharf capable of handling huge volume of cargo in Davao. In urging the American colonial government to be fair in appreciating the developments in Davao, he wrote:
“There is really not one good port in the whole Gulf, for about three to four months during the year a very strong northeast monsoon blows steadily, which makes loading and unloading at the various plantations difficult and slow, as this must all be done by means of ships’ boats. The pier at Santa Ana, constructed of native hardwood piles and timbers, was completed about a year ago and, considering ordinary wear and tear, should be good for three years more.
“At low tide there are only sixteen feet of water at the end of the pier, which will prevent large ocean-going vessels from coming alongside. We all recall that the Shipping Board freighter Dewey loaded at Santa Ana and after a good deal of delay managed to take on about 4,000 bales of hemp. However, the vessel was loaded under difficulties; but with certain improvements, steamers of the same size should be able to take on cargo as cheaply and as quickly…
“Davao should be made an open port as soon as possible. Immediate steps should be taken to improve port facilities so as to permit large steamers to call there. That means an extension of the present pier, or what would be much better-the construction of a concrete pier. Very little dredging would be required. Surely those Americans who have spent the best part of their lives in that isolated district and have given the best that is in them, are entitled to some consideration on the part of the government, and at a time when the future outlook is more promising than it has ever been before.
“Zamboanga should not be favored at the expense of Davao. There is room for both. Direct shipment from Davao would not seriously interfere with interisland shipping. There is plenty of cargo which must be shipped south, and even with a monthly direct steamer there would be sufficient produce left to fill tonnage now employed in the inter-island trade.”
By 1940, the year before the Philippines was drawn in the global war, the Sta. Ana wharf, where the port of Davao was also found, was by now a bustling merchant quay.
The 1941 Annual Report of the Insular Collector of Customs showed that the total gross receipts of the port from all sources in 1940 amounted to P791,170.93 compared to P658,501.78 in 1939, or an increase of P122,669.15. The value of its 1940 foreign trade, meanwhile, amounted to P17,571,411, with P1,484,019 representing imports and P16,079,519, for exports.
In shipping, 1940 was a banner year. A total of 103 foreign-trading vessels entered the port. During the same period, 102 vessels engaged in the foreign trade were cleared as compared with 106 the previous year. Moreover, a total of 329 domestic vessels engaged in coastwise trade were entered during the year compared to 135 for the first six months of 1939. Also, a total of nine vessels were newly documented during the year, all for the bay and river traffic, while 106 vessels were licensed for the domestic trade during the same period.
Today, the port of Davao has become one of the major seaports in the country, and its coverage includes piers, wharves, and small ports in Davao City and the Davao provinces where products, general cargo, vehicles, bulk cargo, minerals, and other transportable articles for maritime shipment, including interisland shipping, are handled.