FAST BACKWARD: Camp Domingo E. Leonor

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

Established around 1901, Camp Domingo E. Leonor, just beside the Philippine National Bank along San Pedro Street, was the original headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary, a service command created on Aug. 18, 1901 by the American colonial rule.

Named after Capt. Leonor, the first Filipino PC officer to head the barracks, the camp used to have a military hospital component situated just across its present location but was eventually phased out following the founding of Davao Mission Hospital (1907) and later the Davao Public Hospital and Mintal Hospital in the late 1910s.

Capt. Leonor served the PC for nearly three decades and was a professional officer. In 1918, during the country’s second census under the Americans, he was tapped as auxiliary inspector of the Provincial Advisory Census Board of Agusan under Census District No. 5. 

After being detailed in Butuan for years, Capt. Leonor was reassigned to Davao. In appreciation, the Chinese community of Butuan, on Dec. 23, 1927, hosted a dinner and dance event in his honor before departing for his new station. The day after, it was the turn of the PC officers in Agusan to give a banquet to the outgoing provincial commander who was replaced by a certain Lt. Duque. This was followed by another dance event hosted by the fiscal.

After retiring from the service, Capt. Leonor became a miner. In the January 1938 issue of The American Chamber of Commerce Journey, he was identified as the president of Surigao-based North Mindanao Mining Co., with an authorized capital of P800,000. As a broadminded investor, he introduced in the company operation a new Caterpillar crane to double ore production, with an average of around 2,000 cubic yards. 

When the PC was integrated with the Integrated National Police in 1975, the joint command structure retained the use of the camp. Three years later, following the donation of a six-hectare land by the Aboitiz family, the main camp was moved to Camp Catitipan, later Camp Quintin M. Merecido.  Camp Leonor has since become the exclusive hub of city police operations and is officially known as Davao City Police Office (DCPO).

On Feb. 25, 1932, George C. Butte, acting American governor-general of the Philippines, signed Proclamation No. 448 creating a reservation in the central area of Davao town. 

This edict, though, was amended by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon under Proclamation No. 503, which set aside for PC use three parcels of land, namely lots 433, 457 and 458, from the reservation “for constabulary purposes under the administration of the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary.”

A big chunk of the excluded property is now occupied by the Active and Retired Armed Forces of the Philippines Landless Association, Inc. (ARAFPLAI).

On Sept. 3, 1947, President Manuel A. Roxas revoked Proclamation No. 448 and opened the reservation to disposition under the Public Land Law, or Commonwealth Act No. 141. 

ARAFPLAI occupancy of the lot started in the 1920s when active PC members, mostly members of the 83rd Company, and later retired servicemen started building houses in the reservation. After the war, veterans, Armed Forces officers and enlisted also entered the area.

To strengthen their claim of occupancy, the residents organized themselves and registered the group with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1979 and was later accredited by the Presidential Commission on Urban Poor.

Wanting to support the position of ARAFPLAI, Davao City mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, in 2004, sought to revoke Proclamation No. 503 by making representation with then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo so lands in the reservation would finally be disposed to actual occupants. The move, however, did not materialize.

Historically, the most reprehensible incident to stain the camp’s image was the August 13, 1989 hostage crisis that involved convict Felipe Pugoy and Mohammad Nazir Samparani, a dismissed Air Force sergeant was also involved in another criminal event. The two were part of the 16-man prison gang known as the Wild Boys of Dapecol, which had previously escaped from incarceration but were subsequently cornered and recaptured.

The inmates took hostage members of the Joyful Assembly of God, a Protestant sect led by missionary Jacqueline Hamill; she had five other companions when the crisis took place. As a result, she and her companions were shot dead while 16 inmates were killed by police action. Hamill, from New South Wales, Australia, held missionary work at the Davao Metropolitan District Command, now DCPO, and was invited to teach inmates at the facility for six months.