FAST BACKWARD: Daliao, home of first US hemp farm

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

For centuries the domain of Bagobos, Daliao, a reduction organized by Spanish missionaries in Davao, was home to the first American abaca plantation in the region. It got its name from a banana variety (Musa sapientum L. var.) wildly grown in the area. 

At the height of prewar abaca boom, baled fibers from the area were marked DL for Daliaoan. Daliao was also classified as a hemp district and had a port for hemp fibers destined for Santa Ana wharf where these were loaded in steamers bound for Manila or abroad.

James L. Burchfield, the first American plantation owner in Davao, saw the potential of Daliao while still in active military service. After his honorable discharge, he cultivated the raw jungle, developed it and named the property Daliao Plantation.

The plantation, scouted earlier but acquired after Burchfield retired on July 3, 1901, was roughly 110 hectares, approximately 242 acres, and was titled. He transformed it into a model farm that became the envy of investors. In 1914, he sold the property to the Japanese for a princely sum of P200,000. It was the first deal of its kind to have been sealed in Davao district.

After the war, the plantation, through J. M. Henderson, US administrator of the Philippine Alien Property Administration (PAPA), was turned over to President Manuel A. Roxas on January 24, 1948 in behalf of the Philippine government, part of the sixty-one parcels of lands, roughly 1,600 hectares, taken over in Zamboanga, Davao, Cotabato, and Albay.

Burchfield’s success inspired another US serviceman to try his luck in hemp business. Ralph E. McFie, who was acting governor of Davao district, acquired a property in Daliao. A volunteer in Cuba in 1898 and a native of New Mexico, he arrived in the country after serving in the military and worked in numerous posts in the Insular Civil Service. He was chief of Friar Lands Division, secretary to the district governor, and secretary of the Davao Planters’ Association.

The operation center of Furukawa Fiber plant, owned by Japanese investor Furukawa Yoshizo, was also situated in Daliao. In fact, its prewar administration building still exists but is now maintained by the National Development Co., a subsidiary of the Department of Trade and Industry. The plant, housed in a 27-hectare estate, used to contain manufacturing and storage facilities. Later, two hectares of the property were distributed to long-time settlers, while another five hectares were donated to the Girl Scouts, now known as Camp Alano.

At the back of the Furukawa Fiber Plant was a Japanese pier, one of the secondary ports in town. Bales of hemp fibers were hauled to the Santa Ana wharf where ocean-going steamers from Manila via Zamboanga would load them for foreign markets.

(The camp is named after Leni Alano Rivera, daughter of two-time prewar assemblyman Juan S. Alano of the lone legislative district of Zamboanga. She was instrumental in convincing her father to push for the approval of Commonwealth Act 542 that chartered the Girl Scouts of the Philippines into a national organization.)

Moreover, part of the 273-hectare Bago Iñigo Estate originally owned by Feliciano Iñigo, the first branch manager of Compañia Maritima in Davao, was inside Daliao. It became bank property after the owners failed to pay their debt obligations. As a result, the bank exercised its option by selling the estate to Furukawa for P60,000 with the balance paid in installments.

The ownership struggle continued until after the war after the Japanese failed to pay his bank debt. The property, which was later transferred to the United States as caretaker, was turned over to the Philippine government based on the Philippine Property Act of 1946. Under Executive Order No. 29, the estate was placed under the National Abaca and Other Fibers Corporation for administration and disposition.

The contentious legal battle waged lasted years, ending with te heirs of Iñigo as victors.

In 1995, Davao Fish Port Complex, one of eight such projects in the country and the seventh to be operated by the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority, opened in Daliao. It exports freshy chilled tuna to California (US), Vancouver (Canada), and Fukuda and Osaka (Japan).

Fast forward, in 2018, the government publicly announced the bidding of the P1.08-billion Davao Food Exchange Complex in Daliao which would be completed in two years. According to the approved plan, the complex will house different conveniences such as food processing centers, cold storage, warehouses, trading post, technology and business incubation hub, tourism component, agri-aquaculture, water filtration and bottling facilities.