Davao spirit

Published December 14, 2018, 12:03 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ
Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

At a loss as what to call it, I have settled on calling it Davao spirit.  I first visited Mindanao in 1952 and reached as far as Bukidnon. It was only in 1974 that I arrived in Davao for the first time. There was something different in the attitude of the people of Davao and it reminded me of the pioneering spirit of the American frontier or what I thought it was.  There was great generosity and can-do spirit. Where they got it, I did not know. What I know is that many of Davao’s settlers came in the 1950s from all over the country. People were willing to try anything that promised progress.

When I arrived there were many foundations to help the less fortunate. The ones in which I easily got involved were the foundations of the Drs. De la Paz, the Aboitiz, and many others whose name I no longer recall, but they were part of that generous spirit that seemed to pervade everyone. Within six months I was inducted into the Rotary, and everybody seemed to know where I had lunch the previous week.

They had a song for the community – “Tayo ay Dabawenyo” which was sung at the Rotary meetings. My prime example of this spirit is the start of Davao Medical School.  Around 1976, Sister Manzano approached me, saying the Bureau of Education would not give her permission to start a medical school because she only had a hospital and not an educational institution. Could we collaborate?  We organized three teams to approach 30 Dabawenyos to give us a thousand pesos each. More than half of those we approached not only gave us merienda but forked out the thousand pesos. One particular donor rebuked us with “Walang ganyanan” and sent us off. But the next day his check for ten thousand pesos arrived. We were asking him for too small an amount for such a big project.

The consortium was made up of San Pedro Hospital, the Ateneo de Davao, Brokenshire Hospital, and San Pedro College. The fifth partner, Aboitiz Foundation, came in later. Each was to chip in ten thousand pesos as starter money. We, therefore, had no money or hardly any.  Now Davao Medical School has over 3,000 students with a good campus and hospital. Fr. Among Bustos helped us negotiate for the land. For seven years, we did not pay salaries of the doctors who were teaching for we had no money. But Davao doctors volunteered to teach.  Therefore we had the best doctors teaching since they were the ones who could afford to teach without pay.  We had the best teachers.

Davao spirit was all over. Some banded together.  Other like Nanay Soling preferred to work by themselves. She established Boy’s Town and kept it alive with help of people like the Angliongtos and many others. I left Davao in 1987. I understand that since that time new political dynasties emerged, no longer the Santoses and the Lopezes of my time. The new names were Duterte and Nograles who were political rivals but when Rod Duterte decided to run for national office, all of Davao banded behind him. It was a generosity and a can-do spirit and one of cooperation and willingness to sacrifice that Davao had. I wish that spirit could spread to the whole of the nation.

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