Manila, August 22, 2003 (STAR) By Edith Regalado  - TO THE BEAT of the gong and the rhythm of the thousands of feet that take to the streets, mortals raise glorious thanksgiving to the gods, not only for the bounty of the land and the seas, but more importantly for the gift of a strong spirit, overcoming the days when events were just so bad for everyone in this Southern metropolis.

"You just don’t give up. Not the Dabawenyo, who has long been known to be a survivor. There is always that will in the Dabawenyo," quips Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as he is poised to lead the pack in showering the gods with gratitude when the city marks this week the much-awaited Kadayawan sa Dabaw cultural festivities, also dubbed as the "festival of festivals".

Shedding off his tough-talking stance for a while, the 58-year-old Duterte ventures that there is indeed so much to thank the heavens for, especially after four months since the last of the recent twin bombings ripped through a busy row of food stalls at the entrance of the passenger terminal in Sasa Wharf, leaving 16 people dead and 59 others wounded.

Barely 28 days earlier was the explosion that went off at a crowded waiting shed outside the Davao International Airport that claimed the lives of 23 people and left 160 others injured.

"The spirit of the Dabawenyo doesn’t crumble easily," the mayor repeats. "It has been tested many times over. The Dabawenyo is a trail blazer who is very resilient, having displayed grit and strength in the face of other adversities before."

Duterte explains that the recent bombings tested once again the resiliency of the Davao City populace.

"We have gone through a lot of catastrophic events before, a lot of heartaches and pains," the mayor tells STARweek. "In the 1970s, we saw the unfolding of heartbreaking events during the communist insurgency. So, these things are not new to the Dabawenyo."

Davao City, from the 1970s to the early years of the following decade, became the experimental laboratory of the New People’s Army, earning a reputation as the "killing fields" of the communist rebels. A complete turn-around took place when the residents took it upon themselves to fight back, which gave birth to the "Alsa Masa" movement that put a stop to what the npa rebels were doing.

"We can always dig deep into our psychological reserve," he muses. "We have the strength and resolve to continue what we came here for, as we are all sons and daughters of migrants who arrived here and helped shape the community Davao City has become."

The more than 1.6 million Dabawenyos are thus encouraged to gather as a people to collectively show there is a reason to celebrate Kadayawan festival that starts tomorrow and ends on the following Sunday, inspite of the twin bombings that struck the city.

"With or without the bombings, Kadayawan will continue. We have to move on inspite of the setbacks. We have to go on with our lives. We cannot let anyone deter us from doing so. This is in celebration of us as a people," the mayor insists.

The city is endowed with countless blessings, with rich harvests from both land and sea. It boasts of being home to the endangered Philippine Eagle as well as the country’s highest peak, the majestic Mt. Apo, and is the largest city in the world in terms of land area.

But the real treasure, Duterte says, lies in the heart of its people. Coming from deeply diverse ethnic origins, Davao City is home to several tribes and cultures, including migrants from other regions in the country like Ilocanos, Boholanos, Cebuanos and Batangueños. Ethnic tribes like the Bagobo, Tagabawa, Guiangan and Clata also reside here in the same way that Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully.

Himself a doting grandfather to three Muslims kids–his son Paolo is married to a Muslim princess–Duterte says he abhors discrimination.

"That is why I am totally against profiling in finding the suspects to the recent bombings here. I do not agree because it is not fair for Muslims to be generally pictured as the perpetrators. Majority of these people just want to live a decent life," the mayor says.

Susan Durano, this year’s chairman of the Kadayawan festivities, tells STARweek the activities slated depict the different rituals performed by the tribes such as the pamukaw and the horse fight, among others.

Contingents from different parts of Mindanao have also signified intention to participate in the much anticipated Indak-Indak sa Dalan street dancing on August 23 and the floral float parade the following day.

Assistant City Tourism Officer Precy Sacriz recounts how the annual cultural festival was conceived in 1986, first as the Apo Duwaling festival–referring to Mt. Apo, durian and waling-waling, the very things Davao City has always been famous for. It was then renamed Kadayawan, from the Dabawnon word "madayaw", meaning the good and the beautiful.

"Kadayawan" was used when Duterte assumed his first term as city mayor in 1988, and continues now that he is on his fourth term,with the three years he spent as First District congressman from 1998 to 2001.

"There were actually tribal festivals in the city before 1986 but these were not celebrated as one, encompassing the other tribes. Kadayawan then came to cover the cultural activities of all the tribes," Sacriz shares.

Duterte, who minces no words when he thinks he has to speak his mind, admits that indeed security is a main concern not only during the Kadayawan festivities but also in the everyday life of the Dabawenyo. The reality of the recent twin bombings hounds Davao as it also puts a heavy burden on the law enforcement agencies in the city.

"It is a reality that we have to face," the mayor says. "But we have to be prepared for it and we are doing everything to make the city not only peaceful but as livable as it can get."

The pistol-packing Duterte himself patrols the city streets at night on board his Harley-Davison. At times, he disguises himself as a taxi or jeepney driver just to get the feel of the situation on the ground.

Actually, the strength of Duterte’s bid to return to City Hall during the May 2001 elections was his peace and order program.

"You cannot stop a determined terrorist. But we are doing everything to prevent what happened before from recurring again," says Duterte, who was designated by President Arroyo as crisis manager for both Regions XI and XII. This is aside from his having accepted the appointment as presidential consultant on security and peace and order concerns.

He tells STARweek he is in touch with the President almost everyday about what is going on in the city.

"I get to talk to The President almost every night, most of the time between 10 to 11 pm. She would just ask how everything is in the city, especially after the bombings," the mayor reveals, adding that the city government has put the necessary security measures in place especially with the creation of the military-led Task Force Davao that complements the already existing institutions such as the Philippine National Police.

"I am calling on the understanding of all the people, including the critics," he says. "This matter of security doesn’t rest on one man alone, nor only on a certain group, but on all of us in the community. It is a collective effort the same as in the other aspects of our existence as a community, as a city."

They traveled a long way to seek the proverbial greener pasture which we found here in Davao. This is our plce and we have to emerge triumphant over those who want to rob us of what should rightfully be ours," the mayor pronounces, emphasizing that along with peace, development also comes in in his administration’s two-pronged approach.

Although there has been a slowdown even in the holding of business conferences here, next month signals the revival of activities in the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines East Asean Growth Area (bimp-eaga) geo-economic grouping as its Senior Officials and Ministers’ Meeting will be held in Davao City in the second week of September.

The Kadayawan festival is expected to draw in thousands of tourists which will in a way serve as an economic indicator during these times when business opportunities are hard to come by.

Duterte has lately done the rounds of dialogue with the various sectors in the city with regard to recent events, stressing that government would do its best to pave the way for the private sector to further fuel the engine of growth.

"Davao City will keep growing, even at a slow pace," Duterte emphasizes. "Davao City will always be Davao City. You just keep pushing and yes, praying."

And celebrating everything good and beautiful about a land that is blessed with so much.

For details on Kadayawan festival activities, please contact the Kadayawan sa Davao Foundation at tel. (082) 224-6319 or email ksdfi@hotmail.com or the City Tourism Office at tel. (082) 222-1956 or email davaotourism@philonline.com

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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