Aside from being the oldest town in Davao del Sur, I have known very few literature and equally few interest about my hometown’s history. Not until portions of Mt. Apo were burned last March. As a Tourism Officer I had to look for other tourism products to give alternative reasons for people to visit to this place other than climbing the highest mountain in the country.
As I gained curiosity with the history of Sta. Cruz based on further readings and personal interactions with some key informants in the town, I learned that ours is perhaps one of the most colourful in the entire Mindanao. The municipality of Sta. Cruz was an active participant in the making of Mindanao’s and Philippines’ histories. From the Spanish rule, to American regime, to Japanese occupation, to Philippine Independence, to Martial Law, to EDSA Revolution, Sta. Cruz’ story was intricately interwoven into the country’s saga.
This gulf town was originally called “Labo,” a Bagobo word which means “marshland”. Labo is situated between a confluence of two mountain streams where water were as clear as crystal and was but a short distance from the coast. Long before the Spaniards came, the Lumads or the natives Bagobo-Tagabawa inhabited Sta. Cruz that was mostly forested except in the Darong coast. More than a century-old municipality, Sta. Cruz was legally created last October 5, 1884 and it is the third oldest town in Mindanao.
According to pioneers, Sta. Cruz originated its name way back in 1880 when Spaniards planted a big cross under a shelter upon their failure to Christianize the settlers who continued to resist them. Another group of migrants settled adjacent to the cross which was near the municipal building site, the place came to be known as “SA CRUZ” which means “AT THE CROSS”. Official records from Manila Archives also described how Sta. Cruz got its name during the Spanish administration. It was documented that on October 4, 1884, Angel Rodriguez, Spanish Governor General of Mindanao Province arrived on board the warship “Garduqui” escorted by a sergeant, corporal and twelve persons from the capital detachment. They were greeted by both Christians and non-Christians bringing with them banners bearing the embroidered word STA. CRUZ. The next day (October 5), Rodriguez blessed the town STA. CRUZ SA MINDANAO. The territorial lands of Sta. Cruz prior to the division of Davao Province included municipalities of Digos, Bansalan, Magsaysay, Matanao, Kiblawan, Hagonoy, Sulop, Malalag and Sta. Maria.
Sta. Cruz might have a vibrant history but it is not supported with a very informative remainder. It is in this reason that I started looking for remnants all over the town. In April this year I had a personal quest to photo-document historical leftovers and validated each one of them through the inscribed records from all possible sources. And when we had our preparation for the 132nd Foundation Anniversary of the town, I tapped the dynamic group Davao Photographers Club (DPC) to help me in doing the job. We came up with a photo exhibit last October 1-5 and eagerly called it KAGIKAN showcasing photos of old structures and people in Sta. Cruz.
At this point, I would like to share some of my shots of old places and structures I gathered for almost seven months. The corresponding literature are a product of my eccentric researches and personal conversations with the direct families of the owners.
Municipal Hall Building. The Municipal Hall of Sta. Cruz is the very first town hall built in the entire Davao del Sur province. It was erected in 1938 during the administration of Mayor Mariano Pejo simultaneous with the other two structures Jose Rizal Monument and the Don Mariano Pejo Park Fountain. These structures were built by Marble Works Construction Company. In front of the building was the same site where Spanish evangelizers arrived on board the warship “Gardoqui” led by Angel Rodriguez, a Politico General of Davao Province way back 1884.
Doña Matea Ancestral House. Established in 1930, Doña Matea Almendras-Ralota Ancestral House is one of the few ancient structures attesting that Sta. Cruz is the mother town of the province of Davao del Sur. It is located in Poblacion Zone 3. A migrant from Cebu, Doña Matea remarried to Bendigo and became matriarch to a clan of politicians namely: Almendras, Bendigo, Ralota and Cagas.
San Pedro Chapel Tuban. This edifice in Baybay, Tuban is said to be the foundation of Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK) in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the world. A celebration of Holy Eucharist being administered by a PSL (Pangulo sa Liturhiya) was first held here on year 1957.
Dean Old House. This house was built in 1920s by the first appointed mayor of Davao del Sur Don Ciriaco Godoy. Godoy’s only daughter Doña Indeng married to a Dean husband which eventually made the house an ancestral abode of the Deans until today. During the World War II, the family transferred to Matan-ao and the Japanese soldiers occupied the house as their headquarters. When the Americans came, the family also reoccupied the house.
Melilia UCCP Mission School. This is the first structure after the Thomasites led by American missionary Rev. Robert Black introduced Protestantism. Black first preached the gospel to the Bagobos in Melilia in 1904 and it consequently became the bastion of United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and from it hailed the founders of Brokenshire Hospital of Davao and the Siliman University. The actual establishment of this structure was year 1909. It was called Robert Black Mission School where Maximiano Tongcaling became the first Bagobo preacher.
Tuban Old Cluster Houses. This cluster of houses situated along the national highway of Barangay Tuban was built in 1950s by the early settlers of the place from a prominent clan of the Aguilar and Carriedo. Some older houses located in the opposite side are owned by some half-blooded Chinese as first settlers of the place.
Tan Kim Kee Estate Old Farm House. The house was built in 1911 primarily to be used as vantage site in monitoring the farm workers and the physical status of the Tan Kim Kee agricultural production area, who were among the families to have been allowed by the American Commonwealth to own cadastral property in Sta. Cruz per Cadastral Survey No. 275 paving the way for granting property rights. The highest mark of the house allowed the farm manager to oversee production of the wide area of coconut and cattle ranch. Owned by the Chinese Lim clan, Tan Kim Kee Estate is the largest agricultural area in the southern part of Sta. Cruz. From it was also a coconut solar dryer assembled which, according to pioneering farm workers, was converted by the Japanese soldiers into a salt warehouse as provocative site for their captives during the Japanese period.
Saez Spanish House in Darong. This house was built in 1940s by Don Eliseo Saez, a Spaniard who came from Burgos, Spain. Before the coming of Don Eliseo, his brother Don Marcos Saez already owned a vast agricultural plantation. The Saez brothers were among the Spaniards who settled in Darong, which became the biggest Spanish Community in Southern Philippines if not Mindanao.
Balay ni Nonoy Pension House. The house was first built in 1950s that served as the home of former Mayor Amancio Bendigo. It was renovated in 1970s and now being used commercially as a pension house and office of the family’s real estate business.
Patulangon Old Guttierez House. This structure housed the Guttierez Family in Patulangon, Barangay Zone 1. It was erected in 1926. The Guttierez were among the early settlers in the town with Spanish roots led by their great grandfather Don Sergio Guttierez who hailed from Santander, Spain.
St. Joseph The Worker Parish. In the course of erecting new parishes in 1940 upon the request of Bishop Luis del Rosario, SJ, DD as part of their evangelization efforts in Mindanao; the St. Joseph The Worker Parish was established in Sta. Cruz (then still the entire Davao del Sur) along with the parish of Kingking. The first Parish Priest was Fr. Leo Poirier, PME and the Assistant Parish Priest was Fr. Omer Leblanc, PME. The formal establishment of the parish structure was May 1941. Unfortunately, war broke out in December 1941 and the two priests fled to the mountains but later surrendered to the Japanese but were eventually killed in 1942 by the Japanese soldiers in Pikit, Cotabato. Although the parish has a new structure now during its 75th Jubilee celebration, St. Joseph The Worker Parish is a major contributor to the overall historical timeline of the Municipality of Sta. Cruz.
There are still many structures around the town but I have yet to visit them one by one because of time constraint. The Spanish houses in Astorga and Coronon are my next target and the old residents of the previous mayors in Sta. Cruz.