Identification – History, Location & Geography
Davao Occidental, is geographically located at the southwestern tip of the Davao Region in Mindanao, through which its name was derived. It was originally part of the second District of Davao del Sur which was then composed of eight municipalities, to include, Kiblawan, Sulop and Malalag, which currently remained part of Davao del Sur. It was created by virtue of R.A. 10360, enacted by the 15th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines on July 23, 2012, signed into Law by President Benigno C. Aquino III on January 14, 2013, and was finally ratified on October 28, 2013 thru a plebiscite conducted and the resounding “yes” was voted by the great majority, thus, the same date was embraced by the province to commemorate Davao Occidental’s founding anniversary, as the 81st province of the Philippines.
The province is bordered on the northwest by Davao del Sur; west by Sarangani and northeast by the Davao Gulf. Davao Occidental covers a total area of 2,163.45 square kilometres (835.31 sq mi).
The topography of Davao Occidental is hilly, rugged and sloping, with nearly 80% of the whole area of the province consists of mountains. Its eastern shoreline is formed with cliffs and beaches with hills immediately on their backs. Coconut trees and hardwood trees mostly dominate the provincial mainland.
The division of Davao del Sur to give birth to a new province has long been overdue. The idea was first introduced by the late Congressman Benjamin V. Bautista, Sr. stressing the fact that due to the huge area of the province, administering two districts wherein the second district municipalities are mostly mountainous areas, basic services and infrastructure facilities can barely reach the said municipalities of the second district, thus, it remained underdeveloped under the past administrations of Davao del Sur. However, its realization only prospered in 2012, during the time when Vice Governor Franklin P. Bautista, who was then the congressman of the second district of Davao del Sur, pushed the Bill for the creation of Davao Occidental, and former Senior Board Member Allan G. Colina of the second district, likewise passed a Resolution to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Davao del Sur, in support for its creation. However, the inclusion of the municipalities of Kiblawan, Sulop and Malalag which were then part of the second district of Davao del Sur was omitted to give in to the demand of the Cagas administration.
The motive of creating the province was to boost the economic condition and social progress of the five municipalities of Sta. Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino, Jose Abad Santos and Sarangani. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who sponsored the creation of Davao Occidental, said that the distances of Digos, Davao del Sur’s provincial capital, to other municipalities in the second Congressional District are far-off that impairs the effective delivery of basic services, as well as the access to government offices.
Davao Occidental, although carved from its mother province, Davao del Sur, and comprises five municipalities, namely; Sta. Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino, Jose Abad Santos, and the municipality of Sarangani, already possessed a distinctive feature as to its topography, culture and its people.
Demography and the People
The population of Davao Occidental in the 2015 census was 316,342 people, with a density of 150 inhabitants per square kilometre or 390 inhabitants per square mile. As a recently organized province, only about 21.94% out of its total population (2015 census) reside in the urban areas. No municipality has achieved 100% urbanization as of this time, though Malita, its capital town has remarkably changed overtime.
Significantly, the foreign migrants who were the earliest settlers in this part of Davao Region, who were Spaniards, Americans, and Chinese, left great influence to the “Lumads” of Davao Occidental, although most of its population at present, notably originates from mixed migrants from Luzon and Visayas.
The people in the “South” as they are described by the people from the Lowlands of Davao Occidental, are known to be “mestizo”, and even carry the family names of the pioneer settlers of their areas, also taking into account that many of those foreign migrants who were pioneer settlers of the said areas in the province also married “lumad” women and had families of their own. Pure “Lumads” of Davao Occidental on the other hand, have established themselves a community from a small percentage of their total population, and live in the Uplands, the more mountainous and forested areas of the province.
Davao Occidental is one of the few provinces in the Philippines where four or more distinct ethnic tribes built their own cultural communities in specific areas of the province. The Tagacaolo tribe who accounts the greater percentage of the indigenous population are found in the upland areas of Malita and Sta. Maria, while the B’laans reside in the uplands of Little Baguio, Jose Abad Santos and some areas in the municipality of Sarangani. The Manobo tribe, dominates the lowlands of Malita and upland areas of Don Marcelino and Jose Abad Santos. The Muslim communities on the other hand, composed of different muslim ethnolinguistic groups, settled mostly in the coastal areas of Malita and in the southern part of Jose Abad Santos and Sarangani. It is also important to note that the Sangir who are among the 13 Muslim ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines, mostly occupied the areas of Balut and Sarangani islands.
Such ethnic variation existing in Davao Occidental contributes to its rich cultural heritage and the colorful tradition of its people. These are vividly expressed thru the festivals celebrated separately by its five municipalities, the most popular of which is the “Gaginaway” Festival of Malita, celebrated annually every full moon of November, with the belief that the full moon is at its brightest during this period, and carrying the tradition of the natives to gather together for merrymaking, enjoying the full moon in high spirits. Another popular festival is the “Kap’Yaan” festival of Jose Abad Santos, to celebrate the bountiful harvest and blessings received by the local residents of the municipality, and the Masbol Cultural Festival of the Municipality of Sarangani, the gathering of three major tribes of Sarangani namely, B’laan, Sangir and Marure, and the indo-tribe who settled in the islands.
Davao Occidental has got all the gifts of nature. It has vast agricultural lands, though mountainous but could grow almost all kinds of crops. It also has rich fisheries and marine resources, aside from its lengthy coastlines where beautiful beaches can be found. It is basically blessed by nature that yielded enough food and its people don’t have to toil very hard for meeting basic needs.
Emerging as an economic growth center in the south, Davao Occidental will soon develop another Industrial Park where 1.5B U.S. dollar investment on Petrochemicals will be situated. Visioning the enormous economic growth activities to take place in the province due to the influx of investments, the provincial government of Davao Occidental conceptualized a comprehensive program which will generate not only remarkable increase of revenues, but will also provide economic welfare to all its constituents and at the same time, embraced the essence of environmental preservation and protection motivating its people especially those in the upland areas to preserve the watershed areas.
On the other hand, the Provincial Tourism Program of Davao Occidental shall continue to collaborate with agriculture industry association and enhance tourism service delivery, including technology & product innovation, development and marketing of strategic tourism investment sites, and alongside of this, will be embracing strategic practices to maintain the balance of preserving and protecting the natural resources of the whole province. Also, as part of the long-term program of its Provincial Tourism Office would be the establishment of School of Living Tradition for each major ethnic group of Davao Occidental, as an integral part of its advocacy of preserving the Culture, Arts and heritage of the “lumads”, in which part of it is to promote the cultural festivals celebrated by each municipality.