Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Philippines: Davao City, Mindanao Part 2

[picture from]

Once we exited our taxi we were greeted by Sheila’s cousins, Maritess and Mercy. However, Sheila refers to them has her aunts, but, in actuality, they’re technically her first cousins once removed. Technicalities aside, they’re simply Sheila’s extended family – and Mercy’s family graciously agreed to host us during our stay in Davao city. Nice.

As Sheila’s cousins walked us through their neighborhood, down a narrow street, many of the locals froze, starred and smiled at me as we made our way to Mercy’s home. It was obvious that this neighborhood hadn’t received many foreigners.

Once we arrived at Mercy’s home we met the rest of her immediate family: her husband, Bobby, and two daughters, Jereez and Bianca. This was the first time Sheila had met them as well. For lunch – which, by the way, was delicious - we had shrimp, fish, pork and, but of course, mounds upon mounds of rice. Filipinos truly love themselves some rice. I jokingly made a comment that the Philippines’ slogan should be, “The Philippines: Have some rice.” - because that’s what I’m offered and served with every meal.

While I was eating an ungodly amount of rice, I mentioned that I had seen some enormous pigs contained in a cage as we were walking through the neighborhood. Mercy said that the pigs were for the local slaughterhouse, a family owned business of her husband’s, and that every night the pigs and sheep are horded into the facility to be butchered. I asked if I could attend the slaughtering of the animals as this was something that I’d never seen, and thought it’d be a great opportunity to see how our food is processed. I mean, how many of us can honestly say that we’ve seen firsthand how our food is prepared for the market? People don’t want to think about how our animals are raised and slaughtered, so we choose to turn a blind eye. I felt this was a great opportunity to face the issue at hand, and gain insight as to why many vegetarians and animal rights activists feel the way they do. Bobby, Mercy’s husband, said that it wouldn't be a problem, and that he’d walk us to the slaughterhouse in the evening. Sounded like a plan.

Sheila had written an extensive itinerary for our trip in Davao, and made sure that we kept to the schedule. So after lunch and a brief nap, we left to see some of the city’s tourist attractions. We took a taxi to our first destination, The Japanese Tunnel. However, once we arrived at the Japanese Tunnel, our taxi driver tried to overcharge us. How did we know? Easy. He left the meter on. We paid him what the meter read and left. Sheila told the security guard and the women at the reception desk about the man’s attempt to rip us off. They asked which taxi service the man worked for, and if we happened to get his license plate number. She had indeed remembered it and wrote it down for them. They said that they’d make a phone call and see if they couldn’t get the taxi driver reprimanded for his actions.


The citizenry of Davao city definitely doesn’t put up with this sort of behavior.

The Japanese Tunnel

The Japanese Tunnel is essentially a series of intricate tunnels which was built during the Japanese occupation during WWII by thousands of Filipinos who were forced into slave labor. The tunnels served as shelter and a means for Japanese to safely transport their troops and equipment, making it difficult for the U.S. to locate. Boy, oh, boy, the U.S. sure has had its problems with man-made tunnels during war - from WWII, to Vietnam, all the way to the present with the Taliban in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan.

Above The Law

[play music while reading below]

I asked our taxi driver while going to our next destination if he considered the city of Davao to be safe. He said Davao was indeed safe, but that there was a time not too long ago when it wasn’t. He said the reason the city had been experiencing years of relatively little crime was twofold: 1) security forces have increased significantly since the Davao International Airport bombing, and 2) because of the mayor. Now this wasn’t the first time that I’d heard about the Mayor of Davao, Rodrigo Duterte, since my arrival in the city, whose methodology in dealing with criminals is somewhat reminiscent of the fictional characters Judge Dredd and The Punisher. Apparently the Mayor – well, technically he’s the Vice-Mayor now, as his daughter has succeeded him as the official ‘Mayor’ of Davao - has taken a hard-line, above the law stance against criminals. In Davao, it’s not uncommon for criminals – this includes anyone from killers, kidnappers, to thieves – to turn up dead by mysterious men on motorcycles at night, known as the Davao Death Squad. And of course he denies any involvement with this elusive vigilante group, right? Well, yeah . . . sort of.

Here are some of my favorite lines by Rodrigo Duterte when he was covered in a piece by Time Magazine, in July 2002.

"Oh no," he responds. "I don't believe in state-sponsored killing." A pause. "I can't say any more, but I taught them a lesson."

"The only reason there is peace and order in Davao is because of me."

"I didn't use tracer bullets."

" […]that if I'm going out, I'm going out with my guns blazing."

"Don't f___ with my city." If they did, he warned, "they should be prepared to die."

"If you sell drugs to destroy other people's lives," he threatened, "I can be brutal."

"From day one," he says, "I told people there are consequences for not abiding by the law."

I'm sure Hollywood will be in touch.

Here's a link to the Time Magazine article:,9171,265480-1,00.html

I just thought of something. Oh, man. I wonder if the employees from the reception desk at The Japanese Tunnel made that phone call or not. If so, it's very possible that our taxi driver could expect a visit from the Davao Death Squad.


Jack’s Ridge

Our next stop was Jack’s Ridge, a pretty scenic view from atop a mountain overlooking the city. It was a nice place to relax while eating our dinner.

The Slaughterhouse

[play music while reading below]

In order to give our stomachs time to digest, we ate a few hours before we returned to the house and attended the slaughtering. Sheila reluctantly joined me. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to see it, as I didn’t want to see it myself. I was dreading it, actually. However, I felt like it was something I had to see, so we continued to walk slowly down the dark, narrow street. And as we were approaching the facility, a truck full of pigs passed us.

"Aw!" Sheila repeatedly cried, expressing her sympathy.

At the entrance we were greeted by Bobby and his employees. Everyone was extremely kind and friendly as they guided us inside, allowing us to take as many pictures as we wanted. However, I did most of the picture taking, as Sheila kept her distance.

Initially, I didn’t find it as disturbing as I thought it would be. Maybe it was due in part because I was chatting with Bobby, and I was feeling a bit shy walking through their facility with all the employees starring at me. However, once the initial shyness wore off and I was left alone, free to wander and take pictures where I pleased, it was then that I began to feel a bit uneasy.

I have to say, it was quite harrowing to witness.

What resonated with me the most were the goats which knew of their perpetual doom, and resisted by leaning back and putting on the breaks, sort of speak, as they were dragged to their death. Hearing their cries was just heart-rending. What may have been even worse to witness, however, were the large pigs that were butchered. Watching and hearing these large pigs being killed was horrendous. I can still hear their screams. Forget screams, it was more like prolonged thunderous roars in distress which echoed throughout the open, concrete and dreary looking building.

All in all I was glad that I attended the slaughtering. I think we may take for granted how our food is processed and prepared for the market. I know I did, at least. It was an important albeit gruesome reminder.

It was difficult going to sleep that night, hearing the screams and cries from the animals that was played on repeat in my mind.



  1. Regarding the taxi... I was ripped off also from NAIA to Phillipine Village Hotel but he did not succeed because I know how much it should be.It happens all over no matter what country you're in.It's human nature I guess...we call it GREED!!! My name is Perla born and raised in Davao City now living in New York City. Nice blog...very interesting.

  2. P.S. Perla is my wife logged in under my google account.

  3. Hi, Mike and Perla. You're definitely right, getting ripped off can happen in any country. It's always best to ask someone who knows how much a tricycle, jeepney, or taxi should cost before riding one. That's what I normally do now. I had quite the experience in Davao :) Thanks for stopping by. -Adam