Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pacing around Panabo City

Anyone going north of Davao City via the national highway would surely pass by this bustling agri-industrial city whose name, according to legend, was taken from what the aborigines—Aetas who inhabited the place a long time ago—used to refer to their bow and arrow: pana-sa-boboy. The name of the settlement later evolved into what it is now Panabo, one of the five component cities of the Davao Region.

Standing amidst two giants—Davao, the regional center of Southern Philippines and Tagum, the capital of Davao del Norte—the former old town of Panabo has held on its own, evolving into a progressive city that’s well on its way towards becoming one of the region’s major economic hubs as well as one of the country’s agri-industrial gateways to Asia and the rest of the world.

Known as the “Banana Capital of the Philippines”, the microcity boasts of several banana plantations scattered all over its entire sprawl of 24,900 hectares. Panabo also has “the world’s largest contiguous banana plantation”, which is owned by Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation, the flagship company of the Floirendos. Better known as TADECO, it’s considered as the second largest banana exporter in Davao City.

With close to 7,000 hectares of banana fields in its possession, TADECO  produces—hold your breath!—more than 32 million boxes of export-quality Cavendish bananas yearly which are worth millions of dollars. From what I’ve read, these tropical fruits eventually find their way into thousands of homes in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Russia and the Middle East under the brand name of Del Monte.

A friend who lives in Panabo suggested that I wander and write something about the city. Come to think of it, I haven’t done any piece on it yet I’ve been traversing the place for years whenever I go to Davao del Norte and beyond. Taking my cue from the suggestion, I drove to the microcity one sunny Friday, pacing around it in search for something to post in my blog. 

Traffic was quite light so I reached Panabo in no time at all. Arriving at the city proper, I noticed things seemed to be moving at snail’s pace. Must be the mood on Fridays. Or was it a spillover effect of the Kadayawan Festival in Davao City? Pulling over at a local outlet of a fastfood chain, I ordered an early lunch. Sated, I started scribbling some notes when something hit me: OMG! I haven’t done my homework on the city!

How could I be so darn negligent? In my haste to explore Panabo, I forgot to research about it. Usually, I make it a point to probe my destination first and prepare an itinerary of sorts before hitting the road. Suddenly, I panicked! It felt like I was caught with my pants down. Geez, that’s what happens when you allow yourself to get so self-assured and spontaneous!  

For what seemed like eternity, I was stuck in a quandary, facing a blank wall while a thousand and one questions were running inside my head. How do I go about exploring Panabo? What on earth will my travel tale about? Should I focus on its multi-million-dollar banana industry? Or zero in on its historical landmarks? Is my piece going to delve on its tourism potentials as well as its must-sees? And so on and so forth...

Just when I thought I was doomed and done, I heard a tiny voice that seemed to be coming from my Android phone: “Hey, there! Want some help? Use me!” Snapping out of limbo, I picked up my gizmo and touched some apps on the screen. Voila! Problem solved. Using Google®, I soon had access to nearly 1,850,000 results about Panabo in just a few secs. Whew, the wonders of technology!

From what I’ve amassed, I quickly mapped out an out-of-the-blue itinerary of my day tour. Mission: visit the interesting sights in the city and write a travel tale about them. Now, how do I get to see those places that interested me? Again, I have to thank my smartphone for saving my day. With the help of Google Maps®, I was able to track the routes of my selected destinations without a fuss. 

It took only a few minutes before I was able to finalize my road map. Then, I was back on the trail again. Armed with an itinerary, I felt so confident as I trod the streets of Panabo. My destinations? Freedom Park, Sto. Niño Parish Church, Panabo Wharf,  Panabo City Hall, Gaisano Grand Mall, Panabo Coastal Road, Panabo City Mariculture Park and the Divine Mercy Sanctuary. I limited my explorations to these so I can return home early.

Before proceeding with my sojourn, I deemed it best to drop by the Sto. Niño Parish Church which is near the campus of the Maryknoll High School. Too bad, the church was closed at the hour. I would have wanted to explore its interiors. Well, you can’t really have it all so I just contented myself with shooting its face and exteriors. After saying a little prayer, I forged ahead to my next stop: Freedom Park.

Located near the old city hall, the park features a huge fountain, which is bedecked with sculptures depicting two of the city’s major products—bananas  and milkfish—and the hands that produced them—farmers, fishermen and laborers. The sculptures were done by Davao-based artist Kublai Millan, whose prolific works have become an eye-catching attraction in many Mindanao towns and cities.

Adjacent to the park is the city’s museum of history and culture, Museo Panabo. The building, which once housed the old city hall, features exhibits of Panabo’s historical and cultural heritage—its origin and myths as well as its early settlers, the Aeta-Manobo and Kagan tribes; its agri-industrial activities and prospects; pictures, artifacts and other relics of the past; works of art by local artists, among others.

Feeling hungry, I then proceeded to Gaisano Grand Mall for a quick merienda. From there, I headed for the coastal road. Little did I know that massive improvement and repair works were in progress throughout the entire road network. This somewhat derailed me as I had to drive at snail’s pace to avoid hitting boulders, stockpiles and idle equipment. That trek, however, showed me a side of Panabo that fascinated me.

As my car emerged from a long stretch of road under repair, a dense mangrove forest and a cluster of shanties, a picturesque scenery soon unfolded before my eyes. Reaching a sprawling vacant lot, I pulled over to bask in the breathtaking vista. Spread out before me were the blue waters of Davao Gulf, accented by the contours of Samal Island. Out of sheer delight, I captured everything I could with my Nikon.

From a distance, I saw a row of fish cages, covering more than a thousand hectares, which I learned later to be part of the Panabo City Mariculture Park. Bananas may be its top dollar earner for now but the city seems to have an ace up its sleeve—milkfish. Alongside its Cavendish bananas are tons of first-class bangus (milkfish) raised in over 400 fish cages found in three barangays near the coastal road.

Since 2006, the mariculture park, a joint venture of both the local and national governments, has been providing livelihood to the city’s fishermen and their families who are operating the fish cages. Aside from milkfish, other marine species like lobsters, groupers and red snappers are being cultivated there. This early, I’m positive that Panabo will soon earn another monicker: Seafood Capital of Davao del Norte.

If there’s one thing that I admire the most about the microcity, it’s none other than its sprawling multi-purpose convention center and sports complex which is near the new city hall. For a city that small, I’m so amazed to see a structure so huge where people can gather for socio-cultural, entertainment and sports events. Panabo rocks! Here’s one tiny city that’s really going great guns! 

From the sports complex, I proceeded to the new city hall. Built at a cost of around Php120 million, the new building, which stands on a five-hectare lot located near the national highway, reinforces the city’s reputation as one of the fast-rising economies not only in the province and the whole region as well. I didn’t get inside the three-storey structure though but I’ve managed to take snaps of its exteriors. 

Lastly, devotees of the Divine Mercy will be delighted to know there’s a holy shrine they can visit if they’re in Panabo: the Divine Mercy Sanctuary. Found along the coastal road facing Davao Gulf, it’s the ideal destination for those in search of a spiritual haven for prayer, meditation, reconciliation and communion with God. Finding the sanctuary by the sea was one of the most rewarding discoveries of my sojourn to Panabo.

Known primarily for its banana plantations, there’s more to the city than meets the eye. I know I’ll discover many more things about it during my future visits. For now, this I’d like to say as a parting shot: You won’t grow tails eating Cheetah’s staple in Panabo. But you’d surely have a great time right there in the heart of Banana Republic while munching those luscious Cavendish variety that Tarzan’s pet loves to have morning, noon and night. LOL!

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