Monday, March 3, 2014

Dashing to Danao City

North of Cebu City, there’s this place that’s known for its almost a century-old gun-making industry—Danao. The city’s gun-makers are said to be so skillful you’d have a hard time differentiating their work from the real McCoy. In Danao, gun-making is a homegrown skill that has been passed on from one generation to the next.

Using metal scraps scavenged or bought from local junkyards, Danao’s gun-makers have succeeded in copying and even enhancing US-made high-powered weapons like the M-16, AK-47, Ingrams, Uzi, etc. Mind you, the guns of Danao sell like the proverbial hotcake, giving the original ones a run for their money!
Operated like a home-based cottage industry, its illegal gun-making business allegedly involves thousands of families and several villages which churn out a huge cache of firearms every year, a reality which local authorities seem to be turning a blind eye to. It is said that getting a Danao-made weapon is as easy as pie if you know how.

Gun-making is a homegrown skill in Danao
(pic courtesy of
The city’s gun- making industry, which began sometime in 1905, used to be legit for many years. At the height of World War II, however, Danao’s skilled gun-makers went underground and joined the guerrilla movement to re-chamber the US weaponry used to combat the Japanese forces.

As time went by, what began as a patriotic pursuit, however, deteriorated into an outlawed enterprise. During the 1960s, the word paltik was coined to refer to guns illegally manufactured in Danao’s backyard workshops. Since then, the city has acquired a rather notorious reputation for being the home of paltik.

Aerial view of Danao
(pic courtesy of
Eight years ago, I saw Danao twice in transit on my way to Bantayan Island and then back to Cebu. At first glance, I didn’t see anything there that impressed me. But the idea of pursuing a photowalk in the City of Guns kept popping in my mind so I, one time,  dashed northward of the island province.

Wearing my weekend warrior’s suit, I made a quick escape to the city right after concluding my official business in downtown Cebu. Hopping into one of those Danao-bound vans stationed at SM City, I reached the city about an hour later, eager to see for myself what’s all that buzz about paltik and Danao’s gunsmiths.

Out of excitement, I really thought I’d easily stumble upon a paltik workshop while exploring it. After a few hours of roaming around the city, I didn’t see what I came for. Perhaps because I wasn’t too keen in looking for them. Or, could it be that the shops were closed since it was a Sunday?

How silly of me! LOL! Of course, I won’t be seeing any of those shops because, in the first place, they’re illegal and those involved would keep their trade hidden from prying eyes and, most of all, the long arm of the law. Even without seeing paltik, I still relished my sojourn, thrilled by the experience of exploring that part of Metro Cebu.

In the Philippines, popular names have become a staple on voters’ ballots during elections. Danao happens to be the bailiwick of one such staple—the Duranos. Said to be Cebu’s longest-reigning political clan and one of the province’s mightiest families, the Duranos owe their ascendancy to inherited political power.

Politics and politicians hardly interest me. But I have to take exception for Danao whose controversial political affairs often hug the national headlines every now and then. The  Duranos make the city a microcosm of how political dynasties have been shaping the course of this country’s history.

From what I’ve gathered, the clan came to power in the late 1940s with the election into office of their patriarch, the late Don Ramon “Mano Amon” Durano, Sr., who went on to become one of Cebu’s longest-serving politicians. So began a political dynasty that has survived and thrived even after the death of Don Ramon in 1988. 

Known as the “Father of Danao City”, Mano Amon was the dominant political leader in the northeastern part of the island for about forty years, serving as congressman of Cebu for nearly twenty five years. Now, many years after his death, his heirs continue to exert considerable influence over that part of the province.

Following a rift among the Duranos in the late 1980s, politics has pitted the members of the dynasty against each other—a Durano running against his brother in the mayoralty match, a Durano fighting his uncle for the vice-mayoralty post, a Durano clashing against an uncle, an aunt or a cousin for other elective positions.

In the May 2013 elections, incumbent mayor Ramon “Nito” Durano III bested his own brother, Ramon “Boy” Durano, Jr., the former mayor. Nito’s son, Ramon Red” Durano VI, won over his uncle, Jesus “Don” Durano, for vice-mayor. Now, who says blood is thicker than water among the feuding members of this political dynasty?

The closest I got to being with the Duranos, albeit vicariously, was through a visit to  their seat of power—City Hall. Standing right in front of the building’s concrete grounds was the imposing figure of the Durano patriarch, Mano Amon. Cast in bronze, his life-size statue caught my fancy, keeping my Nikon working for several minutes.

Gazing at the sculpture’s face, I was suddenly hit by something. The monument dedicated to the Durano patriarch was put up not only to honor him; it was also the clan’s way of telling people they own Danao—lock, stock and votes! It was a message etched all over the old man’s countenance: The Duranos are there for the long haul. 
From City Hall, I pushed onwards and saw another large building: Gaisano Mall. Owned by another prominent Cebuano clan, the Gaisanos, these malls are a permanent fixture in most of the places I’ve visited in the Visayas and Mindanao. Thirsty, I went inside to buy bottled water before proceeding with my tour.

Around lunch time, I found the heart of the city’s commercial district which was crammed with business establishments. Then, I encountered something that caught my fancy—a 7-11 signage! Why, they got an outlet there of all places! Famished, I hurried towards the convenience store to grab a bite. 

Facade of St. Thomas of Villanova Church
Sated, I continued my city tour. Walking along the national highway, I saw Danao’s old Spanish coral-stone church. Situated near the town plaza which was named after Dr. Jose Rizal, visitors cannot miss it. I’ve noticed the church before but didn’t’ have the chance to explore it so I headed there for a look-see.

War severely damaged the imposing church, just like many other Spanish churches in the Philippines. Built by the Augustinians in 1755 in honor of St. Thomas of Villanova, only its façade and walls survived the horrors of World War II. After two renovations, the existing church has retained only about a third of its original form.

I’m not an architect but I guess the church’s most prominent features include its arch door which is flanked by two arched windows and a line of six statues of white angels. But the church’s main come-ons are those huge coral bricks that make up its façade and belfry, which are over 250 years old!

In a city that’s notorious for illegally producing weapons of violence, it’s heartwarming to see so many of its people going to church to hear Sunday mass. When I got there, a number of churchgoers were inside the house of prayer. Danao’s faithful flock went in droves, packing the church’s seating capacity to the rafters!

It was difficult to get through the thick crowd of parishioners while the mass was still in progress so I just whiled away the time by taking some shots of the church’s exterior. After the crowds have dispersed, I got in and started exploring God’s house. Left to my devices, I took as many shots as I could of what I saw inside.

The church’s interior doesn’t have vintage stuff worth raving about. I was, however, drawn to the canopied altar which featured a hanging figure of the Crucified Christ. The stained-glass windows bearing images of saints are also eye-catching. The church’s marble finish and white vaulted ceiling are definitely worth looking into. 

From the church, I walked farther towards Plaza Rizal and saw a monument of the national hero standing conspicuously at the center. While resting on one of the benches there, I caught sight of a sign just across the street. It read: “This way to Camotes Islands and Ormoc City”. OMG! So, this is the take-off point to Camotes!

Dubbed as the “Lost Horizon of the South”, Camotes, a group of three islands and one islet in the Visayas, boasts of pristine white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. I’ve been raring to explore it but didn’t have any idea where to start. Now, I know where I should be heading to reach one of my dream destinations in Cebu!

It was already late in the afternoon when I wrapped up my trip to Danao.  On my way back to Cebu City, the thought of returning there suddenly struck me. Well, it seemed the most logical thing to do. After all, I missed seeing Danlasan Eco-Adventure Park, one of the city’s newest prime tourist attractions.

By that time, who knows, I might chance upon one of the many Cebuanos in public service whom I admire—former Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano. To the delight of his constituents, the son of Mayor Nito is now back as congressman, doing a great job representing Cebu’s Fifth District.

So, this, in a nutshell, was this weekend warrior’s sojourn to the City of Guns. Short but sweet, the tour turned out to be another delightful adventure for me. Here’s hoping that on my return I’d get to know more about Danao, discovering many wonderful things other than its wild side, its weaponry and its warring political clan. :D

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