Davao's People's Park: Commune With Nature In The City

By Henrylito D. Tacio

If you happen to visit Davao and you have limited areas to visit, please don't miss People's Park. As one tourist puts it: "Truly a must-see. Your Davao vacation will never be complete without spending some time at this colorful park." The brainchild of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the newest and grandest free attraction is patterned after the 843-acre Central Park in New York City.

"The park will become a landmark of Davao city in the future," said Engineer Elisa Madrazo, head of the park's project management office.

Every day, the park is barraged by people from all walks of life – from children to adults, teenagers to students. On its busiest days, it is here where you'll be able to witness how cosmopolitan the city is. Even when it is raining, you will still see a lot of people roaming around the park.

The expansive and beautiful People's Park features many delightful treats for its beholders to discover. Grand landscaped waterfall, strategically scenic benches, a small but fun playground, amazingly breathtaking gardens, arranged multipurpose trees, lovely traditional cottages and sophisticated sculptures created by Kublai Milan (the Dabawenyo artist who created the Freedom statue in front of the Sangguniang Panlungsod building).

The man-made park is remarkably well-maintained with clean comfort rooms. Many park security or rangers are patrolling here and there. The park is also equipped with monitoring cameras to keep the premises secure, and to prevent "illicit activities" inside the park.

The P70-million project was part of Duterte's all out effort to bring a centered and ecologically-balanced development in one of the world's largest cities. When Ian John Mendoza, the executive director of the Human Development International in the Philippines, learned of it, he lauded the "mini rainforest" as it would give the people the opportunity to be in touch with nature in the very heart of the city.

Of the park's over four-hectare land area, almost 10, 000 square meters are allotted to plants. More than 1,000 species of wild plants and trees gathered from the dark rainforests of Africa, Madagascar, New Guinea, Borneo, Indonesia, Central America, Australia and the Philippines have been planted in the park. Most of the trees were donated by the private sector, including the famous Ayala family.

"In two or three years, all these trees will be so big and tall, you'll feel like you're inside a real forest," commented park designer Edmund Viacrusis during the opening of the park in December 2007.

The park used to be a sports center of Davao City, called the PTA grounds. After years of neglect, it became the lair of criminal elements, especially at night. Except for a dirt road oval, the other amenities of the PTA grounds were left in various states of deterioration. Bleachers that used to house spectators were turned into the dwelling place of the homeless, while an Olympic-size swimming pool became a breeding place for frogs.

Architect Viacrusis retained the oval race track since it was very popular among the city's early morning joggers who often sloshed their way through mud and pools of dirty rainwater in the past.

Today, the entire oval track is permanently paved with bricks and called as 'The Promenade.' "We designed the park around the oval and made sure it's now even more conducive to its old function - a jogging area for everyone. We also made sure to retain a wide grassy area for open air concerts and entertainment shows," said Viacrusis, whose old bungalow home at Ladislawa Village is surrounded by fully-grown matured trees.

At the center of the oval track is a wide lawn with a dancing fountain (the first in Mindanao) and a bridge (where you can see the whole park if you are on top). Also, there is a sloping hill filled with tall, stately pine trees from Baguio and Benguet. Behind this area is the portion of the park's "rainforest" stretching all the way to the opposite side of the park near the exit gate.

Part of the "forested area" is a ten-meter waterfall against a backdrop of man-made volcanic rock wall. Water flows from the fall to a "river" that drains into man-made "lakes" under the shadows of tall forest trees.

However, the first thing you will see when you enter the park is a 425-square meter visitors' center that looks like a giant durian with its spiky skin design for the domed-roof. Surrounding it are a bambusetum (a collection of the different species of bamboo); a shady plaza where African tulips are planted within the 3,750 square meter-area; and an open plaza with a walk-through rainbow drive featuring some collections of potted palms.

Credited for giving the fantasy-themed park its name was Romeo Sardon, a retired electrician and seaman. He won the P50,000 prize money for having his entry chosen among the 918 entries that were submitted in the name-the-park contest.

People's Park is conveniently located in the heart of the downtown area and is flanked by dining amenities from almost every side. The streets alongside it are Jose Camus and J. Palma Gil. The nearest places for tourist or local visitor accommodation are the Apo View Hotel and Casa Letecia. The Royal Mandaya is also just some walking distance away.

One American who visited People's Park recently wrote: "Let me describe the place in one adjective: Awesome."

Photography by Henrylito D.Tacio.