Historical site, living monument

Filipinos have had their colonial brush with Americans at the turn of the 20th Century. But on All Souls’ Day, writing from his hometown in Davao City, Resurgent contributor Arturo Boncato, Jr. reminisces the past from a tempered and thoughtful perspective.

The annual remembrance of our deceased fraternal grandparents also brings to mind the American presence in Davao. History would put it that the Americans aimed but eventually failed at developing the region as an American town separate from the rest of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.

And the Filipino-American Veterans Masonic Memorial Park in Davao City is one of few remaining vestiges of American occupation of the region.

Established in 1915 initially intended for American Masons in Davao, it had opened its grounds as resting place for American veterans of the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, World War II (WWII) as well as Filipinos in the region who were refused burial at the Davao Catholic Cemetery.

The American Cemetery Association later ceded the property to the Davao Masonic Association late in the 50s and has since laid to rest Masons and their descendants in the park that has now reached near full capacity of over 250 tombs.

After paying respects at my relatives’ graves, I did my usual rounds of visiting the burial site of 32 unnamed American and Allied Forces' troops during WWII as well as the tombs of U.S. veterans.

This year, I visited the last resting places of Davao Governor Celestino Chavez (1922-25), Davao City Mayor Pantaleon Pelayo, Sr. (1940-41), and veteran and successful plantation owner in Padada, Davao del Sur (Mindanao Estates valued at $485,000 when he passed on in 1953) Edward Christensen.

According to the Philippine Industrial Archaeology Society (PIAS), among Americans buried in the park are: David Jacobson (born 1876; died March 31, 1970), a war veteran and plantation owner who donated the land where the Brokenshire Mission Hospital now stands; Henry C. Stanton Sr. (born may 16, 1884; died January 3, 1933), a veteran and teacher who was justice of the peace of Jolo on October 21, 1912, installed acting Davao superintendent of schools in 1916 and later promoted as full-pledged superintendent before resigning from the post on June 23, 1919); Colonel George Thompson, a special envoy of US President Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) who help bringing capital investment in Davao; U.S. veterans A.P. Bradley (died January 3, 1939); J. Lindsley (1940); Hinrick Calhun (1935); Adam Weison (1922); George Thomas (1947); Rufus Scott (1937); and Harry Bloomfield Hughes, Sr. (born September 18, 1882; died July 12, 1957); plantation owners Henry, the father, and son Jerry Nicholas Roscom of Slater, Missouri, U.S.A. (born October 4, 1888; died in Manila on March 21, 1909); and Henry W. Pahl (born October 20, 1876; died October 14, 1950); Leslie Stevens of Weston Massachusetts, U.S.A. (born June 4, 1888; died March 21, 1956); George K. Pahl (born November 16, 1885; died December 9, 1963); Remedios A. Pahl (born July 20, 1920; died March 21, 2003); James v. Pahl (born November 5, 1975; died September 26, 1999); William Lutz and Rowland Balcom, U.S. veterans of Spanish and Philippine-American War; Nicolas Lutz, World War II veteran; and former British journalist and plantation owner Frank A. Crowhurst (died in 1919).

Filipinos include protestant pastor Reverend Crispin Fajardo Faune, city councilors Federico Opada (1938-41), Tiburcio Cervantes (1948-51) and Desiderio Dalisay, Sr. (1950-54), and former city assessor Telesforo Oca (1953-60).

Today, the cemetery lays modest in a rapidly changing landscape around its 4-hectare property.   To my mind, it can benefit from an upgrade as a nationally recognised historical site and the act will be commensurate to the respect we accord the men and women interred there who had helped shape history. 

As a community, we should raise it as our living monument of an oft-forgotten past. (Mr. Boncato, a Dabaweño, is Philippine trade assistant secretary heading the Competitiveness and Ease of Doing Business Group.)