Davao City's near forgotten American cemetery

The Masonic Cemetery is a familiar landmark in Barangay 6-A where Davao City's two main cemeteries (Wireless public cemetery and the Roman Catholic cemetery) are located. 

The front gate of the cemetery is flanked by the flags of the Philippines and the United States. Unknown to many, located within the 4-hectare lot are the tombs of Americans particularly military veterans who settled in Davao before the World War II.

Established in 1915, it was one of the two areas designated by American authorities as burial grounds one of which is the adjacent municipal burial ground or known as the Roman Catholic Cemetery. The Masonic cemetery was originally for American Masons but eventually included American military veterans.

The cemetery was maintained by the American Cemetery Association until the late 1950s when Mason and American veteran Alfred W. Roberts negotiated with the ACA for the transfer of rights of the land to the Davao Masonic Association Inc. a group organized by local Masons who wanted a resting place for their departed kin.


The Davao American Veterans and Masonic Cemetery (DAVMC) is located along Pichon Street in Madapo Hills. It is located within the old municipal burial grounds, in the area can be found the public cemeteries and privately-owned memorial parks.

The American flag flutters over the lot. The upkeep of the cemetery is not
funded by the U.S. Govt.


The tombs of American settlers
The tomb of George Thompson, Special Envoy to
US President Calvin Coolidge.


It is also a nearly forgotten reminder of a bygone era, when American colonial rulers transformed Davao into one of the most "American town" in the country during the early 1900s.

Retired American soldiers from the Philippine-American War and some adventurous investors flocked to the new frontier to develop abaca, coconut and rubber plantations. In 1903 due to scarcity of labor they imported Japanese laborers thus signaling the start of Japanese migration to Davao.

From 1903 to 1914, Davao was part of the Moro Province which was ruled directly by the United States Army and was distinct from the American civilian government based in Manila. The American colonists wanted to annex the region separate from the rest of the Philippine territory similar to what happened in Hawaii when American planters overthrew the native kingdom eventually becoming a U.S. territory and a State.

The plan of a separate US territory in Mindanao did not materialize with Filipino politicians blocking the move. In 1914 the Department of Moro Province was dissolved and replaced by the civilian Department of Mindanao and Sulu. In 1920 the Department was dissolved and Mindanao was placed under the Bureau of Non Christian Tribes, the Governor was the subordinate of the Manila-based United States Governor General.

American settlers Henry Pahl (left) and George Pahl (right) in the middle is Henry's son George Austin. The Pahl's settled in Calian in the present town of Don Marcelino, Davao Occidental. Henry and George are among the American settlers buried in the cemetery. (photo credits Davao of the Past Facebook Page)



Save for civic structures built during the American period, there is hardly any presence of American pioneers' legacy in Davao save for street names. Bolton Street in the middle of Davao City downtown and Bolton Bridge is named after the assassinated first American military governor of Davao Lt. Edward Bolton who also has a plantation in Malalag, Davao del Sur (where a Barangay is named after him). Libby Road in the residential suburb of Puan was named after American plantation owner Roy Libby who was killed during a Constabulary mutiny in 1909.


The Davao American Veterans and Masonic Cemetery (its present name) is perhaps the remaining vestige of that era and conservation measures must be put in place. In 2004, the cemetery was included in the area of an adjacent privately-owned memorial park which caused an uproar among the Masonic community and concerned citizens. Initiatives are underway to make it a historical site.

Some American expatriates in Davao have taken steps to raise awareness of a little- known American cemetery where aside from Masons and American settlers, also buried in the site are 32 bodies of U.S. and other allied soldiers who died during the liberation of Davao in World War 2. 





Comments

  1. I have reposted your excellent article on with the new American Legion Post 66 now formming in Davao City

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