ONCE an obscure island situated less than a kilometer from the city across a narrow channel in the Davao Gulf, Samal has long been regarded as the beach area of Davao City.
In its early years, it was settled by indigenous people composed of Mansakas, Mandayas and Muslim Samas coming from the various parts of the then undivided Davao Province.
Until a few years back, it has been largely a backwater with rough roads and unreliable power supply, but its sheer beauty has made it a top tourist magnet in Region 11 or the Davao region.
The situation began to look up for this 30-square-kilometer island in 1998, when it was converted into a component city by Republic Act 8471. The law paved the way for the dissolution and merger of the three former municipalities of Davao del Norte—Samal, Babak and Kaputian—into a single local government unit by turning them into districts, now officially named as the Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCoS).
The newly constituted urban entity is also composed of the islands of Talicud, and smaller ones, namely, Malipano, Big Ligid and Little Ligid. The main island of Samal has a mountainous topography and an estimated length of 34 kms. and width of 15 kms.
Composed of 46 barangays, the island is largely agriculture in nature with farming and fishing as the major sources of the locals’ income. The biggest industry, though, is tourism, which employs thousands of workers and indirectly benefits thousands more in the informal employment sector.
Classified as a fourth-class component city, Samal received a P92-million internal revenue allocation from the national government.
Samal is considered the country’s largest resort city or island, with its powdery beaches and numerous beach resorts. It also has numerous marine reefs and tranquil waters that lure the tourists, especially to Talikud Island.
Currently, there are 85 registered resorts with a combined inventory of about 1,000 rooms. While Samal is known for the iconic ultra-luxe Pearl Farm Beach Resort, scores of middle-end accommodations have been sprouting, the most notable of which is Club Samal Resort opened in April by President Duterte himself.
The island’s other must-see attractions are the 80-hectare Sanipaan Shoal Sandbar and the IGaCoS Mangrovetum, the first of its kind in Mindanao that serves a laboratory for scientific studies on the mangrove ecosystem.
Another must-visit is the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest concentration of fruit bats of the Geoffrey Rousette species. The area is home to more than 2 million fruit bats that help fruits to pollinate and limit the population of harmful insects.
Samal is also the diving haven in southern Mindanao, because of its lush and diverse marine life. Talikud Island recently hosted the first-ever Dive Festival of the Visit Davao Summer Festival, a program of tourism stakeholders in the region supported by the Department of Tourism 11. The daylong dive event gathered 30 volunteer divers to take part in “scubasurero” underwater cleanups, and extraction and lethal injection of crowns of thorns whose proliferation damages the health of coral gardens.
The gathering also paved the way for the discussions on measures in installing mooring buoys to prevent the dropping of boat anchors, which bring irreparable damage to corals.
Mayor Al David Uy said the City Council is conducting a series of public hearings for the passage of Samal’s proposed Environment Code, cognizant of the crisis plaguing the country’s popular destinations.
He said the proposed law will supplement the city’s Tourism Code (Ordinance 2014-235), especially on the areas of environmental sustainability.
This dynamic tourism industry has earned IGaCoS the Outstanding LGU City in Tourism Promotion from Business Week, a leading Mindanao-wide weekly newspaper.
Last year Samal welcomed 1.3 million visitors composed mostly of day tourists who troop to the island on weekends.
Uy noted that aside from tourism, the city is pushing priority investment areas, such as knowledge-based business-process outsourcing and information technology-enabled services, power and public utilities, light industries, transshipment and logistics facilities, retirement villages, agribusiness, and property development.
Real estate has been experiencing unprecedented growth due to the construction of resorts and leisure estates owned by wealthy Davaoeños.
An upcoming big-ticket project is Bridgeport, a 12-hectare township of Damosa Land Inc., the real- estate arm of the Floirendo Group of Cos. Situated in Babak District, the P1-billion property will be a high-end, master-planned, mixed-use community, with detached residential homes, a marina and a low-density condominium complex.
Uy said in the area of governance, the city has been given the Seal of Good Local Governance Award in 2016 by the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The recognition is the highest given by the DILG for local governments with exceptional performance in financial administration, social protection and disaster preparedness.
The DILG also lauded the city’s remarkable performance in business friendliness and competitiveness, peace and order and environmental management.
Last year Samal received second honors in the Gawad Kalasag from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in recognition of its disaster-preparedness efforts. It was also accorded the Red Orchid Award, the highest distinction given by the Department of Health in line with its anti-smoking advocacy in all government offices nationwide.
The hottest issue facing it today is the construction of a multibillion-peso bridge that connects to Davao, to ease the flow of goods and passengers between the two cities and boost economic progress in Samal. At present, roll-on, roll-off ferries service the 10-minute channel crossing, which gets often congested during rush hours and peak travel season.
Visualized in 1979, talks about this vital link have been going on for decades due to various issues, mainly because of budgetary considerations. Locals can only hope that under President Duterte and his massive “Build, Build, Build” program, the much-awaited bridge will get to see the light of day before his term expires in 2022.