DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 May) – Few people, perhaps, know that there is a two-storey mansion dubbed as “Malacañang of the South” constructed during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo within the six-hectare compound of the regional office of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) in Panacan.
Will incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte make this an extension of his office?
Duterte’s executive assistant Christopher “Bong” Go confirmed early Thursday that the building is being prepared for Duterte’s use when he takes over the country’s highest position by June 30.
“It’s for office purposes and receiving guests. There’s just a slight repair and cleanup,” he told MindaNews.
Standing just a few meters away from the shore, the “Malacañang of the South” was built during the time of erstwhile Public Works and Highways Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, between 2005 and 2006, and completed around 2007 to serve as Arroyo’s official residence whenever she came to visit Davao.
The building, which was painted white with green roofing and orange perimeter fence, was worth P24 million.
A source, who refused to be named, said that Arroyo, the country’s 14th President, had spent a night there. Arroyo was vice president from 1998 to 2001 and served the remainder of the term of impeached President Joseph Ejercito Estrada from 2001 to 2004 before she was elected in 2004 and served until 2010.
“‘Malacañang of the South’ tawag nila ana kay (They call it ‘Malacañang of the South’) purposely to serve the President as well as her residence away from Manila when she was in the South,” another source added.
The mansion has about 8 to 10 airconditioned rooms, including a conference room and a jetty for watercrafts.
Built within the Regional Equipment Management Division compound of DPWH 11, the mansion shared a space with two warehouses as depot of the agency’s equipment and storage for the relief packs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 11 for calamities.
The volunteers of DSWD 11, who extended helping hands packing relief goods whenever there is typhoon, might have seen the building but perhaps oblivious what it was and what it was there for.
It’s just a simple building that boasts nothing spectacular about its exterior and interior but “murag hotel pagsulod nimo pero kwarto ang nakapalibot (it looks like a hotel when you enter but surrounded by rooms),” the source said.
This might not even be fitting for a description of a “mansion,” he added.
“No. Mansion is very elitist,” the source noted.
Bereft of cottage, it lacks any trappings for relaxation, except that it affords a view of the beautiful Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS).
Based on the photo that was shown to MindaNews, the building’s interior appears inspired by Mindanao design, particularly, Moro and Lumad.
The source said there’s nothing grandiose except for a chandelier that graces the building’s living room.
Anyone interested to see it can get a glimpse from the outside through that open space between the office of the DPWH 11’s Regional Equipment Management Division and a huge warehouse.
It was also used by Arroyo’s and outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino III’s cabinet members.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson used to hold meetings with his staff there and became a staging point of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman for the agency’s operations after Typhoon Pablo wreaked havoc in the Davao Region in December 2012.
It was also the staging point of Aquino’s Presidential Security Group (PSG) when he graced the September 2015 inauguration of IGACOS’s circumferential road.
The mansion’s location is flanked between the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) to its right and a slum area to its left.
Construction worker John Concon, 25, recalled that the shore outside the mansion used to be where he and his playmates jumped off the jetty and play.
Until today, this remains to be the place where kids go to dive and play, except that it is now clean with just a very few pieces of garbage floating.
“Sa una, daghan kaayo og basura unya daghan pud og buak nga botilya (Before, there was too many garbage and broken glasses),” Concon said. He lamented how garbage from other towns would always end up on their shore during high tide.
He noticed though that workers of the DPWH 11 cleaned up the garbage just a few days after the May 9 elections.
“Karon lang makita nga na-hinloan. Makatingala nga nahinlo na dira (It was my first time to see it was being cleaned up. It’s surprising that it’s now clean),” he said.
Concon grew up in the shanty where his family has been living for about 30 years.
His family’s home stands at the edge of the community where houses are built on stilts. It has a good view of the so-called “Malacañang of the South” from their kitchen that lends itself as their dining area and balcony.
“Mao na ang among nadunggan sa una nga himuon na og Malacañang ni Gloria (That’s what we heard, that [former President] Gloria [Arroyo] would treat it like a Malacañang),” he said.
Concon, who was drinking “tuba” or coconut wine when interviewed, said most people refer to the mansion by the sea as “small Malacañang” because they knew this was where Arroyo and some of her cabinet officials had stayed.
His older brother Jay, 30, a beautician, said they were threatened of demolition after the building was built but nothing happened when Arroyo stepped down in 2010.
“Langkat unta me tanan dire (All of us would have been uprooted from here),” he said.
Jay is the second of 13 children.
He recalled that the place where the mansion now stands used to be a grassland. People would now find it hard to go near the house as it’s already guarded, he added.