Tradition says it was from kalaw, a high-perched hornbill that Monkayo got its original name. Actually, it was Fr. Saturnino C. Urios, a Jesuit, who founded the settlement at Bucana, now part of barangay Banlag, and gave it the name Moncayo. The settlement was formally recognized in July 1879 in an area at the convergence of Agusan and Manat rivers. At the time, the village was composed only of 30 families. Later, it expanded to 62 in 1884, and in 1890 grew to 184. To lead it, Dagohoy, a Dibabawon datu, was appointed as its first gobernadorcillo, or mayor.
‘Moncayo’ was derived from Mons Caunus (Latin) or Monte Cano (Italian), which means “white mountain,” and is the name of a snow peak in the Sierra del Moncayo and the Sistema Iberico, Spain. The Spanish mountain’s summit hosts the statue of Virgin of Pilar, patron saint of Aragon. It is close to Veruela, a foothill region.
Earlier, on Jan. 25, 1877, Fr. Domingo Bove, SJ, made the first missionary stopover there. He arrived by boat near the bar of Manat, in front of the house of Dagohoy. The visit was not about conversion but about a trail that would bring him to Davao via the short route.
More than a year after Monkayo was founded the settlement was already a beehive of human activity. It had now many houses and a convento (rectory). By January 1881, construction of the church became frenzied. But the coming of the annual flood at the confluence of Agusan and Manat rivers would force the transfer the settlement to higher grounds. Fr. Urios agreed to move the old reduction to a place where a road could be built accessing the Salug area by horse.
A 1903 travel account provides a fairly good description on where the original town site was erected. A. Henry Savage Landor, a well-travelled English explorer, wrote:
“Lower Gandia [Mamunga] was a few hundred yards down the river, and hemp and banana plants seemed plentiful there. The Mamunga tributary was left behind on our right, and on our left we came to Tonud, an entirely Visayan settlement of eight houses; then to the Ulit (sic) River again on my right, and soon after to Nuevo Moncayo, not far from where the Old Moncayo existed. One Visayan house was solidly built, but the others, which were of great height, were tumbling down or lying at dangerous angles. After leaving this village the right bank of the Agusan was thirty feet high and vertical, with great growths alternately of bananas and bamboos.”
When the Americans set up a Philippines Constabulary (PC) headquarters in Monkayo to contain banditry and tribal strife, they named it Camp Kalaw. The camp was a replacement of the dismantled Spanish tercio base camp. It was under American supervision until it turned over to Filipinos.
For a brief period in 1913, 3rd Inspector Eriberto B. Misa, a 1912 Philippine Military Academy alumnus from Bolinao, Pangasinan, later director of Bureau of Prisons (1937-1949), was assigned in Monkayo; he called the camp a “wretched post.” Though his stint was short, the Manobo remembered him as the young officer who brought along his Spanish mestiza wife to live among the natives.
In 1930, Captain Antonio S. Hernandez, a surgeon, was installed head of the campsite. Other officers who served the camp that year were First Lt. Mauro F. Feraren, a dental surgeon, as deputy, and First Lt. Lamberto B. Caños. Hernandez was relieved by First Lt. and Medical Inspector Hospicio L. Solidum, who was given the Surigao and Butuan areas as added assignments. Caños was the PC officer who solved the March 3, 1933 killing of three Japanese in Sirawan, Santa Cruz. The killers were found guilty by the Court of First Instance of Davao of triple murder.
Creation of Villages
Under American rule, Monkayo became a municipal district on Feb. 23, 1921, under Executive Order No. 8 signed by American Governor General Francis Burton Harrison. Created alongside with Monkayo were Batulaki (Sarangani), Compostela, Caburan (Jose Abad Santos), Malita, Guianga (part of Davao City), Kapalong, Tagum, Camansa (Montevista), Saug (Asuncion), Pantukan, Lupon, Surup (Gov. Generoso), Sigaboy (Gov. Generoso), and Samal. The order provided Monkayo with six barrios.
When Monkayo was constituted as a town on September 4, 1954, under Executive Order No. 65, signed by President Ramon Magsaysay Sr., it has only of eleven barrios, namely Muñoz, Baylo, Haguimitan, Banglasang, Camungangan, Mamunga, Babag, Pilan [sic], Libasan, Bankerohan, and Linoan. Four of the barangays now form part of Montevista. When Republic Act 2744 was enacted on June 19, 1960, two more new barangays were added, namely San Isidro and Banlag.
On June 21, 1969, Republic Act 5566 reconstituted the town with five more barangays. Sitios San Jose, Tagusab, Tigbawan, Totoy, Upper Tigbawan, Tawan, Upper Tina and Lower Totoy collectively became Barrio San Jose, while the sitios of Rizal, Upper Gabanan, Patinay and Tabontabon became Barrio Rizal. The sitios of Casoon, Legasi, Oling Dungga, Manakong, and Tabonan were grouped into Barrio Casoon while the sitios of Macopa, Tandawan and San Miguel became Barrio Macopa. The sitios of Hulip, Upper Mamunga, Matangad and Upper Liboton were formed into Barrio Hulip.
Today, the municipality has a total of 21 barangays.
World War II
During World War II, Monkayo became an important military outpost. It was at the poblacion that the 81st Military Division under the command of Col. Ruperto Kangleon set up camp and retained its old name as Camp Kalaw. In January 1942, he was appointed regimental commander of the 81st Infantry, or the Agusan-Davao Sector. When Bataan feel in May 1942 and the Americans surrendered, he submitted the control of Camp Kalaw to the Japanese. He was imprisoned in Butuan, making him the highest ranking USAFFE officer to surrender in Monkayo.
Tomas P. Saludares, a native of Dingras, Ilocos Norte who was married to Rosario Ibañez, a Monkayo native, was a first sergeant of the 5th Davao Company, PC, stationed in Moncayo before the outbreak of the war. When conflict erupted, he was assigned to the intelligence unit of the 81st Infantry in the northern sector of Davao. He joined the resistance movement where he was a commissioned officer, company commander, and battalion adjutant in the guerrilla outfit under by Col. Claro Laureta, the hero of the Battle of Ising (Carmen, Davao del Norte). On March 18, 1966, he died of stomach cancer in Mandaluyong and was buried at the Fort Bonifacio’s Libingan ng mga Bayani. His remains have since been re-interred at the Davao Memorial Park.
The opening of the 183-km Davao-Butuan Road on Nov. 21, 1960, opened the undivided province of davao to logging concessions. Areas considered wild and inaccessible became easy target for the waves of migration that followed. The all-weather, permanent road was realized through the International Cooperation Administration, which invested US$27 million worth of equipment, steel, and other materials. The Philippine government contributed a counterpart share of P54 million. Effectively, the project linked the 250-km stretch that separated the cities of Davao and Butuan.
The far-reaching impact of this new initiative was not lost in terms of economic gains. The logging industry was enhanced, food production expanded due to cheaper transport and access, new agricultural areas, estimated at 300,000, were opened to small and medium-scale plantations, and the mining of natural resources was greatly improved.
Quarter of century earlier, in late 1938, Gen. Paulino T. Santos, then commanding chief of the Philippine Army, and a party of technical men from the National Economic Council, the College of Agriculture, and the bureaus of Science, Plant Industry, Animal Industry, Forestry, and Lands, surveyed huge swaths of land in Mindanao and chose three sites for development. The preferred areas were North and South Koronadal, Kidapawan (now a city), in Cotabato, and the Compostela-Monkayo District in Davao. Collectively, these areas had a total area of 200,000 hectares of fertile farm lands.
Since its creation in 1879, Monkayo has had a long history of flooding, most of them due to the overflowing of Agusan River. The worse on record took place on Jan. 22-24, 1916 when floods hit many parts of Mindanao. In Agusan Province, the losses were massive where the swelled rivers rose to an average of 25 feet above the ordinary level. The towns that bore the brunt of flooding were one meter or more under water and in other areas as high as three to five meters. At Moncayo, water was measured at around 35 feet above its ordinary level, and the town was practically destroyed.
The most destructive floods to hit town actually took place in 1913, 1926, 1936, 1954, and 1966. Records show that in 1926, Agusan River swelled with water reaching 30 feet, literally submerging the entire town and forcibly sending people to higher grounds. Even houses on stilt near riverbanks were not spared from the inundation.
In the post-war period, the experts blamed the almost annual swelling of the mighty Agusan River to deforestation and the rise of riverbank settlements that affected the natural flow of the waterway. As mining spillovers and tailings were drained from the mountainous tunnels, erosion led to siltation and then to the narrowing of river banks. As a result, the colonial government promptly established climate observatories. As of January 1, 1920, Monkayo became one of four weather stations in Davao and one of three volunteer or cooperative stations under the Weather Bureau.
Pre-1931 American-era records also showed the recurrence of earthquakes in Monkayo, most of them intensity three in the Rossi-Forel scale. Earlier geologic studies indicated the tremors could have been due to the proximity of the town’s location to the Philippine Fault, a 1,200-km earthquake line originally believed to extend up to Davao Gulf from the north. A 1994 oceanographic survey conducted by the French research vessel L’Atalante disputed this. Scientists found that the earthquake line “cuts across from the Surigao Peninsula to Mati, Davao Oriental and loses its strength and motion in Pujada Bay entering the Moluccas Sea.”
Typhoon of 1912
In 1912, Monkayo, an interior region, was hit by a typhoon. Based on the missionary letters, the vortex of the freak storm entered Mindanao via the northern sector of Baganga and south of Cateel on Nov. 27 before crossing Agusan River between Jativa and Compostela. The observation was from the people on board steamer Fernandez Hermanos in Bislig, and those in the stations of Davao and Cagayan. Fr. Bernardino Llobera, a missionary in Caraga, gave a detailed account of the storm.
The convent at Manay had its roof entirely removed and the church destroyed along with several neighborhood houses. In Santa Fe, the church, courthouse, and more houses collapsed. At Manurigao and Baculin the story was no different. Baganga was completely ruined, while five houses remained standing in Cateel. Fr. Raimundo Villa, SJ, assigned in Cateel, said the people told him no typhoon of equal severity was felt in the place since its existence, and it took a decade to recover from its effects.
Fr. Cristobal Sastre, stationed on the Agusan, reported that the “typhoon destroyed all the towns of the higher Agusan, especially those between Jativa and Compostela. The two walls of vegetation on each side of the river that shut in the view completely have entirely disappeared. Many trees were uprooted and the rest being stripped clean of leaves. In none of the towns struck by the typhoon could I find a house in which to lodge, as they had been all swept away by the fury of the storm.”
On Dec. 4, 2012, after a century of a lull, Monkayo was devastated by super-typhoon ‘Pablo.’
Monkayo, now a thriving first-class municipality, is still home to four but diluted tribes and subtribes, namely: Mandaya, Manobo, Dibabawon, and Mangguangan.
Regarded as an elite tribe, the Mandaya is the “oldest and the most illustrious of the peoples” in Davao region, its affinity to Kamayu or Kamayo (Mandaya for “yours”). They sung hymns of praise called tudom and long epic narratives known as owaging, danced and held rituals, chewed betel nuts, believed in polygamy, prayed to the spirits and other lesser gods, and feasted on animals caught in a pangayaw (hunting). They wore skirts and dagmay woven from abaca and dyed with hues extracted from sikalig, a kind of shrub. Mandaya women are restricted from exposing their body nude.
In the last decades of the 19th century, Dr. Joseph Montano, a French anthropologist who visited the Mandaya areas, called the Mandayas as the “aristocracy of the Mindanao tribes,” or in some accounts “los Españoles de Mindanao.” The can still be found in the sub-Caragan regions near the common boundary of Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Surigao del Sur but without the customary adornments such as the traditional earrings, nose pierces, and body tattoos.
The Manobo possessed a hierarchy, with the bagani holding the reins of power. Though he held the clout, most baganis were not always keen in attacking settlements knowing that a community organized by missionaries always enjoyed special Spanish concern and military protection. Traditionally, they lived on coastal strips or along the riverbanks. For them to be converted to Christianity, the missionaries had to encourage them to move to small townships that served as the heart of the residential area. Generally, converts were classified into two groups, namely “those who lived in the town (poblacion or cabecera); and those in the barrios which were more or less distant, more or less isolated, and therefore were infrequently in contact with the church or civil authorities.”
Manobo houses used bamboo and nipa for roofing and walls and round timbers for main posts. A boundary system defined by building a fence around the house was an evolving practice when the missionaries first arrived. To ensure a steady supply of water, especially during rainy days and when flooding swelled the riverbanks, they dug wells. The Manobo is one of three tribes under a larger group, the Kalagan, lumped together with the Mansaka and Tagakaolo (from caoyo, “headwater”).
The Dibabawon, a Manobo sub-tribe, “were great braggarts and fanatic in their opinion; they were polygamous and had such cruel manners that for no reason at all they would kill each other.” To assuage them, the Mandaya had to give them slaves to keep them content; otherwise, they would kill and harm other tribes. Traditionally, they occupied the Monkayo-Salug area, along with the riverbanks but on the elevated sections. Known for their cruel manners and short temper, they are actually related to the Manobo due to its “language, general culture, and religious belief, and genealogy.”
The sub-tribe is also known for their combs that had a band of beaten silver laid across the convex part above the teeth were known to have come from the Dibabawons of Monkayo or from a composite group living in the upper section of the river.
A close kin of the Dibabawon tribe, the Mangguangan chiefly populate only the regions of New Corella, they still practice some of old tribal customs. In farming, they embrace the kaingin (swidden) farming, and live in highly dispersed communities with their mostly nuclear families. A Mangguangan house is known as the tog’gan, a raised domicile that uses sturdy, round timbers as posts. It has walls that are from the bark of a lauan (Shorea negrosensis), with its low hipped gable roof made from rattan leaves lashed on bamboo laths. The interior of the house is the abohan (hearth), while at the sides are the sinabong, raised platforms used as private quarters.
From 1879 to 2017, Monkayo has been under two gobernadorcillos, 10 municipal district presidents, 4 appointed mayors and successors, 2 officers-in-charge, and 8 post-Edsa elected mayors, namely: Gobernadorcillos: Luis Dagohoy (1879-80); and Jose Andipan (1881-85);
Municipal district presidents: Lino Cervantes (1917-20); Adolfo Mongado (1921-29); Ignacio Cervantes (1930-34); Ildefonso Labrador, Sr. (1936-38); Pedro Aroma (1936-37); Jose Ibañez (1938-39); Policarpio Aquino. Sr. (1939-40); Feliciano Cervantes (1941-43); Anotnio Superable (1944-45); and Julian de la Cruz (1945-54); Appointed mayors: Angelo S. Ortiz (1954–1955); Alejandro D. Peñaranda (1955; 1964-66); Severino C. Lacson (1956–1963); Cecilia A. dela Paz (1966);
Elected mayors and officers-in-charge (OIC): Jose M. T. Amacio (1964-1972); Anastacio C. Basañes (1972–1986); Constantino T. Alcaraz (1986-1987; 1988-1992); Mariano Damayo Umpad (1987–1988); Rizal G. Gentugaya (1992-1998; 2003-2004); Avelino Tingson Cabag (1998-2001); Joel B. Brillantes (2001-2003); Manuel B. Brillantes, Jr. (2004–2013); Joselito B. Brillantes (2013-2016); and Ramil L. Gentugaya (2016-2019).