DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Parents and school children of Mintal Elementary School got up as early as 3:00 am on Friday to prepare for the arrival of special visitors from Japan.
At 6:00 am, the crowd gathers outside the school. A few more hours, the school band is heard practicing its performance.
Inside the campus are more than a thousand students waving the flags of Japan and the Philippines.
A tarpaulin hangs outside the school building welcoming President Rodrigo Duterte and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A military truck and a fire truck of the Bureau of Fire Protection 11 were on standby.
Foods were prepared in the office of the Principal, showing the culture of Filipino hospitality towards guests.
School Principal Cheryl Lagang said they were instructed to work on ground improvement since the school will be used as the landing area for the helicopters.
“Last Monday we received an information that the helicopter will be landing here and at the same time, the guests will visit the monument inside the school before they proceed to the cemetery,” she told Davao Today early morning Monday.
The monument was the Ohta Kyozaburo Monument, an obelisk that was put up in 1920 to honor Japanese businessman Ohta Kyozaburo. He was also known as “Father of Davao Development.”
Beside it are the ruins of a Japanese pyramidal structure that honors the directors of the Ohta Plantation Company.
Classes of Kindergarten and Grade 1 students were suspended, while 1,000 children were assigned to welcome the convoy of the Japanese visitors.
Japan’s First lady
But the guests turned out to be only one, but as highly placed as the Prime Minister. Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe stepped down from the helicopter that took her separately from her husband’s meeting with business leaders at the Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao.
Before 10:00 am the students were already herded to the school grounds toward the Mintal Public Cemetery where the First Lady will visit.
Children lined up under the heat of the sun with some resting under the shades of the trees along the road leading to the cemetery.
Madame Abe arrived around 10:00 am. She was accompanied by Honeylet Avanceña, the common-law wife of President Rodrigo Duterte and members of the Japan Philippines Volunteer Association.
The other officials who were present were Davao City 3rd District Rep. Alberto Ungab, former Rep. Isidro Ungab, City Councilor Jocelle Villafuerte, Philippine Nikkei Jin Kai President Retired Judge Antonina B. Escovilla, former PNJK President Juseven Austero and Consul Tomoko Dodo.
After the short visit, Abe greeted the locals and heard the 40-man pianica band play her music. The pianica instruments were donated by Japan to Mintal Elementary School.
Lagang said the school welcomes Japanese visitors every month, with the number not less than 10.
“We are very much proud of this once in a lifetime experience,” she said.
Lagang said they feel that the school has been adopted by the Japanese.
Lagang said the Japanese people have provided the schools with reading materials, computers, sports equipment, drum and lyre equipment, and the piannicas.
“We are about to receive another set of baseball equipment this year,” she said.
The school was built in 1924 and was a former site of the biggest Japanese Primary School in Davao City.
Visit to cemetery
Abe’s visit was brief. Barangay Captain Ramon Bargamento II gave her the information about the village where many Japanese have immigrated before the war.
The cemetery was only used for Japanese nationals when it was opened in 1910. After the war, the Filipinos were allowed to use the cemetery.
Bargamento described Abe as “teary-eyed” upon arriving at the cemetery. He said Abe thanked him for informing of her of the deep ties between the Japanese and the Filipinos especially in Barangay Mintal.
Bargamento said he handed Abe, old Japanese bills as a token of appreciation.
The barangay had prepared for two weeks for the arrival of the Japanese visitor. (davaotoday.com)