Monday, May 5, 2008

*82. THE DAU PX EXPERIENCE

DAU"S DAYS. Post-war fiesta celebration of Dau presaged a future of business booms and commercial success, thanks to nearby Clark Field and the enterprising spirit of its people.

There was a time in the '70s when barangay Dau was even more recognizable than its mother town, Mabalacat. Who would think that this town's biggest and most populous barangay, bustling with commercial possibilities, was once just a forest thicket, where hardwood Dau trees (Sc. Name: Dracontomelon dao) grew in profusion and provided the barrio’s landmark?

Teodoro Lising is listed as the fundador of Dau in the year 1843. Dau became a barrio in 1936 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation no. 1. That same year, President Manuel L. Quezon issued a decree establishing the first training cadre in Dau Checkpoint at Fort Stotsenburg 1. Camp DAU, as became the venue for training hundreds and thousands of 20-year old Filipinos who were required to render military service starting in 1936. Training began the next year under the command of Philippine Scout and Army Officer General Fidel Segundo, from the U.S. West Point Class 1917. Segundo had been the 1st Filipino officer assigned to Stotsenburg’s Scout artillery regiment twenty years earlier.

Based on stories of retired superiors, DAU was an acronym for Division Artillery Unit, since it was the first artillery training unit of the Philippine Army. It has been suggested that barangay Dau got its name from this unit, but this cannot be possible, as the name “Dau” has been appearing on maps earlier than 1936. The camp's Post Exchange was also set up in Dau, which presaged the rise in stature of the barrio as the country's PX capital in the 70s.

With the relaxation of Clark rules, PX goods flowed out of the base in abundance, to be resold later in stores and shops that quickly sprouted like mushrooms along MacArthur Highway. Farmlands were flattened and idle lots were cleared to give way to hole-in-the-wall stalls that sold never-before-tasted goodies and luxuries seen only on American glossies.

All of a sudden, Pringles in canisters, Hanes T-Shirts, PACEX Milk and ice cream, Dove soaps and PikNik shoestring potatoes were all the rage. Everybody joined the PX bandwagon and soon, a commercial area of sorts rose in Dau, the biggest of which is the Marina Arcade owned by the Moraleses. Even houses nearby turned their garages into stalls, selling not just brand new items but also second-hand, American leaving goods---from lamps, toys, plumbing fixtures to whole dining room showcases.

With the construction of the North Expressway that linked Dau to Manila, the great American experience became just a short ride away. Week-ends found hordes of Manilenos shopping for imported shampoos, Playboy magazines, rubber shoes, cookies, bedsheets, army fatigues and lawn mowers in Dau, rummaging through second-hand shops for bargains and finds retrieved, rescued and sometimes stolen from the base.

For a lot of Dau folks, the 70s were the heydey of PX business, a get rich-quick period that enabled a lot of them to earn sizeable fortunes in just a few years, never mind if the practice was not exactly legal. Dau thrived and throbbed with heady excitement as symbols of American pop culture--McDonald's, Donut King, Shakey's, Kentucky Fried Chicken-- made their appearance at the mouth of the Dau exit.

No martial law, no anti-American demos, and not even fire, which razed the commercial strip a couple of times, could dampen the tempo of business. Dau was so popular and prosperous in those days, it overshadowed the slow progress of Mabalacat town proper.

The reversal of fortune began with the departure of American servicemen facilitated by the Pinatubo eruption of 1991. Business took a turn for the worse when PX Clubs opened at Clark--the first being the Royal PX Club--which extended PX shopping privileges to every Mabalacat resident.

From Dau, the shopping traffic shifted to Clark where big PX outlets offered fresher, cheaper, more varied merchandise set in American-size warehouses.There simply was no match to the competition, forcing PX proprietors in Dau to cry foul. An enterprising few expanded their merchandise to include both Bangkok and local goods, while still others simply gave up and closed shop.

Since then, the face of Dau's PX business has changed a whole lot. At the height of the Pinatubo eruption, even whole doors, hospital beds, architectural pieces and medical apparatus found their way in Dau shops. Now, more shops are carrying more traditional boutique items, but in the process, they are also losing their unique points of attraction which once lured thousands to their doors.

Dau's golden PX age may have gone, but with the unwavering spirit of enterprise demonstrated by its hard-working people, the barangay continues to forge to the future, firmly entrenched as Mabalacat's premier and undisputed commercial center.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...Dau thrived and throbbed with heady excitement as symbols of American pop culture--McDonald's, Donut King, Shakey's, Kentucky Fried Chicken-- made their appearance at the mouth of the Dau exit..."

Is it Dau that got the first taste of those American fast food in the Philippines? Just curious. :)

alex r. castro said...

A soda parlor was put up in Escolta by an enterprising American called Clarke's. It was the country's 1st dairy bar that sold floats, ice cream and other good eats. The modern fastfood however, came to the Philippines much later. There was an A&W Restaurant, a U.S. franchise in Balibago in the late 60s. Kentucky Fried Chicken also came in the '60s in Manila.