ON its 51st edition, this year’s Datu Bago Awards pays tribute to the pillars of Davao City’s long-standing arts and media industry through the conferment of Antonio M. Ajero, Brenda Zafra-Barba, and Elenita Cruz Dumlao on March 8, 2023.
The three awardees are considered pioneers and have contributed extensively to the progress of their respective fields - Ajero in journalism, Barba in visual arts, and Dumlao in performing arts. They also played an integral part in preserving the indigenous culture and heritage of Davao City.
With an impressive career that spanned decades, Ajero dedicated his life to the media industry and his posthumous award stands as a testament to his legacy in journalism that will not be forgotten even after his passing.
On the day of the conferment, his son Anthony Ajero Jr. shed a tear as he received the plaque that symbolizes Ajero’s decades of work.
Ajero shared his knowledge and experience as editor-in-chief of major local publications including SunStar Davao, Mindanao Times, Mindanao Daily Mirror, Ang Peryodiko Dabaw, and Edge Davao.
As a broadcaster, he hosted the popular 80’s television program called Brainstorm, became the station manager of DXMC and DXUM for more than a decade, and pioneered investigative reporting on radio in Davao City through Radyo Ukay.
Ajero also advocated for integrity and freedom of the press as he founded the University of Mindanao Broadcasting Network, served as the chairman of the Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas - Davao, Trustee for Mindanao of the Philippines Press Institute, and was president of the Davao Press Club.
For many journalists he mentored or had the pleasure of working alongside him, Ajero’s spirit of public service through journalism is embodied in their everyday work.
Carmelito Francisco, a veteran journalist whom Ajero mentored when they worked at Ang Peryodiko Dabaw, described that his days with the late icon were spent exchanging stories and teachings about life and work.
“There is a reason the younger generation called him AMA or Daddy Cool because that’s what he was to them. He would not just share his pocket, but even himself with us who spent a short time with him. His willingness to share his knowledge not just about the profession, but life itself was immeasurable,” Francisco said.
Truly, Ajero is rightfully one of the most influential journalists whose work shaped the field of media not only in Davao City but in Mindanao and is emulated through the new generation of Dabawenyo journalists.
Arriving in Davao City in the 1960s as a young widow and mother, Barba did not expect her circumstances would lead her to a meaningful and bold life in Davao City as an educator who would later pioneer the city’s art scene.
Through her efforts, Mindanao’s premier Fine Arts Program and the Bachelor of Science in Interior Design at Philippine Women’s College were established, both of which led to the creation of the Davao Fashion and Design Council.
It was Barba’s vision to open opportunities and platforms that would lead to a better understanding of the identity of Dabawenyos through art.
She seamlessly combined her passion for art and education and nurtured creative individuals who became leaders that embody the Dabawenyo spirit and helped recognize Davao City as a home of distinguished artists across the country and abroad.
“More than just being a teacher, Mrs. Barba is also a second mother to all fine arts students and alumni. A visionary, she inspired the development of an imperative framework for art and design education grounded on culture, heritage, and creative enterprise,” Emi-Alexander Englis, a close confidant and friend of Barba, said.
Barba also championed Davao’s traditional and cultural heritage and supported the Bagobo-Tagabawa Heritage Center, the Mindanao Folk Arts Museum, and the Artisanal Heritage Enterprise Center.
“Davao was gracious enough to mark me on a lifelong journey as a woman, a Philwomenian, and very importantly a Dabawenya artist, educator, and purveyor for its local creative industry,” Barba said.
Dumlao is a dedicated artist who is exceptional in the field of performing arts, integrated with her advocacy for women's rights and conserving Mindanawon and Dabawenyo culture and traditions.
She inspired 25 original dance theater pieces rooted in promoting and raising awareness of Mindanao indigenous folklore and traditions. As a result, this paved the way for new approaches to dance and theater in Davao and Mindanao.
As a champion of women's rights and welfare, she is also the founder and convener of the BaiHinang Women Artists’ Group which serves as a haven for women artists to be creative and address different social issues through art.
“I am seeing progress. Mabagal sguro pero papunta na tayo doon (We are heading there), that the performing arts and arts in general are given attention. I hope to see that these forms of artistic expressions be an integral part of our developing culture not as mere entertainment or business, but as a means or a tool for inculcating positive values,” Dumlao said.
With her hard work and dedication to performing arts and cultural heritage, Dumlao received prestigious accolades including Gador Award in 2022 from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Kaisa sa Sining Mindanao Network.
Most significantly, she earned the conferment of the tribal title Bia Itulah in 2005, which is the highest recognition given by the Tribal Communities Association of the Philippines and the Supreme Council of Elders. ICM