A Testament to Padre Gaspar’s Legacy

In September 2012, the municipality of Biliran in Biliran Province will commemorate the Third Centennial of its founding as a pueblo. It has a monument of its contribution to national history, the “Bantayan ng Biliran,” which was installed a marker by the National Historical Institute in 2008.


A Testament to Padre Gaspar’s Legacy

Dr. Rolando O. Borrinaga
Professor, School of Health Sciences
University of the Philippines Manila
Palo, Leyte

(Remarks at the Unveiling of the Historical Marker for the Bantayan ng Biliran in Biliran, Biliran Province, September 10, 2008.)

Today’s unveiling ceremony for this historical marker at the Bantayan ng Biliran marks the formal recognition by the National Historical Institute (NHI) and the history community of a distinct and significant contribution of our province to the history of Eastern Visayas and of the country.

Let me read to you my English translation of the marker’s Tagalog text. It says:

“Watchtower of Biliran

“Erected on this hill [upon his initiative] by Father Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara[,] including the church and fort that served as sanctuary of the faithful, 1765-1774. [The] only remnants when this area was burned by Moro pirates, 1774. Used in [the] propagation of communal religion in Biliran, Leyte and Samar. Example of architecture made of corals and stone during the time of the Spaniards. Rehabilitated, 2000.”

Until the early 1970s the tales about Padre Gaspar, who was accorded the status of a saint and prophet by old folks of this town, were dismissed as myth or legend and his legacy was degraded as superstition by schooled people and sectors outside of this town.

However, the myth converted to history in the early 1970s when the late Fr. Cantius J. Kobak, OFM, an American Franciscan missionary and historian formerly assigned in Calbayog, Samar, unearthed in the Philippine National Archives the appointment papers of Don Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara, dated October 10, 1765, as curate of San Juan Nepomuceno Parish in Biliran.

In my research, I had attributed to Padre Gaspar the leadership of what I called the “Biliran Religious Revolt” from 1765-1774. I consider this event as probably the most successful native revolt against the Spanish regime in the Philippines in terms of impact and future influence, although it is not yet included in our history textbooks. The commune established by Padre Gaspar in Biliran also seems to have been the Asian equivalent of the famous Jesuit-inspired experiment in commune society living among the Guarani Indians of Paraguay, in South America, around the same period.

Padre Gaspar’s legacy gave women the virtual monopoly as worship leaders in performing novena prayers for the dead and related religious rituals in Leyte and Samar. And his experiment in communal religion provided the spiritual inspiration for the Dios-dios movement, which threatened the Spanish colonial regime in Samar in the 1880s, and the Pulahan movement in Leyte and Samar from 1902 to 1911, which greatly threatened the early American colonial rule of our region. These related social movements were attempts to establish a native Utopia, a way of life of a communal and egalitarian nature, during times of crisis and uncertainty. Unfortunately, these movements displeased our colonizers and were brutally suppressed, the first by the Spaniards, the second by the Americans. But they would not disappear.

In our time, under a different set of crisis and uncertainty, aspects of Padre Gaspar’s legacy continue to exist in one form or another among some religious cults in Biliran, Leyte and Samar, other islands of the Visayas, and parts of Mindanao. Like it or not, their search for that elusive native Utopia is also shared even by the less religious among us.

The ceremony today, held on the 296th founding anniversary of Biliran pueblo, which was created on September 10, 1712, should assure us that Biliran has started to assume a historical personality. We are no longer in the backwater of our national historical experience. On the contrary, we just proved that we are one of its significant facets. Indeed, our small province could be situated in the context of national history, if we only care enough to attempt to situate the developments in this place that we call home in the light of similar situations in the rest of the Visayas and the rest of the country.

So far, we have made a great start. I only hope we can keep some focus, attention and support towards encouraging local historical awareness in the years ahead.

A tower in the Jesuit Mission of Paraguay that must have inspired the Biliran version. (from Wikipedia)

A tower in the Jesuit Mission of Paraguay that must have inspired the Biliran version. (from Wikipedia)

History of Maripipi

Maripipi is one of the eight towns of Biliran Province. It is an island-municipality province. It was named after Maria and Pepe who were believed to be the first settlers of the island-municipality. They were followed by the people of Samar, Masbate, and other neighboring provinces.

Being an island-municipality, it has been a constant prey to roving pirates and bandits. Its existense dates back during the Spanish Regime in the Philippines, alcades and mayores. They assumed their office by election or appointment.

With the coming of the Americans, and Spaniards losing hold of the island, Maripipi was fused with Almeria and Kawayan with the former being seat of the Municipal Goveernment. Later, a civil government was organized by the American colonizers. The seat of Government was transferred to Kawayan which us geographically nearer to Maripipi and Almeria. Maripipi and Almeria became barrios of Kawayan.

In 1915, with the people’s clamor for Philippine self-government, Maripipi became an independent town, and Mr. Victoriano Salas was the first appointed Municipal President.

On May 11, 1992, throug a Plebiscite with the majority votes, Biliran became a full pledge Province separated from the mainland of Leyte Province and Maripipi is now part of the Province of Biliran.

The foundation of this barrio dates back in the year 1765. This barrio was previously called Isla De Rosa . In previous years the houses in the barrio were razed by fire in such a way that all the residents left the place. Only after five years had passed that a group of settlers returned and settled in the said island once again. It was also known that in 1768, the Moros that holed-in in the Sitio called Guihum of the Province of Masbate, once a week attacked Maripipi.

Being full of deprivations caused by the ravages of the Moros, the people agreed to wage war against the enemies. In Sitio Awang, the inhabitants dug up a trap of some nine feet deep and covered with bamboo leaves as a camouflage for the purpose of capturing the individual Moros. With this idea, the were able to kill fifteen Moros, and the rest ran away after the bloody fight staged but the inhabitants. In order that they maybe able to protect themeselves from the attack of the Moros, they built a bulwark to serve as a watch tower( lantawan ) in Ermita. This bulwark was guarded by warriors, among them were Capitanes valle, Radam, Rosanto, Toraldo, Florentino, Gahodo, and Ignacio curut.

The island was enclosed with rough terrain. its shores likewise but short by the rampaging wave of the sea in the East and Northeast. The principal mountain of this island superior to the cement used was taken from powdered burned shells an wood mixed with other ingredients.

Way back in 1860, Maripipi was a town located at Danao (present name of barangay) up to 1870. In 1871, it was transferred to Daan Bungto. two kilometers away from seashore. This was located at the Mount Borobatidor, present weathervane af Maripipi.

The town was established at this site to safeguard the populace from the fierce Moros at the time who looted houses near the shore and captured men, women and children for their trade to Borneo. In 1899, Maripipi became a barrio of Kawayan and later in 1915 became a town again, composed of eight(8) barrios namel; Ermitam Binalayan, Burabod, Viga, Agutay, Danao, Bantas, and Binongto-an.

Maripipi island has four(4) anchorage. Two of these are located in the Poblacion (Ermita and Binongtoan) and the other two were located in Barangay Binalayan East and West. During low tide, motorboat took up position offshore. Its shores were clear and steep-to. Cliff details shows the shores to be approachable with the least depth of 10 fathoms at a distance of more than a quarter oa a mile offshore.

Population of Maripipi was 6,934 as of 1990 census. The most populated barangay was Ermita with total of 934 inhabitants and the least populated barangay was Trabugan with a total of 188 inhabitats. The first Cura Parroco was Father Fernando Pardo in 1874 to 1897.

Legend of Maripipi

Legend has it that the island is a tomb of Maria and Pepe, two lovers. The parents of Maria were against Pepe. Having eloped against the parents’ wishes, the irate father of Maria scoured the four corners of Leyte with a flotilla of bancas in search of the lovers. After a long and arduous search, the flotilla found the lovers in this unchartered island dead by their own hands.

Biliran Town History

Biliran was derived from the name of a native grass called “borobiliran” which was in abundance during the Pre-Spanish period. Seafarers who used to pass narrow straits of Biliran which separate the province of Leyte and the island of Biliran would admire the fertile plains and lush green hills of the island.

Settlers from nearby villages which were plundered by moro pirates started moving towards the plains of Biliran. As the settlement grew, it became known as Biliran.

The municipality of Biliran was formally establish the year 1878. It is the historical center and gateway to Biliran island as well as to the northern municipalities of Leyte Province.

At the first municipality in the island, the town used to be religious, cultural and political center of the island province until 1960 when the town of Naval became the capital town and the commercial, educational and government center.

Biliran continued to be the provincial hub because of its land and sea transport. Plying through the town are buses, jeepneys, v-hire and other vehicles coming from and going to the provinces of Leyte, Cebu, Samar, Luzon, and Mindanao which are located in the east coast of Biliran province and going as far as Culaba and the west coast of the province.

Pumpboats also regularly serve passengers going to Calubian ports where ships ply to and from manila. The newly constructed provincial airport, still not operational as of this writing, is located near the boundary of Naval and Biliran.

Of the eleven barangays, ten barangays are energized. Power sources come from the Tongonan Geothermal Power Plant in Ormoc and is distributed through the Biliran Electric Cooperative (BILECO). Biliran has abundant water supply for agricultural and drinking purposes. One hundred percent of the population is served with potable water supply.

For its communication network, the municipality has radio-telegraph system and every barangay is equipped with a portable handheld radio set with a radio base at the Municipal Mayor’s Office. Telecommunication and postal services are also available.

Biliran has eleven schools: nine barangay elementary schools, one central elementary school and the Biliran National Agricultural College (BNAC) which offers secondary and tertiary education and twelve Day Care Centers.

History of Cabucgayan

The Poblacion of Cabucgayan is in Biliran Island along the coast of Carigara Bay, now with a population of nearly 20,000 inhabitants.

The first settlers, who founded Cabucgayan were Fulgencio, Cesario, Anselmo and Lonrequito , all bearing surname Cordeta, from the Poblacion of Biliran, Toribio Dematawaran, Inocentes Perol and Marquez Maala from the Poblacion af Barugo, Leyte. These persons were responsible in the erection of the Tower, which shaltered and protected from their enemies, the Moro pirates, in the year 1850, and the tower is still seen in front of the old chuch, along the coast of Cabucgayan.

These pioneers, called the place Ezperanza. They produced abundant rice, corn, abaca and other root crops, which lured many family immigration from the neighboring municipalities and settled permanently in Ezperanza. Commerce in the village progressed and a brach of Casa Warner, and English Firm, was established under the management of Don Pascual Casaos.

Under the leadership of Miguel Cordeta, they approached the Provincia; Governor of Leyte, then General Ambrocio Mojica, for a Municipal Government. General Mojica granted them from their request, under the name of Gobierno Municipal de Esperansa. The Municipal officials were: Miguel Cordeta, as Jefe Local; Luciano Oledan as Teniente Mayor; Macario De Lara, as Delegado Justicia; Vicente Cordeta, as Delegado de Rentas; Escolastico Palconit, as Delegado de Policia.

The Municipal Government of Esperanza lasted until the end of the war, between the United States and Spain. The American Government recognized the municipal government of Esperanza. When the civil government was established in the Philippines, another move was organized by the local leaders and petitioned the Executive Secretary of the Civil Government, the continuation of the Municipal Government of Esperanza, but the name of Esperanza be changed to Cabucgayan, as a symbol of shells that were found abundantly in the River called Bucgay.

The Municipal Officials of Cabucgayan, as approved by the civil government were: Tarcelo Sulla, as Presidente Municipal; Pastor Mendoza, as vice Presidente; Felix de Lara, as Tresorer Municipal; Pastor Mendoza,as Juesde Paz, ex-officio; Pedro Roldan, as Juez de Paz Auxiller. Consejales: Francisco Dematawaran, Escolastico Paconit, Felix Dadizon, Placido Pelen, Estanislaao Igano and Calixto Mendoza.

Due to Pulahan warfae against the American and inhabitant and that many inhabitants were killed by the Pulahan around the Island of Biliran, the Civil Government stopped the operation of the Municipal Government of Cabucgayan in the year 1904 and Cabucgayan was annexed to the Caibiran and Biliran was annexed to Municipality of Naval. In the year 1910, Biliran again granted her municipal government and Cabucgayan was transferred to Biliran from Caibiran.

Due to political harassment, the people of Cabucgayan formed a Commission to petition the National Government, to grant the Municipal Government of Cabucgayan,in the year 1915. Hundreds of moneys were spent. Carabao and Sampana were sent to Tacloban as regalo, but in vain. The move failed to political sharks.

In October 1948, another attempt was created by Mr. Filemon Badoria, and the Macabugwas society was born, with the following officials: Mr. Teodoro Cordeta as President; Mr. Lorenzo Cordeta Sr., as Vice President; Mr.Domingo Lipango Sr., as Treasurer; Mr. Daniel Penas as Secretary; and Members of the Board: Mr. Eusebio Juntilla, Mr. Cornelio Lenante; Mr. Simforoso Cordeta; Mr. Luciano Mendoza; and Mr. Arcadio Lebajo. Mr. Dionisio Badoria, as Second Honorary President.

Fearing the political venture of the Macabugwas society shall also the futile, the Macabugawas secretary, changed the method of sending political resolutions. The sending of our polical petition for municipal independence, were not sent thru channeld, but sent directly to the President of the Philippine. President Elpidio Quirino, to the Honorable Secretary interior, to the Senate President, Hon, Jose Avelino, to the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Eugenio Perez, to our advocates Senator Carlos S. Tan and to Mr. Felix Badoria.

A mission was sent to Manila, headed by Mr. Primo B. Cordeta Sr., and assisted by Mr. Luciano Mendoza and with the financial help at Manila Mr. Filemon Badoria. As the Macabugwas Society was short of fund, the two members of the mission were satisfied of fifty pesos cash, for their pocket money and expenses. The rest, were shouldered by Mr. Filomon Badoria.

By the Magnetic personality Mr. Primo B. Cordeta, Sr. , He was able to secure the sincere help and cooperation of the Finance Secretary, Hon. Pio Pedrosa, and also the Secretary of Interior, Hon. Sotero Baluyot. Thru recommendation of the Honorable, Secretary of the Interior for the approval of the petition fot Municipal Independence from the municipality of Biliran, His excellency President Elpidio Quirino, upon Executive Order No. 271, on September 29, 1949, approaved our Municipal Independence to Function on November 25, 1949.

History of Caibiran

The town of Caibiran started from a group of immigrants from Leyte mainland. They settled near the mouth of the river four kilometers from the present town site. The river was teeming with a fish and abounded with lizards called “Ibid” which suggested the name Caibiran ( a place where there are plenty of “Ibid” ).

Caibiran gained the status of a pueblo. Erected were a limestone church and a watchtower . One day, due to excessive rains, the river overflowed its banks and destroyed the town, claiming lives and properties. Caibiran lived under the threat of the river.

In 1882, Captain Bebiano Maderazo led the people to a new site. The new settlement became a town while the previous site became a barrio of “Binongohan” meaning the place where the river overflowed its bank.

In 1950 part of the bounderies of Caibiran were incorporated into the other new municipalities. Three Barrios in the north were annexed to Kawayan. Culaba took with her a number a barrios and three southern barrios went to Cabucgayan.

Administration has been in succession since 1883 by seven “Capitanes”, seven “Presidentes” and ten Municipal Mayors.

History of Culaba

Before the 19th century, Culaba had gained the status of a town. It was then annexed to Caibiran as a barrio when the Pulahans raided and completely burned the town in 1901. After the destruction, the barrio leaders Pacifico Amable and Gervacio Abanilla started the reconstruction of the town. In 1918, the barrio leaders, realizing the former town was fully reconstructed, claimed for independence from Caibiran. Dr. Mariano Jasminez, a red cross supervisor, wrote to senator Avelino in 1953, requested for the issuance of Circular No. 321, proclaiming Culaba a municipality. On October 13, 1953, Pres. Elpidio Quirino signed the papers transforming Culaba as a full – fledged municipality. Objections for the separation of Culaba from Caibiran were encountered and final proclamation and inauguration was delayed. Finally, President Quirino, signed the documents making Culaba a municipality and set the inauguration on January 16, 1954. Mr. Gerardo Sabarre became the first mayor of the newly created municipality.

The ancestors of Culaba were settlers from the nearby towns of Caibiran, Carigara and Barugo in Leyte and from the province of Samar and Cebu. The town was first a barrio located at the northern part of Amambahag River (where now stands the remains of a Catholic Church and Cemetery). Due to constant floods, it was relocated near Culaba brook from where its name originated. The old town site became known as Binongtoan.

History of Kawayan

The origin of the town probably dates back between the 6th and the 7th century when the moro marauders were rampant in the vicinity of the Visayas seas. The Natives of Cebu, Bohol and the neighboring islands were frequently threatened by same of Lapu-lapu’s Christian converted descendants settled along the seashore beside a rocky hill. This settlement was called Telegrapo . More group of people came in, specially Cebuano speaking for safety.

The name Telegrapo was later changed to San Clemente when General Mojica happend to pass by the place in going to mainland Leyte. The name San Clemente was derived from the name of the general’s only son. Subsequently raided by the Moros, the folks had to post guard atop the hill overlooking the sea. To protect the guards from hostile elements, they planted bamboo trees around the area which become the dence in no time. The dense growth of bamboo trees, “Kawayan” in local terminology, impressed travelers that the settlement’s name was associated with and revolved to Kawayan. Hense, Kawayan is the name up to the present.

Kawayan and the neighboring barrios in the north were once part of the town of Almeria, the older settlement. Sometimes in 1906, just few years after the Philippine-American Roman Catholic churches affected the Parish of Almeria. The usual procedure of the spanish sonquistadors was to have a church built near the town hall. The church played and important role in the affair of the government. When the progressive town of Naval was established, the Almeria parish was transferred to the former.

The vacuum worried the Almerian councils engaged in a heated debate, over the proposals of some councils members to bring the Aglipayan priest. The northern councilors were against the idea. Finally, Mayor Margarito Sabornido decided with some councilors to accept the Aglipayan priest to administer religious affair. The decision infuriated devout Catholics in the north that they filed a protest with the military Governor of Leyte who decided to suspend the mayor and appointed Matthew MacFarland to replace him.

It was during the administration of Macfarland that the township of the municipality was transferred to Kawayan being 31 yrs. after, when township has been granted to Almeria. Kawayan’s area in the south was reduced to Tabunan north of the river, as the boundary line between Almeria.

Kawayan was refuted to be founded by Capitan Basio with Recardo Sanoza as Justice of Peace. The chosen municipal president/mayors in chronological order:

Municipal President/MayorsDate
Matthew MacFarland1906-1909
Alberto Del Rosario1909-1912
Santiago Palquera1912-1916
Francisco Victorioso1922-1928
Pastor Mecaydor1928-1931
Narciso Antipolo1931-1934
Simplicio Jaguros1934-1943
Jose Dingcong and Domingo Otic (Japanese Occupation)1909-1922
Maximo Salloman1945-1948
Cenon Pancito1948-1955
Froilan Jaguros1955-1967
Alberto Sipaco Sr.1967-1971
Froilan Jaguros1988-1992
Gina B. Ang1992-1998
Caridad Atok-Angincumbent


The Municipality of Kawayan is located on the northern tip of the island province of Biliran. It is one of the eight municipalities of the province, and about 17 kilometers from Naval, the provincial center. It is bounded on the North by the Samar sea; on the south by the Municipality of Almeria; on the east by the Municipality of Culaba and on the west by the Visayan sea. It approximately located at 142*25*10″ east longitude and 11*30*25″ north longitude.

The Municipality composed of twenty(20) barangays namely: Inasuyan, San Lorenzo, Tucdao, Ungale, Madao, Baganito, Villa Cornejo, Mapuyo, Burabud, Bilwang, Bulalacao, Masagaosao, Balite, Poblacion, Tubig-Ginoo, Kansanoc, Balacson, Buyo, Masagongsong and Tabunan North. Except fot Kansanok and Tubig-Ginoo, all the other barangays are situated along the coast.

Kawayan had also administrative jurisdiction over the islets of Tagasipol,Tagnocan, Genoru-an and Tingcasan. Except for Tingcasan, these islets were uninhabited.

All barangays in the Municipality of Kawayan could be reached by transportation through existing road links. Inayusan the last barangay on the northeast is 18 kilometer from the town proper. While Tabunan north, the last barangay on the south is 3.5 kilometers.

History of Almeria

The first emigrants of Almeria came from Jagna, Bohol. Stories have it that a group of Boholanos crossed the Visayan sea bound for Oquindo in Samar Island, presumably to visit a long lost relative. On the course of their trip they met a strong typhoon, so they were forced to find a haven for their safety and landed on a place unknown to them.

When the bad weather was over, the group discovered that their newfound-land has fertile soil suitable for planting root crops, and seawaters teeming with fish and seashells. They liked the place very much that they decided to stay. They started building their huts and tilled the land for their living. The settlement was earlier called Bagongbong but was renamed Solano in honor of Capitan Solano, the first chieftain.

In 1834, a missionary together with some Spanish soldiers passed by the place on an inspection trip in the Visayan Islands. Its scenic beauty and the native’s hospitality pleased the Spanish visitors. They called it Almeria after the hometown of the missionary, Almeria, Spain.

Upon their return to the place, they built a watch tower on top of a hill (Baluarte Hill) to alert the natives from moro marauders that were rampant then. A Roman Catholic chapel was also built. In 1886, a decree was issued by the Govierno Militar de Leyte creating Almeria into a pueblo or municipality.

During the American occupation, a religious controversy triggered the transfer of the seat of government from Almeria to Kawayan. It started in 1905 when Alcalde Margarito Sabornido together with some councilors decided to bring in Aglipayan priest, Fr. Fernando Buyser, to administer their religious affair.

The councilors from Barrio Kawayan were against the idea that ended in a heated debate in the consejo. Sabornido’s decision also provoked the ire of the devout Roman Catholics from the north who immediately reported the case to the Roman Catholic authorities in Cebu. Likewise, a protest was filed with the American Civil Governor of Leyte, Colonel Peter Borseth.

Acting on the official complaint instigated by Eugenio Obispo, huez de paz of Almeria, Borseth, suspended Sabornido and the three of his six councilors “for three months.” Then he reorganized the municipal government by installing a former American soldier, Matthew MacFarland, as acting municipal president. He also appointed new councilors and officials to replace the suspended ones. The three-month suspension turned out to be permanent.

MacFarland, a resident of the island barrio of Maripipi, and Obispo, from Kawayan, insisted on the convenience of transferring the seat of the municipal government in the barrio of Kawayan which is located midway between Almeria and Maripipi. In 1907, seemingly upon the persistence of the two, Governor Borseth and the Provincial Board of Leyte concurred to the idea and affected the transfer of the Poblacion, including the names of key streets, to Kawayan.

The transfer caused a perennial problem between the people of Almeria and Kawayan so that a Plebiscite was conducted through the Secretary of Interior. The result which favored Kawayan, thwarted the suspended oficiales from Almeria that they decided to remain and hold office in the former town hall out of desperation.

Almeria was under the Municipality of Kawayan for more than four decades. In 1945 to 1947, during the term of Mayor Maximo Salloman, Municipal Resolution No. 55 was approved by the Municipal Council of Kawayan endorsing the creation of Almeria as a separate municipality. Finally, on September 1, 1948, Pres. Elpidio Quirino, by Executive Order 292, granted township to Almeria. Thus, ended the long-drawn Almeria-Kawayan controversy.

List of Mayors

  • Fructosa A. Victorioso — Mayor (Appointed) 1948-1949
  • Jose K. Vero — Acting Mayor 1949-1951
  • Elias G. Morillo — 1952-1955
  • Victorino A. Jaguros — 1956-1959
  • Victorino A. Jaguros — 1960-1963
  • Jose K. Vero — 1964-1967
  • Victorino A. Jaguros — 1968-1971
  • Victorino A. Jaguros — 1972-1975
  • Victorino A. Jaguros — 1976-1977
  • Florentino S. Quijano — Acting Mayor from 1978-1979
  • Simforosa R. Jaguros — Appointed Mayor (part of 1979, part of 1980)
  • Florentino S. Quijano — 1980-1986
  • Jose E. Victorioso — (Officer in Charge) 1986-1987
  • Florentino S. Quijano — (Officer in Charge) 1987-1988
  • Supremo T. Sabitsana — 1988-1992
  • Supremo T. Sabitsana — 1992-1998
  • Antonio G. Agajan — 1998-2001
  • Rolando E. Ty — 2001-2004
  • Rolando E. Ty — 2001-2007
  • Rolando E. Ty — 2007-2010
  • Dominador O. Agahan — 2010-2016
  • Richard D. Jaguros — 2016 – present


Beginnings of Naval, Biliran Island (A Revisionist Account)

By Rolando O. Borrinaga, Alberto M. Bago, Bienvenido H. Granali, Jose Gahum, and Antonio A. Abilar

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary: Patron Saint of Naval

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary: Patron Saint of Naval

The history of Naval on Biliran Island goes much deeper into the past than the “from Bagasumbol to Naval” theme that our folklore, folksongs, the 1961 Naval Centennial Celebration, and the first printed history written by the 1966 Naval Municipal Historical Committee would make us believe to have started around the 1850s.

In this revisionist paper we present theories on our town’s geologic origin, push back its recorded history by 250 years, and clarify certain controversial issues related to Naval’s founding in the 1850s.

For the natural history of Naval, a “delta-formation theory” has been proposed to explain its geologic origin. A geologic survey of Leyte published in 1954 also described the “coastal alluvial plains in Naval (as) the largest in (Biliran) island,” an exception from that of the surrounding regions of the island which are characterized by broken hills and mountains.

For the recorded history involving the present territorial jurisdiction of the town of Naval (see map), there was already an unnamed village here in 1600, the one described as the nearby base of the Spanish, native and other workers in the first known Spanish shipyard in the Philippines on Isla de Panamao (the present Biliran Island), and which had been visited by Jesuit missionaries based in Carigara starting in 1601. We postulate that the site of this village was located in the present Sitio Ilawod (a sitio is a cluster of few houses, ilawod refers to the seaward portion) of Barangay Caraycaray, along the southern bank and near the mouth of the Caraycaray River; that the first hospital in the Visayas region was established here in this village by the Jesuits in 1601; and the the shipyard was initially located at the nearby Sabang beach across Inagawan.

On 10 September 1712 the pueblo which had become known as Biliran filed a formal petition for becoming a separate pueblo and parish. This pueblo of Biliran included the settlements in the different areas and islets of Biliran Island, excluding Maripipi Island.7 We also postulate that the poblacion of Biliran pueblo was situated in the present Sitio Ilawod, on the same site that we had just postulated as the village base of the workers in the Spanish shipyard on Panamao in 1600, or 112 years earlier.

To support our claim for Sitio Ilawod as the poblacion of Biliran pueblo, we argue that the lantawan or watch tower on this site was erected long before 1712, as the previous requirement for this pueblo’s formation. We surveyed on 3 February 1990 the remaining traces of coral stone blocks of this watch tower (called trinchera sa Moros, the local reference to this fort against the historical Moro raiders). We found them at ground level overlooking the Caraycaray River in a neglected state. Flooding had apparently caused this relic to gradually sink into the swamp through the years. It was barely two meters above the water level at low tide and had been overgrown with weeds and nipa palms.

In May 1735 a government document published in Manila directed the natives residing in Biliran to have “peopled” jurisdiction within five years. This implies that it had attained the required number of tributes, namely 500. That document probably constituted the conditional government recognition of the people’s petition to be recognized as a pueblo back in 1712. The condition was probably met in due time, there being no subsequent document or folk information to indicate a demotion in status of the pueblo of Biliran.9 The diminution of Biliran pueblo’s population between 1712 and 1735 could be attributed to the effects of the Moro raids and the government-promoted migration to more central areas of Leyte and Samar to keep the people “under the bells” of the church.

On 10 October 1765 a government document published in Manila appointed a certain Don Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara as “cura” (parish priest) of San Juan Nepomuceno in Biliran pueblo.11 A secular priest who hailed from Samar, he turned out to be deluded and heretical.



Padre Gaspar (as Guevara is known to folklore of the present-day Biliran town) created a new poblacion by transferring it away from its original site in Sitio Ilawod to a hilltop in what is presently known as Barangay Hugpa. He called this new site Albacea (testamentary executor). Here he set up a sanctuary, enthroned himself in the “chair of Peter” with the royal throne in Biliran Island, and styled himself as the “first of the priests of the world.”

From his sanctuary, Padre Gaspar spread his doctrines, granted indulgences, spread news of miracles in the Leyte-Samar region, recruited and sent out disciples to incite revolts, conferred sacred orders, gave out offices, legislated, threatened those who opposed him and, together with an “alcalde mayor” of Biliran whom he appointed, fought against the Franciscan friars in Samar and the Augustinians in Leyte. He ordained sub-deacons, and attracted a great number of followers, especially among the women. He was also cordially treated and sheltered by the Alcalde Mayor (governor) of Samar (which included Leyte until 1777), who also worked with him.

Padre Gaspar was captured by Moro raiders and was drowned to death near Tagasipol Islet shortly before 1775, about 10 years after his appointment as cura of Biliran. He was succeeded by a Father Lorenzo Rivera.

The Old Site

As a result of the transfer of the poblacion to the new hilltop location (Albacea), the old site (in Sitio Ilawod) became known as Binongtuan (i.e., “towned,” the past tense of bungto, the Waray word for town in verb form).

According to local folklore, either during Padre Gaspar’s tenure as cura or at the time of his death, a maldicion (curse) was pronounced over the people in Biliran pueblo’s old poblacion (in Sitio Ilawod): that no male-born child of this place should ever become a priest; that whosoever should defy this curse risked insanity, death or failure as a person.

However, while the concrete effects of defying such maldicion has been told through the generations, folklore is not clear about its premise. Why was the curse pronounced? Was it because of the defiance and resistance of the villagers of the old poblacion (in Sitio Ilawod) against Padre Gaspar’s manipulations, particularly the removal and transfer of the pueblo’s altar to Albacea? Or was it their apparent refusal to ransom Padre Gaspar from his Moro captors, which act led to his undignified death? Both speculations could be inferred from available documentary sources.

Whatever may be the cause of the maldicion, the remaining villagers or their leaders in the old poblacion (in Sitio Ilawod) who did not follow Padre Gaspar became known as Bagasumbol or “obstacle to enemies,” who waged territorial border disputes against their “deserters” and “usurpers” in the new poblacion in Albacea.

With Padre Gaspar’s transfer of the poblacion, the geographical area that is now known as Naval was reduced to the status of a visita of Biliran pueblo. However, many residents of this visita also moved to a more elevated location two kilometers northeast of the old poblacion (in Sitio Ilawod). They named their new settlement Caraycaray.

The reasons for this move were probably to secure themselves from sneak Moro attacks along the Caraycaray River,21 and to avoid the curse on the old poblacion (in Sitio Ilawod), which had also been renamed as Bagasumbol. However, the most probable physical reason was to avoid the effects of the more frequent river floods, the most direct results of the decades of forest denudation (starting with the rampant log-cutting during the galleon-making years) and the attendant threat in a swampy village of attacks by man-eating crocodiles.


The Naval of folklore and folksongs and of the late 19th century owes its beginnings to Father Juan Inocentes Manco Garcia, who was the assistant parish priest and later parish priest of Biliran pueblo from around 1848 to 1861.23 By then the pueblo of Biliran had been reduced to the western half of the island, with the creation of Caibiran as a separate pueblo in 1828.24 And the place that would become Naval (the area around the old poblacion in Sitio Ilawod) was already called Bagasumbol.

According to folklore, Padre Inocentes (as Father Garcia was known) would make trips to Almeria, the northernmost outpost of his assignment, from his parish base in Biliran poblacion. Passing by the site of the present poblacion of Naval, he would pause in his journey to admire the beautiful sweeping plains of the area. Struck by the flatness and fertility of the land, he invited his relatives and friends from Dimiao, Bohol, and Danao, Cebu, to come and settle in this place.

The new migrants settled on an area near Tubod (spring), some two hundred meters north of the present town plaza of Naval, and about three kilometers northwest of the village of Bagasumbol (in Sitio Ilawod), the poblacion-turned-visita of Biliran pueblo.27 They were followed by other migrants from Panay and Negros.

Padre Juan Inocentes Manco Garcia: Founder of Naval

Padre Juan Inocentes Manco Garcia: Founder of Naval

In the early years, Padre Inocentes divided the land among the members of three regional migrant groups: the Cebuanos, the Boholanos, and the Hilonggos.28 He also initiated the efforts to build the first church and convento of the new settlement and to dig irrigation canals for the ricefields of Bagasumbol.

The name Bagasumbol, which sounded war-like, was changed to the more peaceful name, Naval, in 1859.

On 26 May 1860 Naval was separated from Biliran, but operated as a separate parish only as of 26 September 1860.31 On 31 July 1861, Msgr. Romualdo Ximeno, Bishop of Cebu, officially declared Naval an independent parish.32 In August 1861 Father Santos de Santa Juana took up formal residence as the first parish priest of Naval, and served the town for 21 years until 1882.

On 23 September 1869, Naval was (officially) recognized as an independent pueblo.

Padre Inocentes was known to have named the new pueblo Naval, in honor of its adopted patroness, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, whose miraculous intercession assured the Spanish victory over the Dutch Navy during the historic “La Guerra Naval de Manila” in 1646.35 The senior author of this paper, however, is of the opinion that Padre Inocentes may have also entertained the idea of commemorating the successful defense of Bagasumbol, which he led as the assistant parish priest of Biliran, against three waves of Moro attacks on this settlement. This was supposed to have occurred in the 1830s,37 but more probably between 184838 and 1858, the latter being the benchmark year for the cessation of the Moro attacks in the Visayas.

The Town of Biliran

The present-day town of Biliran (as has been mentioned) came into being sometime between 1765 and 1775 when Don Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara transferred the poblacion to a new location on the hilltop, which he called Albacea. The natives referred to Albacea as Manogsok.40 The latter name denotes the act of planting crops using a sharpened stick to dig holes in the soil, into which the seeds of grain (rice, corn, etc.) are dropped.

For the new settlement in Manogsok, the people constructed a church, a tribunal (government house), and a watch tower. They also raised domesticated animals and cultivated more land. Then a fire occurred and the whole village was reduced to ashes. What was left was the lantawan (watch tower), which was built far down on a hill overlooking the sea.

Thus rendered homeless, some households wandered from place to place. Others founded another settlement. They chose a location near Albacea, on a piece of land belonging to a certain person named Ilag (i.e., hostile). The new settlement was called Can-Ilag (of Ilag, or owned by Ilag). They renamed their former settlement as Nasunogan – the site razed by fire.

On 22 February 1782, Biliran’s parish of San Juan Nepomuceno received official superior approval from the Bishop of Cebu, about 17 years after Don Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara, its first curate, was officially appointed by the Spanish colonial government in 1765.

History of Biliran


During the early Spanish era, what is now called Biliran Island was known as Isla de Panamao. The term refers to an ethnic fishing net. The present name, believed to be adopted sometime between the late 1600s and the early 1700s, was, according to many publications, derived from a native grass called borobiliran which once grew abundantly on the island’s plains. A contending theory states that the name came from the word bilir, which was defined in an old Visayan dictionary to be the “corner or edge of a boat, vase or anything protruding, like veins, or the furrow made by the plow.” The dictionary also gives biliran as an alternate spelling for bilir. This theory is supported by the fact that Biliran was site of the first large-scale shipyard, built in the 1600s. Galleons were built to support the Galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico.

The first town, named Biliran, was founded in 1712. During this time, the island was a part of the province of Cebu. Biliran, together with the islands of Samar and Leyte were constituted into a separate province in 1735. Later when Samar and Leyte were split into two provinces in 1768, Biliran became part of Leyte.

Guerrilla forces

During the World War II, Biliran had its own guerrilla forces under the Leyte command of Colonel Ruperto Kangleon. The guerrilla operation where of invaluable assistance to the successful landing of the American liberation forces at Palo, Leyte, on October 20, 1944 just before the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Landed to the Filipino soldiers liberated in Biliran

In 1945 liberated by the Philippine Commonwealth forces landed in Biliran with the local guerrilla forces by the attack of the Japanese troops from the island during the Battle of Biliran.

Moro raids

In May 1735, representative inhabitants of Leyte petitioned Governor General Fernando Valdes y Tamon to allow them to resettle Biliran Island. They claimed it had been abandoned for the past 50 years and was presently inhabited by bagamundos (vagabonds) due to the frequent Moro raids.

On 26 May 1754, the Moros destroyed the pueblos of Biliran in Leyte and Catbalogan in Samar. Panamao was reportedly razed to the ground and only the gobernadorcillo of Biliran pueblo escaped capture by the raiders. The settlements of Biliran, Caybiran, Mapuyo and Maripipi were also destroyed by the Moros.

The Moros staged their attack by marching inland along a river in the province named Anas for a distance of 1.5-2 leguas (leagues). Having covered part of the interior around a mountain, they managed to capture the inhabitants, with the exception of the gobernadorcillo who had escaped. The houses and property of the natives were burned or destroyed. The church building suffered the same fate and its valuables were taken away by the raiders.

Post Moro invasion

When the Moro raiders has been neutralized in the early 19th century, the local inhabitants went into the business of organizing new pueblos (also known as town) in the present geography of Biliran Province.

The inhabitants of Biliran Island petitioned for pueblo and parish status as early as 1712. The first parish priest was assigned in 1765 but its parish status was apparently withdrawn because of Padre Gaspar‘s apostasy. The parish was re-established on February 22, 1782.

In 1828, Caibiran on the east became an independent pueblo and parish, the second to be created in Biliran Island.

Naval became the third town, and it was carved out of the territory of Biliran town. It initially became a separate parish in 1860. The Spanish colonial government officially recognized its pueblo status on 23 September 1869, the petition for which was apparently submitted around 1861.

Almeria became a separate town in 1886 and was named after a town in Spain of the same name.

Maripipi used to be a barrio of Naval. It was officially inaugurated as a town in 1867, two years ahead of its mother town, then folded up and was reduced into a barrio of Almeria, and then became a town again in 1899. Maripipi and the new towns of San Clemente (later Kawayan), Culaba and Esperanza (later Cabucgayan) were created around 1899 by the revolutionary government under Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo.


On April 8, 1959 Republic Act No. 2141 was signed into law effectively making Biliran a sub-province of Leyte. The island was only made an independent province on May 11, 1992 by virtue of Republic Act No. 7160, making it one of the newest provinces in the country.