Iriga City Profile
EARLY HISTORY OF CAMARINES SUR
Camarines Sur came out of an original geographic community which covers the present provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Masbate, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte. According to the research conducted by historian Dr. Danilo Gerona, the word Camarines first came into print when Miguel Lopez de Lagaspi’s grandson Captain Juan de Salcedo, with 120 men, launched several expeditions to find and conquer the fabled mining village of Paracale and Mambulao in 1573. The Spaniards identified the area as Camarines referring to the entire stretch of the Bikol River.
After the conquest, on June 4, 1579, Governor-General Francisco de Sande ordered Captain Juan de Guzman to “take the two discalced fathers of the Franciscan Order and bring them to the Bikol River and to any place of that province they wish to go…churches must be built whenever the Fathers indicate, you must inform the Spaniards settled there the presence of the Fathers in the area…”
Further, the Governor-General decreed that the commander of the Spanish conquistadores encamped in the river area should “discuss with the religious present in the place to settle in that province of Bikol and Camarines and in such a site a villa should be raised and gives the name which you may deem appropriate and you should command all the encomenderos of the province to live and build their houses there and not elsewhere…” In response to this decree Villa de Caceres (Naga) was established, which was eventually was elevated into an Ayuntamiento or city.
Nueva Caceres served as the civil and ecclesiastical center as other encomiendas were established within the river basin. Among those first established were Milanit (Milaor), Guas (Goa), Magarao, Minalva (Minalabac), Carvanga (Calabanga), Aliman (Libmanan), Lagonoy, Nabua, Bula, and Buy (Buhi)
EARLY SETTLEMENT IN IRIGA
Iriga, from a phrase in the language “I raga” which means there is land, grew from the settlement by the bank of the Bikol River called Bua (Nabua), who were looking for higher grounds due to the perennial and disastrous flooding of the town during the rainy season.
Bua was a low marshy terrain easily flooded during the rainy season. Because of this some people, upon the advice Father Felix de Huertas, then parish priest of Nubua, the farmers to move to I-raga where they can plant their crops without fears of being flooded.
Taking the advice of the priest, people left Bua and settled to a higher land located at the foot of Sumagang , a mountain east of Bua. The foot of the mountain had large tracts of land available for cultivation suitable for settlement and unlike Bua; it does not suffer from severe flooding during the torrential rainy season. The settlement was then called Iraga, which “there is land” in the local language.
PACIFICATION AND CONVERSION
The Franciscan friars, who set foot in the Bikol peninsula, saw in the new land a good ground for evangelization. As evangelization by the Franciscan friars progressed, Iraga developed in size and wealth. Soon therefore, foundation work had been laid down by proclaiming it a visita of Nabua. More and more people from Nabua came to Iraga to settle.
As population spread out and evangelization progressed, the settlement at the foot of Sumagang Mountain developed in size and wealth, slowly pushing the Agtas up to the thickness of the forests. And in 1578 the I-raga settlement was established as “visita” of Nabua and a church made of wood was constructed. Saint Anthony of Padua was the patron saint of the parish with Father Pedro de Jesus and Father Bartolome Ruiz serving as its religious heads. In 1583, five years after church was constructed, Agta warriors razed the church to the ground. A second one was constructed but it too was destroyed by a typhoon and razed to ashes again by fire.
January 4, 1641, Sumagang erupted, forming gully on Buhi side of the mountain leading to a steep ravine which is the crater of the volcano. According to stories, the Nuestra Senora de Angustia appeared at Inorogan and through miracle saved the Irigeños from the terrible eruption.
In 1682, with a population of 8,909, I-raga was converted into Pueblo de la Provincia de Ambos Camarines. Later on, the Spanish authorities changed the name from I-raga to Iriga and In 1710 Don Bonifacio de los Angeles organized the first four barrios of Iriga - San Agustin, San Isidro, San Nicolas and San Antonio Abad.
In 1727 after the second churched was destroyed, a new church was built, unfortunately it too was destroyed in a fire in 1841. Finally, shortly after the last church was destroyed, Fray Tomas de Alfafara finally led the construction of a new parish church, together with its two belfries made of bricks and stones. It was the later on repaired in 1866, and in 1892 the tower was rebuilt with wood and iron.
In 1823, in the Memorias de la Provincia de Ambos Camarines shows that the number of Barangay in “pueblo de Iriga” was composed of San Roque, San Francisco de Asis, San Juan Bautista, Sto. Domingo de Guzman, San Miguel Arcangel, San Nicolas de Tolentino, San Agustin, San Antonio Abad, Sto. Nino and Santiago de Galicia with a population of 13,813. There were only four roads mentioned and they were coming from Nabua going to Bato, to Buhi and to Polangui, Albay and there was only one way going to Nueva Caceres (Naga) via Bicol River by boat.
In 1846, during the term of Don Juan Lomaad, a great famine swept the Bikol area. Prices of rice soared up, the Spanish government ordered people to plant more staple food but it did not do much good as starvation ensued which took many lives.
More than a decade later, in 1857, a cholera epidemic broke out causing the death of thousands of inhabitants. As if that was not enough, an earthquake struck Iriga damaging the town church and several other buildings. In 1871, during the term of Don Lucas Caayao, a new epidemic, this time smallpox, took many lives. Aside from this, in the same year, a swarm of locust destroyed the crops in Iriga causing starvation among its inhabitants.
THE EMERGING MUNICIPALITY
In 1901, as part of American colonialist strategy to pacify and attract the Filipinos, the first public school in Iriga, Iriga Central School, was established . In 1913 the Manila Railroad Company Station and the public market was established at its present site . With the establishment of the train station and the public market, Iriga rapidly grew and became the center of trade and commerce in the Rinconada area.
HOME TO THE FIRST BUS COMPANY IN THE PHILIPPINES
The development of the municipality got another stimulus when in July 1914 when Albert L. Ammen, a former American serviceman established the A.L. Ammen Transport Co., Inc (ALATCO). ALATCO with an initial fleet of one converted two-cylinder Grawbosky truck was the first bus company in the Philippines.
Its first route was Iriga-Naga; however, as the venture became more successful, the company expanded its fleet to service the other towns of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay and Sorsogon, hence opening remote villages of Bikol, to the mainstream of economic and social development.
Later on, in 1918 Max L. Blouse, one of ALATCO’s drivers would also start his own transportation company, the Batangas, Laguna, Tayabas Bus Company (BLTB).
THE World WAR II YEARS
The American colonial period temporarily ended in 1942 when World War II broke out. The Japanese Imperial Army established a garrisoned at Kalbaryo hill overlooking the city proper. Iriga Central School became a concentration camp; those who could not be accommodated were brought to the Ateneo de Naga.
Like in many other places, Bicolano guerilla units spring up in Iriga after the formal American colonialist resistance has ended. Mt. Iriga became the base of the resistance attracting recruits not only from Iriga but even as far as Albay. With the help of the Agtas who were very familiar with the terrain, the Japanese army could penetrate the interiors of the mountain.
AS A CITY
With the end of the Japanese occupation in May 15, 1945, the Iriga Central was reopened and rehabilitation began. In 1948, the first college in Iriga City, the Mabini Memorial College was established by Atty. Felix O. Alfelor. A year later, Atty. Ortega would also establish the Saint Anthony College.
The establishment of these centers for higher learning, including the La Consolacion Academy further spurred the growth and development of the municipality as it attracts students from all over the region.
In 1960s, Iriga saw tremendous economic and social progress. On July 8, 1968, the city was converted into a city through Republic act 5261. However, it was only on September 3 of the same year that the City was formally organized and inaugurated as the third city of the Bikol Region by then President Ferdinand Marcos.