history of catanduanes


There are several legends that explain the origin of the name of “Catanduanes.” One legend states that Catanduanes comes from the word tandu, a native click beetle that was once abundant throughout the island. “Katanduan” was the reference made of this island that means a place where tandu abound. When the Spaniards came, it was Hispanized to Catanduanes (notice the phonological similarity, except for the additional es in the Spanish version that was probably added to become a pluralist). Another story says that it comes from the word samdong, a tree that abounds this paradise island to which the people would call kasamdongan, meaning a place of samdong. Just like the former legend, the word was Hispanized. The phonological error traces to the Spaniards’ difficulty to pronounce certain words, particularly those ending in ng; hence, from kasamdongan and katandungan, it gradually metamorphosed to Catanduanes. Still some historians point that katandungan is a Malay word that means “a place of refuge in time of danger,” for indeed, this island has always been the refuge of mariners during stormy weather.




The general referral in the framing of the history of Catanduanes runs parallel to the story of Philippine evangelization. The best source of information on Catanduanes, ex libris canonicus, was lost or destroyed during one of the many incursions of the Moro pirates plying the Bicol Peninsula. In addition to the significant facts from church records, some pieces of information were handed down through word of mouth (be they facts, legends or tales). The important events formed into the significance matrix if only to document the shades of the past of this beautiful and happy island of Catanduanes.




In the early part of the 13th century, people believed to have come from Borneo, Malaysia and China first reached this island.  They were mostly traders and seafarers engaged in barter and trade within the region and in search of new lands for settlement. These groups of traders plus a few settlers gave a semblance of population activity during the later period of the century.

The uneventful migration pattern of trading and settlement during the succeeding centuries was characterized by relative sta­bility as commercial activities confined mostly within and among the neighboring islands. The historical gap between the 14th centuries and the middle of the 15th century illustrates the doldrums in the island’s early history given the long-drawn establishment of population centers.




During the early part of 1573, a group of Spanish conquistadors led by Juan de Salcedo set foot on the island, while in pursuit of pirates plying their trade along the coastal villages of southern Luzon. They came upon several tribes living in the thatched huts called cobo by the natives.  Hence, Isla de Cobos became the province’s first adopted name.

On April 23, 1576, the galleon Espiritu Santo, en route to Manila from Acapulco, Mexico was wrecked off the coast of Batalay, Bato in an off-season weather disturbance.  Among the survivors was Fray Diego de Herrera, a few Augus­tinian missionaries and some crewmembers. With this group came the first attempt at religious intrusion, which later became the major source of conflict with the natives that led to their violent deaths. Over the grave of Fray Herrera, the first Christian cross in Catanduanes was erected.

The actual evangelization of the island started some twenty years later, when the soldiers of Spain, after subjugating the Bicol mainland, came back with Franciscan missionaries. The missionaries armed with the cross and backed by the sword of the conquistadors evangelized the entire population without much resistance, after initially converting the southern tribes.

From 1600 to 1857, the colonizers were able to put up nine centers of local governments through the establishment of parishes: Caramoran (1601); Pandan (1650); Viga (1661); Panganiban (1663); Virac (1775); Bato (1830); and San Andres (1853). During the early fifties, Baras was created. Bagamanoc, a thriving municipality during the Spanish period was reduced to a mere barrio of Viga and later of Panganiban, during the American regime.  It formally became a municipality in 1950 followed by Gigmoto in 1951, and San Miguel in 1952.  It was during this period that the island saw its own development growth. Interlinking roads built and trading centers created.




The unrest brought about the clamor for more Filipino involvement in the affairs of the Spanish government and the emerging nationalism among the natives signaled the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution.  The province sent Catandunganon soldiers to join the cause. During this period, the island came under the command of two generals.  Abuque took responsibility for the northern towns and Brimbuela commanded the forces at Virac and the rest of the southern portion of the island.




Near the turn of the 19th century, the struggle for independence from the Spanish colonizers was effectively stifled by American interference. With superior arms and technology, the new conquerors found passive resistance among the natives. From one occupational regime, the country was placed under another.

From then, a civil government has replaced the military government.  Catanduanes was made a sub-province of Ambos.

Camarines with Don Felipe Usero as its first Lieuten­ant Governor.  It was during his term that the island was annexed to the province of Albay.  The American occupation ended in 1934, followed by the birth of the Philippine Commonwealth.




In the 19th century, the sub-province of Catanduanes was already governed by a permanent delegate commissioner from the province of Albay, appointed by the central government in Manila.

In the morning of December 1941, the Japanese came and invaded the island. The Japanese Imperial Forces overran all defenses in no time. The wrath and might of the new conquerors over the people were mildly suppressed and hardly felt due to vigorous interventions from the Japanese pseudo traders who came earlier. Thus the people of Catanduanes suffered relatively less oppression during the occupation.

On February 8, 1945, upon instructions from the guerilla’s Central Movement, the Island’s own resistance group began offensive maneuvers.  Two weeks later, the island was totally liberated. Two months after the liberation of the country, Major Thomas Sames of the Philippine Civil Authority Unit (PCAU) came and appointed civilian officials who served until the resumption of Commonwealth Government.




Effective on October 26, 1945 Catanduanes became an independent province through the passage of House Bill No. 301 and Commonwealth Act No. 687 authored by then Representative Fran­cisco Perfecto.  Remigio Socito, the last Lieutenant Governor of Catanduanes was appointed as the first Provincial Governor. When elections held in 1947, Alfonso V. Usero became the first elected  Governor.

The People Power Revolution in February 1986 ushered in new leadership. Former Ambassador Leandro I. Verceles Sr. was appointed Governor of the province. In 1988, Governor Leandro I. Verceles Sr. ran for Governor and won the election.  His term ended in 1992 when lost to Governor Rosalie A. Estacio. After Governor Estacio, Governor Severo C. Alcantara became the governor of the province in 1995. Gov. Alcantara did not run for re-election due to failing health. In 1998 Governor Hector S. Sanchez won the election. Governor Sanchez run for re-election but lost to Governor Leandro B. Verceles Jr who became governor for two successive terms. In 2007 synchronized elections, Gov. Verceles run again for his third and last term for governor but lost to Governor Joseph C. Cua, who is now the incumbent governor.




Several legends try to explain the origin of the name “Catanduanes”. One legend states that Catanduanes came from the word “tandu”, a native click bettle that was abundant throughout the island. “Katanduan” then was the reference made of this island. When the Spaniards came, it was corrupted from katanduan to Catanduanes.

Another legend says that the name actually originated from the word “samdong”, a tree that once abounded in the island, which people consequently called “kasamdongan”, meaning a place of many “samdong”. The word was also hispanized, perhaps because of the difficulty of the Spaniards in pronouncing words ending in “ng”. From “kasamdongan”, it became “katandungan”, which gradually metamorphosed to Catanduanes.