Masbate is one of the oldest settlements in the Philippines. Archaeological records show that Batungan (in Mandaon) and Bagumbayan (in Palanas) were major settlement sites during the Bronze Age (4000-1000 BC). The development of bronze metallurgy in South-East Asia coincided with an increasingly hierarchical society, firmly based on agricultural village settlements. It was these crucial changes, the introduction of new technologies, new social forms, and a new economic base, which culminated in the foundation of the proto-urban settlements of the 1st millennium AD.1 A fine stone chisel from Mount Batungan is dated to the twelfth century BC. Of the age of Philippine neoliths it is only possible to say that polished stone adzes from Masbate have been dated from 2710 BC to AD 179.2
Kalanay (in Aroroy) was an island site from 1000 BC-AD 850 (early metal).1 Masbate burial jars and a small pottery skull box found in caves dated to the beginning of the Christian era. Exquisite goldwork represents an old Philippine wealth in both an economic and an artistic sense: all sorts of wrought or molded ornaments and jewelry demonstrate both the availability of the raw material and the skill of the artisan – finger rings, earrings, head-bands, pendants and pectoral ornaments, heavy chains with interlocking serrated edges, light filigree work, delicate necklaces of fine twisted wires, 12-millimeter beads composed of 184 separate granules soldered together, thin hammered sheets for decorating grosser objects like earplugs or the visages of corpses, and a charming little snail of unknown use. Productive mines in Benguet, Butuan, Masbate, and Paracale were in operation and gold being panned in riverbeds all over the archipelago when the Spaniards arrived.2
During the Spanish regime, San Jacinto in Ticao Island was an anchorage point for the Manila-Acapulco-Manila galleons. The course as described by the standard pilot’s guide of Cabrera Bueno was substantially that followed by nearly all the galleons. The largest variations were in the height at which the eastward crossing was made and in the course laid off the coast of the Californias.
The successive stages were as follows: from Cavite on Manila Bay out through one of the bocas, generally between Mariveles and Corregidor; thence SSW, keeping well clear of Fortun to the left and high Ambil to the right; past Cape Santiago on the Luzon Coast, and E between Mindoro and Maricaban; by the Punta de Escarceo, or “Tide Rip Point,” where currents run strong, and under Isla Verde, outside Subaang Bay, within which there was a fair anchorage in case of need; SE past the islets of Baco, with a good channel off Calapan; SE by E down the Mindoro coast by Punta Gorda de Pola; E by SE between the Tres Reyes and the Dos Hermanas; thence by the wide bocanabetween Marinduque and Banton, out onto the tablazo, or open water, above Sibuyan; SE by E between Burias and Masbate; turning ENE around the Punta de San Miguel and the Punta del Diablo; coasting around the east side of Ticao to the anchorage at San Jacinto; clearing from thence and working out seaward with the monsoon; E right leagues, with the dangerous Naranjos to starboard and the shoal of Calantas to port; NE by N and then ENE seven leagues around Capul; NE with the Sorsogon coast to port and San Bernardino to starboard and NE by E seven leagues to the Embocadero, with San Bernardino now to port and the island of Biri to starboard. At this point, according to Cabrera, “the rapid currents require skillful pilot work.” The galleon was now in the open sea.3
From the chronicles of the early years of Spanish colonization, a relacion (report) about Masbate first appeared in Fray Martin de Rada’s letter dated July 1569 to the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), Marquis de Falces. He mentioned that in a place called Masbat there were plenty of gold mines. Other later documents such as Artieda’sRelacion (1573) and Andres de Mirandaola’s letter (1574) refer to a place called Masbat or Masbad. It wasn’t until 1582 that Miguel de Loarca wrote about a place called Masbate.
In the same year that the Augustinian Fray de Rada wrote about Masbat’s gold mines, his fellow Augustinian Fray Alonzo Jimenez landed in Burias and baptized its chieftain Buaya. This baptism is said to be the very first baptism in Luzon. Fray Jimenez also built a church in Burias before he sailed on to Ibalon in 1570. By 1575, Masbate had become a priority in the Augustinian Missionary Memoranda. Fray Francisco de Ortega reported on the pillaging activities of a pirate named Caxabic in the islands of Masbate and Burias. By 1600, the Spaniards had developed Mobo as a galleon shipyard and San Jacinto as a strategic port. In 1605, Masbate was officially an Augustinian Mission and its first prior was Fray Francisco Guerrero. Masbate had about 250 tributes and 1000 Christian natives. In 1609, Fray Pedro de Arce, bishop-elect of Nueva Caceres, ceded the spiritual administration of Masbate to the Mitra (secular clergy). On May 28, 1682, bishop-elect Dominican Fray Andres Gonzales petitioned the King of Spain to revert some curacies of Nueva Caceres to the charge of religious communities. The petition was approved in 1685 and by 1687, the first Augustinian Recollect missionaries had sailed for the port of San Jacinto to begin the Recollect Mission in Masbate. In 1700, Fray Ildefonso de la Concepcion established the settlement of Uson as a visita (barrio) of Mobo. The town of Masbate was established in 1791 by Fray Manuel delaVirgendel Tremedal.4
The jurisdiction of Nueva Caceres embraced the entire provinces of Camarines and Albay, as far as and including the islands of Ticao, Masbate, Burias, and Catanduanes; the province of Tayabas, as far as and including Lucban; and in the opposite coast of Maobàn, to Binangonan, Polo, Baler, and Casiguran. At one time, it was governed by his very illustrious Lordship Doctor Don Ysidoro de Arevalo, who was the bishop-elect. Records show that he enjoyed a yearly stipend of 4,000 pesos of common gold, in conformance with a royal decree.
The administration of Masbate was given back to the Mitra after the Recollects left Masbate in 1794. All in all, over 60 Recollect missionaries were assigned in Masbate for a period of more than 100 years.
Masbate became a separate politico-military command province only in 1846. In 1864, it was declared a separate province from Albay. After a devastating typhoon in 1908, Masbate was annexed to the province of Sorsogon. It finally gained status as a separate province on December 15, 1920 by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 2934.
Administrative composition and total population.
The Province of Masbate has one (1) component city and twenty (20) municipalities. It has a total population of 892,393 in 2015.