A GLIMPSE OF ORIENTAL MINDORO
By Florante D. Villarica
Mindoro is an island made up of two contiguous provinces of Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro. It is the seventh largest in the Philippines and has a total area of 20,244.51 sq. kilometers. 5,879.85 sq. km. correspond to the area covered by Oriental Mindoro. It lies southwest of Luzon and north of the main Visayan group of Islands.
Calapan City, the capital of Oriental Mindoro, is forty five kilometers south of Batangas and 130 kms from Manila.
The municipalities in the province are: Puerto Galera, San Teodoro, Baco, Naujan, Victoria, Socorro, Pola, Pinamalayan, Gloria, Bansud, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay and Bulalacao.
The province is bounded on the north by the Verde Island Passage, on the east by Tablas Strait and in the south by Semirara Island. The Western part of the Island is the province of Occidental Mindoro. Providing the natural dividing barrier between the two provinces is the vast jungle-capped mountain ranges that stretch from north to south with the majestic Mt. Halcon towering at 2,586 meters followed by Mt.Baco at 2,215 meters.
Oriental Mindoro has a total of 126 islands and islets, 38 of which are named. Numerous rivers and streams traverse the country sides. There are several inland bodies of water in the province. The most well-known is the Naujan Lake National Park, the fish habitat of the famous DABALISTIHIT (Dalag, Bangus, Banglis, Tilapia, and Hito). Another tributary that is gaining popularity is the Caluangan Lake in Calapan. It is actually the widest portion of Baruyan River, it is the home of the succulent baroy and silipis molusk.
The hinterland of Mindoro is settled by the aboriginal tribesmen collectively known as the Mangyans. These indigenous peoples according to anthropologists, are the earliest inhabitants of the Island dating back to the Pleistocene period. They are classified into seven ethnolinguistic groups: Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Buhid, Taubuid, Hanunuo and Bangon. The Hanunuos, who live in the southern mountains of Mansalay and Bulalacao, have retained the Ambahan (ancient script) and syllabary that bears Indo-Malay influence
Mindoreños are proud of the fact that there are three things that cannot be found anywhere else in the world except in Mindoro: the peace-loving indigenous Mangyans, the towering majestic Mt. Halcon, and the Tamaraw (bubalus mindorensis), a species of wild buffalo now facing extinction. These three gems of Mindoro compose an acronym based on the first syllables of their names – MAHALTA. The greeting MAHALTA is now used to describe everything that is good in Mindoro – Welcome, Goodbye and Godspeed.
HISTORY: The Island of “Mina de Oro”
Source: Provincial Planning and Development Office, Oriental Mindoro Briefing Kit 2008
Legend has it that long before the Spaniards discovered the Philippines,Mindoro was already among the islands that enchanted pilgrims from other countries. It was said that vast wealth was buried in the area, and mystic temples of gold and images of anitos bedecked the sacred grounds of this relatively unknown land. The Spaniards even named the island “Mina de Oro”, for they believed it had large deposits of gold.
The history of Mindoro dates back before the Spanish time. Records show that Chinese traders were known to be trading with Mindoro merchants. Trade relations with China where Mindoro was known as “Mai” started when traders from “Mai” brought valuable merchandise to Canton in 892 A.D. The geographic proximity of the island to China Sea had made possible the establishment of such relations with Chinese merchantmen long before the first Europeans came to the Philippines. Historians claimed that China-Mindoro relations must have been earlier than 892 A.D., the year when the first ship from Mindoro was recorded to have sailed for China.
Historians believed that the first inhabitants of Mindoro were the Indonesians who came to the island 8,000 to 3,000 years ago. After the Indonesians, the Malays came from Southeast Asia around200 B.C. The Malays were believed to have extensive cultural contact with India, China and Arabia long before they settled in Philippine Archipelago.
Mindoro was first discovered by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the first Spanish Governor General of the Philippines. When Legaspi conquered Cebu in 1565, he heard of a flourishing settlement in Luzon. The search for abundant food evidently lacking in most Visayas Islands prompted the exploration leading to the discovery of this island. Captain Martin de Goiti, accompanied by Juan de Salcedo,sailed for Luzon. On May 8, 1570, they anchored somewhere in Mindoro Coast, north of Panay. Salcedo and de Goiti had the chance to explore the western part of the island, particularly Ilin,Mamburao and Lubang. From Ilin, Salcedo sailed north of Mamburao where he found two Chinese vessels containing precious cargo of gold thread, cotton cloth, silk, gilded porcelain bowls and water jugs to be exchanged for gold with the natives of Mindoro. In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi also visited the island and brought the natives under the Spanish rule.
The evangelization of Mindoro started in 1572 through the work of the Augustinian friars. In 1578, the Franciscans took over and ten years later, the secular priests continued the work of spreading Christianity in Mindoro. The Jesuits erected seven “reducciones” in 1636. It was in these settlements that Mangyans from the inaccessible forests and hills were induced to settle down and be baptized as Christians.
The Province of Mindoro
Mindoro, which was formerly a part of the Province of Bonbon (Batangas) together with Marinduque, was made a separate province in the beginning of the seventeenth century. The island was divided into pueblos headed by a gobernadorcillo and composed of several barangays headed by a cabeza de barangay. Minolo (now Puerto Galera) initially became the provincial capital. Later on, the town of Baco became the provincial capital. Finally, the town of Calapan which was founded in 1679 as a result of conflict between the Recollect priests and the provincial governor became the capital of Mindoro.
The Spanish Government
In 1801, the Spanish authorities started a program of repopulating Mindoro but such attempts failed since the people were afraid to migrate to the province. Those who were eventually sent to Mindoro still returned to their homes after several years.
It was only in the second half of the 19th century that the island’s population started to increase due to demographic pressure in the main settlement centers. This resulted in the founding of new administrative units. The number of pueblos increased and education expanded. However, the number of teachers available was limited such that very few were able to read and write and speak Spanish. These people formed the small native upper class in the province.
In terms of trade and agriculture, change came very slowly to Mindoro. In 1870, only minor quantities of crops were shipped out to Batangas due to neglected agricultural development.
The coal mines between Bulalacao and Semirara Island were discovered in 1879. In 1898, the Spanish colonial government granted titles for nine coal mines but exploitation in large quantities never took place.
When the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1898, Mindoreños rallied to overthrow the Spanish Government in the province; although the uprising predominantly originated from outside the island as planned, organized and triggered off by the Caviteños and Batangueños. This was not for social changes but an anti-colonial war to gain independence. However, their victory was short-lived because the events that followed marked the beginning of the American Regime in the Philippines.
The America Regime
The victory of Admiral Dewey over the Spaniards in Manila on August 13, 1898 brought about general changes in Mindoro. A general primary school system with English as the language of instruction was established. Calapan Port was opened to inter-island commerce. The U.S. Army Signal Corps connecting Calapan and Batangas installed a series of military cables. Land telegraph for public use was also installed in Calapan and Naujan. With the construction of a provincial road along the east coast, the most important towns of the province were connected with one another. Free trade was established between the U.S.A. and the Philippines that brought about significant changes in the economy of Mindoro. Infrastructure and economic measures were adopted which induced massive wave of migration to the island.
Changes in the affairs of the local government also took effect in the island. Mindoro was made a sub-province of Marinduque on June 23, 1902 by virtue of Act No. 423 of the Philippine Commission. On November 10, 1902, Act No. 500 separated Mindoro from its mother province, thereby organizing its provincial government. The same Act provided further that “the province shall consist the main island and the smaller islands adjacent thereof, including the islands of Lubang, Caluya and Semirara”. Puerto Galera was made the seat of government, with Captain R.C. Offley as the first civil governor. In 1907, the province was allowed to elect its first delegate in the person of Don Mariano Adriatico. Mindoro was finally declared a regular province in 1921.
In the years following the invasion of Mindoro by the United States Forces, there had been a considerable increase in population due to the pouring into the highly underpopulated island of a massive influx of new settlers. For the first time, the development and cultivation of the island’s interior was made possible. The structure of society and the distribution of landholdings were likewise altered. The minority policy of the Americans was adopted, uplifting the Mangyans to the Filipino majority’s level of civilization through special educational regulation and separate settlements.
The Province of Oriental Mindoro
World War II wrought heavy damages, death and pain to the people of Mindoro. However, social conditions continued to exist without any definitive changes. After the war, reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure and economy took place which ended with the division of the island into two provinces of Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro on June 13, 1950. It was finally signed into law through Republic Act 505 by the President of the Philippines on November 15, 1950.
In the decades after the war, the island continued to become one of the preferred areas of new settlers coming from the overpopulated provinces in the Philippines in search of the new land. Apart from the hope to become landowners or to have better tenancy conditions, the guerrilla war (Huk rebellion) in Central Luzon was an important factor for migration. Under the settlement program of the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) which was founded on June 18, 1954, families from Central Luzon were settled in the Bongabong-Pinamalayan area. This project ended in 1956 after the settlement of 606 families (3,636 people) on 8,600 hectares of public land. Since then, new settlers have incessantly migrated to Mindoro until today.
Due to demographic changes, an administrative reorganization of the province of Oriental Mindoro was implemented. Thus, the rapidly expanding municipalities of Bongabong and Pinamalayan, as well as the large municipalities of Naujan and Pola were separated. Victoria (in 1953), Bansud (in 1959), Socorro (in 1963) and Gloria (in 1966) became independent municipalities.
In 1963, the citrus fruit industry in the provinces of Batangas and Laguna collapsed because of plant diseases. For this reason, many farmers migrated to Mindoro and settled down in Pola. Here, the “calamansi revolution”, as it was called, was initiated. Owing to the absence of competition on the other hand, the production of coconuts had retained the rank as Oriental Mindoro’s number one cash and export crop.
After the proclamation of Martial Law in 1972, the National Government and the World Bank implemented the agrarian development program in the province. Considerable funds were allocated to improve the provincial roads in Oriental Mindoro to connect the semi-isolated barrios to the main roads for easier and faster transport of agricultural products to the local market. The cultivation of subsistence crops (rice and corn) was given top priority. Mindoro became not only self-reliant in the production of rice, but it also emerged as a major rice exporter.
In spite of undeniable improvements, the integrated agrarian development program did not affect any structural changes in land distribution because only rice and corn lands were under land reform. These lands were very limited in extent. Coconut plantations and extensive pasture lands were exempted. Most of the Mindoro farmers still owned their parcels of land and in some areas, there were still land resources available.
In the years that followed, the social and economic situation of most of the population in Mindoro worsened. Debts and low income characterized the farm households’ situation. The increasing influx of migrants caused more and more serious land conflicts with the Mangyans, the original inhabitants of island. The operation of the New People’s Army (NPA) extended to Mindoro. Their main area of action up to present has been the hardly accessible interior of the island. In Oriental Mindoro, the “hotbed of insurgency” is the RoManBul [Roxas-Mansalay- Bulalacao] Triangle.
Immediately after Corazon C. Aquino assumed the presidency after the EDSA revolution in February 25, 1986, almost all national, provincial and municipal officials were replaced by OICs. Rolleo 'Bong' Ignacio being an Aquino supporter was appointed as undersecretary of the Department of Natural Resources. His cousin Benjamin Chippy Espiritu was appointed as OIC governor and all the mayors of the fourteen municipalities were likewise replaced. Only Mayor Renato U. Reyes of Bongabong remained in his position.
In 1993 the province experienced a series of natural calamities unprecedented in the history of the province. These successive strong typhoons Naning, Pepang and Rosing struck the northern, central and southern parts of Mindoro within a span of four months causing floods, destruction of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, inflicting enormous damage to crops and properties and loss of human lives. The province was still reeling from the devastation when a more violent catastrophe hit the province. In the early hours of November 15, 1994 which was the founding anniversary of both the provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, the whole populace was jolted by an earthquake which measured 7.2 in intensity on the Richter scale.
After two years, Oriental Mindoro had rebuilt the last of the 30 destroyed bridges and has more than sufficiently recovered from the losses brought by the series of calamities. Agriculture's productivity started to climb and business activities have become bullish. For this dramatic come-back, President Ramos during his visit on October 1, 1996 declared Oriental Mindoro as the top province in terms of calamity management and gave Rodolfo G. Valencia the 'Outstanding Governor in Calamity Management award.
The island provinces of Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan formed in early 1996 a new socio-economic aggrupation acronymed as MIMAROPA. This is the counterpart of the CALABARZON industrial growth area composed of the mainland provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Aurora, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon. Governor Valencia of Oriental Mindoro was elected as chairman of MIMAROPA.
It was on May 17, 2002, by virtue of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Executive Order No. 103, that Region IV was divided into Region IV-A and Region IV-B. Region IV-A shall be known as CALABARZON and Region IV-B shall be known as MIMAROPA. The executive order also transferred the Province of Aurora to Region III.
On January 30, 2003 at the University of Asia and the Pacific campus, the two Mindoreños, jointly worked hand in hand for the resolution of a major problem : the energy and power crisis . The 1st ever Power Summit was held with Governor Bartolome L. Marasigan, Sr. and Governor Jose T. Villarosa of Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro, joining efforts to formulate the Mindoro Island Power Development Plan. It was meant to thresh out vital issues on power development; to explore options for electrification; and to formulate viable solution to achieve long-term power generation.
In order to spur and accelerate economic growth in the Region Executive Order No. 682 was issued on 22 November 2007 designating Calapan City in the Province of oriental Mindoro as the MIMAROPA Regional Government Center. This is not only to adhere to the government policy to promote regional development but to push the MIMAROPA provinces to interconnect with one another to hasten each other's development and increase the Region's contribution to national wealth. Moreover, the establishment of government center in the region will foster efficient and effective delivery of government services.
To promote/generate investment in the areas of power and energy, ecotourism, agriculture towards poverty alleviation, the Oriental Mindoro Investment Summit was held on April 5-7, 2006 at the Filipiniana Resort Hotel, Calapan City in partnership with the University of Asia and the Pacific, the Offices of the Two Congressional Representatives, Provincial Government of Oriental Mindoro and Shell Malampaya Foundation as the Private Sector partner. There were pre-summit activities undertaken such as launching of ORMINVEST Website and Lakbay Mindoro 2006. Summit proper activities included agro-eco exhibit to showcase 14 municipalities and one city, presentation of UAP investment study for Oriental Mindoro and investor/business matching.
Oriental Mindoro is located in Region IV-B, otherwise known as the MIMAROPA Region. It lies 45 kilometers south of Batangas and 130 kilometers south of Manila.
It is bounded on the North by Verde Island Passage; Maestro del Campo Island and Tablas Strait on the East; Semirara Island on the South; and Occidental Mindoro on the West.
Warm and friendly, the Mindoreños welcome its visitors with a smile and hospitality indicative of the Filipino culture.
They enjoy a simple and pleasant life springing from the pastoral and idyllic atmosphere of the province. The province is largely rural, 70% of the population is engaged in agriculture and fishing with only 30% living in urban centers.
Just as gentle and simple are the Mangyans of Mindoro, these Mindoreños comprise seven ethno-linguistic groups.
Tagalog is widely spoken in the province. The people are equally conversant in English.
Oriental Mindoro is focusing on developing its agricultural potentials by encouraging investors to improve productivity and increase agro-industrial capacities. Fruit and vegetable production, tree farming, agriculture and feed milling are viable activities that can be readily absorbed by markets in CALABARZON and Metropolitan Manila. At the same time, the province is increasing its own capabilities to process these products by establishing agro-industrial zones within the province.
Light industries such as marble works, metal works, ceramics, handicrafts and houseware manufactures can thrive with the availability of raw materials within the province.
Tourism is a bright prospect. There are also opportunities in developing national parks like Lake Naujan, and Mount Halcon into eco-tourism resort areas.
Because of its strategic geographical location, Oriental Mindoro is also emerging as the Regional Center of MIMAROPA. The regional offices of the Register of Deeds, the Farmers Training Center of the Department of Agriculture, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
The Provincial Government effected the formulation of a comprehensive program, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway, which aims to accelerate the development of the Southern Islands of the Philippines by opening up an alternative trade and tourism gateway through the existing backdoor exit in Oriental Mindoro. The alternative route is now linking the mainland Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao, especially the growth corridors of MIMAROPA and CALABARZON.
The Nautical Highway is the fulfillment of the commitment of the President to provide more efficient connection and low-cost transport from Luzon to Mindanao. It covers 17 provinces namely Oriental Mindoro, Tagaytay, Marinduque, Romblon, Aklan, Antique, Iloilo, Capiz, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Lanao del Norte, Bohol, Guimaras, Cebu and Siquijor.
The Municipality of Roxas in Oriental Mindoro is now serving as gateway to other destinations such as San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Boracay, Romblon and Palawan. Pinamalayan is a jump-off point to Marinduque and Puerto Galera is the identified alternative route.
The road network of 919 kilometers of Manila-Iligan via Dapitan runs along the major islands of Luzon (Manila, Cavite, Batangas), Oriental Mindoro (Calapan., Roxas), Panay (Caticlan, Kalibo, Ivisan, Iloilo), Negros (Bacolod, Pulupundan, Kabangkalan, Bais, Dumaguete) and Mindanao (Dapitan, Dipolog, Ozamis, Iligan). Interconnections between the major islands are via RORO and fast crafts.
With the abovementioned potentials, Oriental Mindoro is now positioned to become a dynamic island economy, serving as the main link of the mainland Luzon to Southern Islands and the Luzon urban beltway.
Oriental Mindoro has a rugged terrain and an irregular coastline. Numerous rivers and streams traverse the province but none are navigable by large vessels.
There are two climate types: Type I and Type III. Type I is characterized by two pronounced seasons, dry and wet; and Type III has no pronounced season, relatively dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the year.