Tacloban City was formerly known as Kankabatok, named after the first settler Kabatok who occupied the area around the present Sto. Niño Church. Other inhabitants who came later were Gumoda, Haranging and Huraw who settled then in nearby areas. The Kanhuraw Hill, where the City Hall is presently situated, was formerly Huraw’s domain. The whole settlement area was called Kankabatok, meaning Kabatok’s property.
Kankabatok was formerly under the political administration of Palo but under the parochial jurisdiction of Basey, Samar. The Augustinian Mission discovered Kankabatok in 1770 and subsequently, the Franciscans came later in 1813. During this period, Kankabatok was renamed “Tarakluban” which means the place where the inhabitants use the “Taklub”, a bamboo contraption, to catch crabs, shrimps and fish. Later, the name of the place evolved from “Tarakluban” to its present name, Tacloban.
Although no official records show, it is commonly believed that Tacloban was officially proclaimed a municipality in 1770, after the provinces in Leyte and Samar were separated in 1768. Since then, Tacloban became a trading point between the two provinces because of its strategic location. On February 26, 1830, Tacloban became the capital of Leyte because of the ideal location of its port which is well sheltered and had adequate facilities.
Before and During the War
Colonel Murray arrived in Tacloban in 1901 and became the first Military Governor of Leyte. He opened the Tacloban port to world commerce, especially for copra and abaca, which were exported in large quantities. Before World War II, Tacloban was the center of commerce, education, social and cultural activities in Leyte. The educational institutions were: Leyte Normal School, now the Leyte Normal University; Leyte High School now known as the Leyte National High School; Leyte Trade School which today is the Eastern Visayas State University; Holy Infant Academy, which is now Holy Infant College and the Tacloban Catholic Institute.
On May 25, 1942, Japanese Forces landed in Tacloban and started a three-year Japanese occupation of Leyte. The Japanese forces fortified Tacloban, improved its airfield and established San Pedro Bay as a port of call and entry for the Japanese Imperial Naval Forces. During the Japanese occupation, many guerilla forces were organized and the most famous was the group of Colonel Ruperto Kangleon.
As the people of Tacloban and those from other municipalities in Leyte and Samar fought for their freedom, there was always a complement of brave men and women for the cause, and together, as they made alliances with the movement, helping in any way they could, they were aware that the day will come when tyranny will be vanquished by the Allied Forces.
On October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur and his troops landed on the Tacloban-Palo beaches (White Beach and Red Beach) and the neighboring town of Dulag (Blue Beach) and liberated Leyte from the Japanese Forces. October 23, 1944, General MacArthur, accompanied by President Sergio Osmeña, made Tacloban the temporary seat and temporary capital of the Commonwealth Government until final liberation of the country. Famous landmarks erected during the liberation were the Joseph Price Mansion, where General MacArthur set up his headquarters, and the Redoña Residence. It was during this period that the Provincial Government of Leyte and the Municipal Government of Tacloban were re-established. Atty. Paulo Jaro was the Liberation Mayor of Tacloban and Mr. Epifanio Aguirre became the first mayor upon the inauguration of the Philippine Republic.
From a Municipality to a Component City
The Municipality of Tacloban was now a booming locality as it was re-established as a center of trade and industry owing to its strategic location. Traders and businessmen opened their respective businesses in the municipality as Tacloban evolved to become a major economic hub in the region.
On June 20, 1952, Tacloban was proclaimed a chartered city by virtue of Republic Act No. 760 which took effect on June 12, 1953. The charter was signed by President Elpidio Quirino and witnessed by then incumbent Mayor, Ildefonso Cinco, who by operation of law, became the first City Mayor.
On June 30, 1954, on the Feast Day of Sr. Sto. Niño, the Patron Saint of Tacloban, Speaker of the House of Representatives Jose P. Laurel did the honor of laying the cornerstone for the Tacloban City Hall at Kanhuraw Hill.
As a new city, Tacloban attracted businessmen looking for sound investment prospects while people from neighboring towns slowly began to look for opportunities and laid roots in the city.
Artemio E. Mate, the second City Mayor of Tacloban City, succeeded Hon. Ildefonso Cinco, who became Governor of the Province of Leyte. The decade of the 60’s ushered economic and physical developments in the city under the administration of President Ferdinand E. Marcos with his First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, who hails from Tolosa, Leyte.
During the late 60’s and the early 70’s, Tacloban City was gradually changing from a less obvious to a more prominent city. Government and cultural institutions were established such as the National Maritime Polytechnic, UP Tacloban, Sto. Niño Shrine and the People’s Center and Library among others. This period saw the construction of the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines linking the islands of Leyte and Samar. Simultaneously, the construction of the Maharlika Highway, the improvement of the DZR Airport and the Tacloban Sea Port and many other infrastructure projects promoted Tacloban City to the business sector and to national and foreign investors.
On September 24, 1972, Tacloban became a part of the Integrated Reorganization Plan by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1 of the New Society under Proclamation 1081 declaring Martial Law in the Philippines. During the time, Mayor Filomeno Arteche was the incumbent Mayor.
On May 12, 1976, President Marcos appointed Obdulia R. Cinco as Mayor of Tacloban City. The latter returned to the seat when she won in the local elections on January 30, 1980 becoming the first elected lady Mayor of Tacloban City.
Aftermath of the EDSA Revolution
In 1986, after Corazon Aquino was placed into the presidency by virtue of the EDSA Revolution, Mayor Cinco was replaced by Emmanuel K. Veloso who stayed until the elections of 1988. This time, another Mate was elected as Mayor. The younger brother of former Mayor and Congressman Artemio E. Mate, Uldarico E. Mate, won the elections and became the first elected Mayor after the EDSA Revolution.
Uldarico E. Mate was given a mandate of three terms as Mayor of Tacloban City. During his term, Tacloban City evolved and progressed, lifting its economic, social and infrastructure sectors as Tacloban was categorized as a First Class City. The business sector’s confidence in the economic standing of the city boosted its prospects and local and international entrepreneurs came in to put up businesses in the city.
In the mid 90’s, Tacloban City worked out for the acquisition of 237 hectares of land for its Economic Zone, which was finally realized and approved by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1210 on April 23, 1998. The Eastern Visayas Agro-Industrial Growth Center (EVRGC) was then officially registered as an Eco-Zone with the City Government of Tacloban as the developer/operator.
On June 30, 1998, Alfredto T. Romualdez succeeded Uldarico Mate as the Mayor of Tacloban City. June 12, 2003, was a grand day for Tacloban City as it celebrated its Golden Anniversary as a charted city with fitting rites and activities with Mayor Alfredo T. Romualdez at its helm. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Tacloban’s cityhood showed the long trail of significant activities leading to the present status of Tacloban by which economic, infrastructural and social gains were achieved.
Mayor Alfredo T. Romualdez was given a three term mandate by the people of Tacloban. Before ending his term on June 30, 2007, his son, Alfred S. Romualdez, won in the mayoralty race during the May, 2007 election. It is during Mayor Alfred’s term that the vision to make Tacloban a Highly Urbanized City (HUC) was realized.
A Highly Urbanized City
Treading in the path of the former Mayor Alfredo Romualdez, the incumbent, Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez, prepared Tacloban City for its conversion from a component city to a highly urbanized city. On October 15, 2008, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared Tacloban a Highly Urbanized City by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1637 which was ratified by a unanimous Yes vote on December 18, 2008, officially establishing Tacloban as a highly urbanized city.
Tacloban City has become independent from the province of Leyte by virtue of this historical ascend. From its modest beginnings, Tacloban City became the premier city of Eastern Visayas, gateway of the region, and the center of commerce, trade and industry, education and communication and technology.
The Devastation of the City
On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan, was forecasted to make landfall in the Philippines. It was then locally named Yolanda as it entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). In a very audacious fate, Tacloban City lay in its path and its people were unaware of what was to come with a storm that was categorized as a super typhoon. As super typhoon Yolanda made landfall in the city at around 5 AM, its recorded strength by international weather forecasters hit 378 kph. It was considered the world’s strongest recorded typhoon. In the events that followed, the howling winds, which lasted about 5 hours, brought total devastation to the city.
The onslaught of Yolanda was more destructive as storm surges went as high as 25 to 35 feet along shorelines and went inwards toward the downtown area and most barangays in the low lying areas, destroying everything along its path. The destruction was unimaginable as it almost wiped out the entire city. It resulted in deaths of more than 2 thousand individuals with a thousand more missing.
This was the most horrific situation that the city faced. The odds of the government becoming helpless without any choice for immediate recovery were imminent. Fortunately, support poured in from local and international organizations and the national government. In a matter of months, the city started to pick up the pieces and was on its way towards recovery and rehabilitation. The resiliency of its people was tested to the core and the Taclobanon’s showed its inner strength and determination to stand up and to never allow obstacles to deter its resolve to have a new life in a place they called home.
Being the first HUC of Region VIII, with economic opportunities for its people and the nearby municipalities, Tacloban City eventually hastened the pace of recovery despite the odds. Tacloban City achieved more in a conspicuous state and continued to grow in terms of its physical, economic and social aspect while maintaining a high level of service to its people with governance steeped in practicality, humanity and equitability.
As growth was accompanied by pain, there was the gain to look forward to which made the process more fulfilling. Tacloban will no longer be the same. There is no looking back – only with a forward stance towards a bright future for the city and its people.