"International Tourist and Visitor’s Guide" to Biliran Island Province                                 Courtesy www.MayLaka.com

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2. Philippines History (The Country)

To better understand were Biliran Island fits in, let us give you first some basic and high level information about the Philippines in general.


2.1. Origins (25.000 BC – 1500 AD)

While the oldest human bones excavated have been dated to be up to 50.000 years old, the first known natives are considered to be the Negritos whom came from the Asian continent around 25000 BC, with much later an influx from Indonesia (up to about 5000 BC), at the time linked via a land bridge with the Philippines which eventually disappeared into the sea. Further settlers came from Indochina up to 500 BC, while between 500 BC and 1500 AD, it was the turn of Malayan settlers to make the Philippines their new home, including Indian influences coming from the Srivisaya (1) empire from Java and Sumatra . Also Chinese merchant ships mainly from the Sung dynasty (1000 – 1300 AD) started visiting, during their stop over’s exchanging Chinese goods against native wood and gold from the local mines.

(1)   the name Visayas is derived from Srivisaya : the Visayas region is a group of islands south of Luzon and north of Mindanao . Biliran is an island within that group


2.2. The Spanish years (1500 – 1900 AD)

The colonization

The arrival in 1521 of Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain , started 400 years of Spanish occupation when Magellan claimed the entire archipelago for the Spanish throne. Incidentally, his first landfall was recorded as being a small uninhabited island of the coast of Leyte (2). In a fight on Mactan island with local inhabitants led by Lapu Lapu a local Filipino chief, Magellan and his group of colonizers were eventually killed. However Magellan was soon followed by Ruy Lopez de Villabos, who renewed Spain ’s claim and named the archipelago “Filipinas” after King Philip II of Spain . The actual colonization of the Philippines started in 1565 when Migual Lopez de Legaspi landed with his fleet in Tagbiliran and erected the first Spanish fort. Progressively, the Spanish conquered the rest of the archipelago and with it started the propagation of Catholicism amongst the natives which till today is still the dominant religion.

(2)   Leyte : Biliran was originally part of Leyte but eventually became an independent province


The independence struggle

During the 400 years of Spanish colonization, various invasion attempts by the Dutch, the Portuguese and even the Chinese were successfully repelled by the Spanish. Filipinos increasingly also starting dreaming about their freedom, but it was only in 1872 that the first (small) revolt against the Spanish occupiers took place. Though this revolt, which took place in Cavite by about 200 Filipino soldiers in Spanish service, was quickly put down, it signalled the start of a relentless struggle for Filipino freedom. The spiritual founders of the independence movement (Del Pillar, Jaena, Luna and Rizal) inspired the Filipino population and eventually in 1896 the armed fight for independence started.


2.3. The USA years (1898 – 1941 AD)

Caused by a dispute over Cuba , a war broke out between Spain and the USA in 1898. During that war, the Spanish fleet seeking refuse in Manila bay was decisively defeated by the Americans with the Filipinos actively fighting along side the Americans to rid the Philippines of the Spanish in the hope to gain their independence. In a strange turn of events however, instead of giving the Filipinos their freedom, the USA struck a deal with the Spanish and paid them 20 million US dollars to become the new occupiers and with it the Filipinos had to start their battle for freedom once again, this time against their new occupiers, the Americans.


2.4. The Japanese years (1942 – 1944 AD)

As part of world war II, the ambitious Japanese troops landed in January 1942 and conquered the Philippines, defeating and forcing the Americans out, heralding the start of a brutal military rule which would last till 1944 when eventually US General Douglas Mc Arthur brought his troops back to the Philippines setting foot in Tacloban (3) and recapturing the Philippines from the 4 years of cruel Japanese military occupation.

(3)   Tacloban is a city, part of Leyte , were today a monument commemorates that landing. Tacloban is about 100 kilometres from Biliran and also the nearest airport with regular flights from Manila.   


2.5. Independence at last (4 July 1946)

Finally, shortly after the end of world war II, on 4 July 1946 the USA gave the Philippines its independence and Manuel Roxas became its first President.


2.6 . Geography, Climate, Fauna & Flora

Comprising a group of over 7100 islands, of which only slightly over 2000 are inhabited. With only 500 larger than 1 square kilometre and a couple of thousand not even named, the total landmass of the Philippines is close to 300.000 square kilometres. Over an area that stretches close to 1900 kilometres (north – south) by 1100 kilometres (east – west), with mountains reaching as high as 3000 meters.

The Philippines is also home to an impressive number of volcanoes (approx 40), almost half of which are considered active and causing regular eruptions, light tremors and occasional landslides.

The Philippines has a hot and humid tropical climateA dry season January to June, followed by a wet season July to December, with December to January being the coolest months and March to May the hottest. Though the average temperature is around 25 centigrade all year round, peaks of up to 40 centigrade have been recorded along the coast. April and May are considered the summer months (this is also the period that the schools take a 2 months break). Northern Visayas also lies in the typhoon belt coming from the Pacific on the way to the Chinese coast. The southwest Visayas is usually spared but can still be occasionally hit by a crosswind.

Travelling is fairly reliable, even during heavy downpours, all year round, with disruptions only caused by the occasional unpredictable typhoon, which happens mainly in August to September.

Over a 1000 known species of birds and animals, have been documented, many of which are unique to the Philippines .  Also over 10.000 species of trees and plants (including 900+ species of orchids, the Sampaguite having been chosen as the national flower of the Philippines ) have been documented.

Almost half of the land is covered with forest, and conservation efforts make desperate attempts to maintain that, though pressures for land from an increasing population now already exceeding 90 million, represent serious challenges. 


2.7. Government

The Philippines consists of 77 Provinces in 12 regions. A province usually consists of a provincial capital and municipalities which in turn are subdivided in smaller village communities called barangays (4). Each Barangay has an elected administrator (the barangay captain).

         (4)   the word barangay comes from the name of a vessel used by the Malay settlers.

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