Ancient burial jars unearthed in Albay indicate early settlement and flourishing trade relations between the people of the province and China. It is believed that Albay was settled more than 2,000 years ago. Indeed, the Spaniards came across flourishing communities in the region when they first landed in the area in the mid-16th century.
In 1569, Luis Enrique de Guzman, a member of an expedition led by Maestro de Campo Mateo de Saz and Captain Martin de Goiti, led a group who crossed from Burias and Ticao islands and landed on a coastal settlement called Ibalon in what is presently the province of Sorsogon. From this point another expedition was sent to explore the interior and founded the town of Camalig. In 1573, Juan de Salcedo penetrated the Bicol Peninsula from the north as far south as Libon and established the settlement of Santiago de Libon.
The entire Bicol peninsula was organized as one province with two divisions, Camarines in the northwest, and Ibalon in the southeast. In 1636, the two partidos were separated, and Ibalon became a separate province with Sorsogon as capital. In the 17th the Moro slave raiders ravaged the coastal areas of the province of Albay. As a result of the continued raids, the capital was moved to the town of Albay on the northeastern coast. In 1663, the province was renamed Albay. Slave raiders continued to threaten the settlements of Albay until the early 19th century.
Mayon Volcano, in one of its most violent eruptions, destroyed five towns surrounding its base in 1814. This eruption forced the town of Cagsaua to relocate to its present site and was renamed Legaspi. In the 19th century, the increase in demand for abaca proved an impetus for the development of a cash crop industry in Albay. By 1872, Legaspi was opened to foreign trade and became the premiere port from where abaca fiber, known internationally as Manila hemp, was exported.
The province of Albay lost the Caramoan Peninsula and the towns of Lagonoy, Caramoan and Sagnay to Camarines Sur and gained the towns of the Iraya district (Camalig, Guinobatan, Maoraro, Ligas, Oas, Polangui, Libon, Donsol and Quipia) in 1846. In the same year, the islands of Masbate, Ticao and Burias were separated from Albay and established as a separate comandancia. In 1894, Sorsogon was taken out of Albay and established as a separate province. Finally, in 1945, Catanduanes was established as a separate province from Albay, reducing the province to its present size.
People, Culture and the Arts
Almost all the people of Albay are Bicolanos and speak Bicol, the local language. However, the language varies greatly among the different municipalities and sometimes even among barangays of the province. The vocabulary and the terminology is sometimes puzzling to the visitor but the Bicol dialect spoken in Legaspi is generally understood by a majority of the people in Albay. Filipino and English are also widely spoken and understood.
Agriculture accounts for the largest share in the total production and source of employment. Products such as coconuts, rice, abaca and corn are Albay’s major crops. Abaca was once the largest export of the province and existing plantations supply the needs of a handicraft industry that manufactures an assortment of wares from hemp. Legaspi is noted for the manufacture of hemp slippers that are prized for their softness. Sinamay and pinolpog, fabrics woven from abaca hemp, are also important home industries of the Albaynons. Mats made from pandan are also made in the province. In the town of Tiwi, earthen water jars are still manufactured using old pottery techniques like a simple wheel and open firing. In the town of Tabaco, blacksmithing has been an established art since olden times. Bolos and knives manufactured in the town are highly esteemed for their good tempering and balance. Making products from pili nuts is also a popular industry through out the province.
Bicolano cuisine is markedly distinct from other Philippine regional cuisines because of the general use of coconut milk, or gata and spiced with siling labuyo, a variety of chili found in the Philippines that is known to be very hot. The Bicolano dish known as 'bicol express' is perhaps the most challenging specialty, being made almost exclusively from green chili peppers and coconut milk. Other known Bicolano dishes include pinangat, or fish or shrimp wrapped in gabi (yam) leaves and cooked in coconut milk, laing, or finely chopped gabi leaves and stalks boiled into a stew with ginger, chili and coconut milk and ginataang langka or young jackfruit stewed with bagoong (shrimp paste) in coconut milk.
The province of Albay is also rich in history and a number of museums and living relics exist to proclaim the proud past. The old Camalig Church, which was hewn from volcanic rock, holds the relics of ancient burial jars, beadwork and Chinese porcelains excavated from the Hoyop-hoyopan Caves.
Daraga Church, built in 1773 is a richly decorated baroque edifice that is highly esteemed by art experts. Cut also from lava blocks, the massive church stands on a hill overlooking the town. Near Daraga are the ruins of Cagsaua Church, which was destroyed in the eruption of 1814.
Trade and Investments
Sitting in the shadow of its most magnificent icon—Mayon Volcano, Albay beckons to investors with its great bounty and favorable economic climate. Three-fourths of the land area is devoted to agriculture and the fertile volcanic soil supports rice, corn, coconut, sugar and abaca farms. Albay is also rich in metallic mineral resources like gold, copper, iron and mercury and non-metallic deposits like coal, marble, ceramic clay, perlite, silica, guano and phosphates. Surrounding the coasts of the province are very rich fishing grounds such as Albay and Lagonoy Gulfs, Panganiran and San Miguel Bays that contain a variety of fish species like round scad, tuna, siganid, big-eye scad, anchovy and mackerel. With a population of a little more than 1 million, and nearly half of which are of working age, the province of Albay has a very large pool of well-educated and highly-skilled labor from which to draw its labor needs.
Albay lies along the main road system of the Philippines, the Maharlika Highway. This highway proceeds further to connect Luzon to the Visayan Islands of Samar and Leyte and thence to Mindanao. Legaspi City is also the southernmost stop of the Philippine National Railroad, which regularly brings in passengers and cargo. Legaspi City has a trunkline airport that links the province to Manila and Cebu while the international port of Tabaco, the only international port on the eastern coast of Luzon and can provide safe and efficient cargo handling. Apart from Tabaco, Legaspi also has a national port and there are six other municipal ports, and six cargo ports in various points of the coast. Efficient telecommunications servers link the province with the rest of the world while water is amply distributed by local water districts. The two geothermal plants in the province, the Tiwi and Bacon-Manito, have a combined capacity of 605 megawatts and supply energy to the Luzon power grid.
Albay has traditionally drawn industries to its core because of its unique situation as the endpoint or starting point of transportation facilities and the main resource base of its industries. The province is sustaining its agro-industrial development by providing the business climate, which will encourage more investments. There are several economic initiatives that involve the province in part or as a whole. The Bicol Regional Agri-Industrial Center is rising in Homapon, Legaspi City that is set to provide the infrastructure support to labor-intensive industries. Among the recommended business ventures in the center are rope, cordage and twine manufacture, paper and pulp industries, sweet potato, essential oil, coconut by-products, fish and meat processing, ceramics, perlite, marble, gypsum and silica processing. The province of Albay is also taking part in the LIND (Legaspi, Iriga, Naga, Daet) Growth Corridor. This intiative seeks to coordinate regional development and identify development poles, around which focused emphasis shall be undertaken. While Legaspi has been the main focus of development, with the expected influx of investments, the need to decongest the city has given rise to another special growth area. Maglilipot Eco Zone is being developed as an alternative to Legaspi for agro-industrial ventures.
Outside the main corridor of development, there are opportunities in venturing into different industries. Food processing, gifts and house ware manufacture, metal craft, weaving, woodcraft, ceramics and paper manufacture are established industries that welcome additional players. Mining is also promising especially since the province is blessed with large, commercially extractable mineral deposits.
Aside from industrial development, the province has also given priority to developing tourism in the province. While Mayon Volcano is undoubtedly a regular tourist drawer, the province is earnestly promoting other sites, such as offshore coral reefs, white sand beaches and isolated islands. Tourist dependent endeavors such as hotels and accommodations, restaurants and resorts and transportation and travel agencies are encouraged.
Development Initiative Highlights: