Prior to Spanish colonization, the settlements of the coastal plain of northwestern Luzon, from Bangui in Ilocos Norte to Namacpacan (present day Luna, La Union) were known collectively as the Ylokos or ‘inhabitants of the lowlands’. The people built their villages in small bays or coves called looc and traded with Chinese and Southeast Asian merchants.
In 1572, a Spanish expedition to the Ilocos, led by Juan de Salcedo, arrived in a place called Cabigbigaan. Here he founded Villa or Ciudad Fernandina in honor of King Ferdinand VI of Spain. It was better known by its indigenous name, Vigan, and it became the seat of Spanish rule for the whole Ilocos region.
The town of Vigan developed as a center of religious, commercial and administrative activities in Northern Luzon. In the 17th century, the bishop of Nueva Segovia established his residence in Vigan. By 1778, the town became the official seat of the diocese. Mestizo (half-caste) merchants made the town the center of trading in Northern Luzon, bringing goods like cloth, tobacco and rice to Manila. It was also the most important market place for cotton cloth and this brought prosperity to the traders. The remnants of the province’s former glory can still be seen today. The bishop's 18th century residence still stands in Vigan, together with many Spanish-era houses and churches like those in Bantay, Sta. Lucia and Sta. Maria.
In 1762, Ilocos Sur was the center of disturbances associated with the British invasion of Manila. Diego Silang, a Vigan native, deposed the Spanish Alcalde Mayor (governor) and took the reigns of power as Cabo Mayor and administered Ilocos independent of the Spanish colonial government. Silang tried to profess allegiance to the Spaniards, but later offered it to the British instead. He was assassinated in 1763 and was succeeded by his wife, Gabriela Silang in the fight for self-determination. Gabriela was later captured and executed by the Spaniards.
The province of Ilocos Sur was created on February 2, 1818, when a royal decree divided the old province of Ilocos into two. In 1846, Ilocos Sur lost much of its inland territories with the creation of Abra. In 1854 several towns were taken from Ilocos Sur to constitute the province of La Union.
Ilocos Sur was administered as part of the Filipino Republic in 1898. Tirad Pass, in Ilocos Sur, was the site of the heroic rear guard defense by Filipino Revolutionary soldiers to protect the retreat of General Emilio Aguinaldo from the advancing American troops during the Filipino-American War. A national shrine stands in the site of the battle, in what is now the town of Gregorio del Pilar, so named to memorialize the commanding general of the Filipino troops. The Americans reestablished civil rule in 1901.
During the Liberation, in 1945, Ilocos Sur was the staging ground of an assault on the mountains. Bessang Pass was a strategic access point used by Filipino and American soldiers to surround the forces of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita in their vain attempt to make a last stand in the Cordilleras.
People, Culture and the Arts
Ilocos Sur is at the cultural hub of the Ilocos region. The Ilocano language is generally spoken even as the Ilocanos use English and Pilipino in government, education and commerce. The Ilocanos are renowned for their industry and hardwork and are legendary for their thrift. A great number of industries abound alongside major occupations such as farming and fishing. These industries include blanket-weaving, basketry, shell-craft, broom-making, pottery-making, blacksmithing, and jewelry making.
The province takes great pride in the richness of its cultural heritage. Vigan is a living museum of old cobblestone streets and Spanish period tile-roof houses. The Kamestizoan district has been preserved and looks much as it appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries. White-washed brick and lime houses line both sides of the streets giving the visitor a glimpse of life in Ilocos two centuries ago. Various museums in and around Vigan also allow people to take a look at the heritage of Ilocos Sur. The Masingal Museum, a church convent turned into an exhibition hall, features rare earthenware and artifacts excavated in the area. The restored home of martyred Fr. Jose Burgos is a trove of Ilocano artifacts as well as Cordilleran ethnic arts. The Crisologo Museum shows off the memorabilia of Congressman Floro Crisologo.
The most colorful observances in Ilocos Sur center on Roman Catholic rites. At the Sta. Lucia Church, devotees flock to view the dark image of the Virgin of Sta. Lucia, attributed with miraculous powers. Barely three feet tall, the 18th century image is venerated all over region. During Holy Week or Semana Santa, processions are held using carrozas (carriages), to bear life-size images of saints along the processional routes.
Trade and Investments
Building on its tradition of hard work and industry, the people of Ilocos Sur are well prepared to take part in economic activities linked to the rapidly transforming and globalizing Philippine economy. Located at the northwest of Luzon, lying along the major trade routes of East Asia, it is strategically placed to access East Asian markets directly. The province covers a total of 2,579 square kilometers, parts of which are favorable for agricultural activities like rice, tobacco, rootcrops and vegetable production and others for livestock raising. The long coast opens the possibilities of exploiting the offshore marine resources. A 240,000 strong reliable and creative labor force can meet the requirements of all sorts of industries.
The province is easily reached by a good road system that links it to Manila. The Salomague seaport can provide sea-borne access to the province and facilitate the transshipment of goods and supplies. Almost all of Ilocos Sur’s municipalities are provided with electricity and there is adequate power supply for industries, while a water system supplies potable water to the vicinity of Vigan. Land and cellular phone lines are currently available in Vigan and will be extended to a majority of other municipalities after the completion of current telecommunications upgrades. More than 40 financial institutions can meet the banking requirements of the province.
Ilocos Sur is venturing from traditional agricultural crops, into higher value-added industries such as beef, pork, poultry and tomato processing. Investments in food processing are very welcome. The province’s Multi-Line Food Processing Complex will allow investors to enter into a contract growing and/or market agreement for poultry, beef, pork and vegetable processing.
The province is also strengthening its traditional craft industries, such as ceramics production and cotton fabric weaving. Investors can take advantage of established craft traditions and ample supplies of raw materials and adapt these to the requirements of handicrafts and ceramics production for the highly profitable export market. The province’s rich cultural heritage also allows more opportunities for cultural tourism. The provincial government is encouraging investments in the development of convention facilities, additional tourist accommodations, souvenir shops and specialty restaurants.
Development Initiative Highlights: