Nueva Ecija was formed as a military district of the province of Pampanga at the beginning of the 18th Century after the Augustinian missionaries had reduced some Ilongots into Christian communities. These communities formed the nucleus of the towns of Bongabon, Pantabangan and Carranglan. It is said that the comandancia was so named by the Governor General after his hometown of Ecija in southern Spain.
From being a military outpost, Nueva Ecija was transformed into a regular province a century later. In 1818, the province stretched over huge areas of Central Luzon and much of the Pacific coast from Palanan down to present day Infanta. Despite its great size, the province was very sparsely populated. However, during the 19th Century, Ilocano migrants from Pangasinan and Ilocos and Tagalog settlers from Bulacan moved into the sparsely settled province to turn what once was wilderness into some of the most productive agricultural lands in the country.
In 1848, several towns of Pampanga (Aliaga, Cabiao, Gapan, San Antonio and San Isidro) were added to the province of Nueva Ecija. In 1853, the district of Principe was created from out of the towns of Baler and Casiguran along the Pacific coast. In 1856, the town of Palanan and neighboring regions were ceded to the province of Isabela. Infanta (Binangonan de Lampon) and Polillo were constituted into a separate district in 1858, reducing the province to approximately to its present size.
Nueva Ecija was one of the first provinces where the Revolution of 1896 broke out. In 1898, the province came under Revolutionary control. Cabanatuan became the seat of the Revolutionary government in May 1899. In June of that year, General Antonio Luna was assassinated in Cabanatuan in one of the most tragic episodes of the Revolutionary War.
In World War II, Cabanatuan was the site of an infamous camp for American prisoners of war run by the Japanese Imperial Army. In January 1945, Filipino guerrillas liberated the American captives of the camp. A memorial stands at the site in recognition of the bravery and fortitude of American and Filipino fighters in resisting the Japanese.
People, Culture and the Arts
Nueva Ecija was settled in the last century by thousands of Tagalogs and Ilocanos from adjoining provinces such as Pangasinan, Ilocos and Bulacan. Today’s Novo Ecijanos are descendants of these settlers and many still hold on to folk traditions that trace their ancestry to other provinces. About 60 percent of the people speak Tagalog as their first language. Much of the remainder are Ilocano speakers and they are concentrated in the towns of the north. There are small communities of Ilongots along the Caraballo and Sierr Madre Range as well as Agtas or Negritos.
Agriculture is the main industry of the people because of its naturally rich soil. Lowland crops such as rice, corn, onions, vegetables, and sugarcane are produced in great quantities and Nueva Ecija is widely referred to as the Rice Bowl of the country. Agriculture has played a vital role in molding the culture of the people. The typical Novo Ecijano family is tightly knit and is the basic working unit on the farm.
The May and June Festivals in Nueva Ecija are important Christian observances that are also occasions to ask for favors in ensuring a good harvest. In May, the Novo Ecijanos celebrate the feast of the patron of farmers, San Isidro. Food is served to overflowing in the belief that generosity results in bounty.
In barangay Biblicat, Aliaga, there is a unique practice among the devotees of Saint John the Baptist. They cover their bodies with mud and dry leaves and vines to denote the humble origins of the saint. Known as the taong-putik or the mud people, they ask alms and candles from the people and offering them at the Church during the special mass celebrated at 7:00 in the morning. They believe that such a practice will cure sickness and bring a bounty in the harvest.
Trade and Investments
Nueva Ecija is sowing the seeds of development based on its key strength as the hub of agricultural research and production in the country. Nueva Ecija is the largest of six provinces in Central Luzon covering an area of 5, 284 square kilometers and is richly endowed with some the most productive agricultural lands in the country. The mountains that seal the province in the north and the east are covered with forests that comprise almost 25 percent of the province’s land area. These mountains also hold deposits of copper, manganese, gold, marble, and while clay. With a population of 1.5 million (1995), the province provides a large pool of highly trained, innovative and hardworking workforce that has been instrumental in making the province the country’s agricultural trail blazer.
The province is linked to the main highway system of Luzon, the Maharlika Highway, through a system of roads that interconnect the various municipalities. This road system makes Nueva Ecija easily accessible from all from any of the surrounding provinces and from Manila as well. Communications facilities are provided by major telephone companies and telegram service providers. The province is home to one of the largest hydro-electric dams, the Pantabangan Dam, and is connected to the Luzon Electric Grid. These facilities provide ample power supplies and irrigation and potable water to all the towns of the province. Commercial, rural and government banking institutions operate within the province and extend financing facilities for business and agriculture.
The province has been the traditional agricultural top performer and its strategy for development is grounded on this advantage. Nueva Ecija is taking the initiative to greatly improve agricultural production and at the same time develop a vibrant agro-processing sector. There are two anchors on which this initiative is centered: the Munoz agro-science development area and the Palayan center for strategic agro-processing activities. Munoz is home to the Central Luzon State University and the center of rice and agricultural technology development in the country. The Philippine Carabao Center, the Bureau of Post Harvest Research and Extension and the Philippine Rice Research Institute lie nearby. The concentration of these research centers have given the province an important tool in increasing crop yields and developing new technologies for use in agriculture. The national government is encouraging more agricultural research institutions to bring their centers to the area. On the other hand, the Palayan City Economic Zone is encouraging investments in food processing and is providing potential investors the facilities and amenities to support their activities.
Besides agriculture, there are other markedly vibrant economic potentials to Nueva Ecija. The large population and its location along the main highway of Luzon makes it an important trade and commercial center. Cabanatuan City boasts of modern establishments serving a large consumer market that can absorb further commercial development. The province is also building a reputation as a center for handicrafts, furniture, garments and paper manufacture that locate in the province to take advantage of the availability of raw materials and these industries continue to attract more investors.