Negritos and Mangyans were believed to have been the first inhabitants of the islands. Miguel de Loarca visited the islands in 1582. It was placed under the jurisdiction of the province of Ogton and in 1716, when the jurisidiction of Pan-ay was created, Romblon was transferred to its administration.
In 1635, Recollect missionaries arrived in the islands to establish Catholic missions and thriving settlements. Persistent Moro raids, however, destroyed many towns and brought their residents into slavery. This forced many towns to construct protective fortresses and massive churches, as well as build watchtowers to warn of coming raiders. In 1753, a large fleet of Moro slave-raiding ships appeared in Romblon Bay and attacked the town. The attack was repulsed because of the strong fort system built by the residents.
Romblon was organized as a politico-military comandancia in 1853. In 1901, it was established as a separate province, but was brought back under the jurisdiction of Capiz in 1907. It became a separate province in 1917 through the passage of Act No. 2711 on March 10.
People, Culture and the Arts
The people of Romblon are mostly Visayans whose language is similar to Hiligaynon. However, there are marked differences between the dialects used in each island. Northern and eastern islanders incorporate more Tagalog words while the people in islands farther south speak in a dialect more closely akin to Aklanon Visayan. Romblon and the neighboring islands of Mindoro, Panay and Masbate have had a long history of contact. Part of the Visayan population in southern Mindoro and in southwestern Masbate can trace their origin to the islands.
The people are most fishermen and farmers. Rice, coconut, and abaca are major products of the small farms on the islands. Fishermen harvest the bounty of the surrounding seas. Romblon is famous for its traditional weaving and basketry. Handicrafts are a major home industry in which the women are engaged. The province is noted, especially, for it fine and delicate crochet laces and bedspreads.
Since the mineral's discovery in the late 19th century, marble has been synonymous to Romblon. Large deposits of marble, in varying hues and types, abound in the northern part of Romblon, as well as on Alad and Cobrador Islands Marble is worked and made into a variety of items. Small souvenir eggs and animals, chess sets, nameplates, mortars and pestles and religious icons are a thriving industry. Slabs and blocks of marble are also sent to other regions of the Philippines to be used for construction, monuments and gravestones.
Local artisans are also noted for their good woodwork. The town of Romblon still retains vestiges of this once important craft in the adornments of old houses and public buildings. The Cathedral of Saint Joseph features fine woodwork done by local artisans. The massive doors and the Byzantine-style altars adorn the 18th century fortress church that forms a center point for a series of Spanish fortifications. San Andres and Santiago forts lie on two strategic hills above the town.
Trade and Investments
The province of Romblon has unique advantage of being at the center of trade routes that link Luzon and the Visayas. This strategic location makes the province an ideal location for sea freight distribution and as a manufacturing center from which to access the markets of Western Visayas and Southern Tagalog. The province is famous for its marble, and holds large deposits of kaolin clay, nickel, magnetism, quartz, silica, and zinc, copper, silver, limestone and sulfide ores. The waters surrounding the islands are teeming with tuna, grouper and other fish species, and its extensive forests produce timber and forest products such as rattan, buri and nito. Rice, coconuts, abaca and bananas are grown on the farms in the islands. Cattle raising is a thriving industry. Romblon's population of 227,000 is young, highly educated and trainable.
Tugdan airport on Tablas Island is 45 minutes from Manila. Odiongan, San Agustin and Romblon are national ports that serve to connect the islands to other ports in the country. The province has a 1,443-kilometer road network currently being improved to facilitate the flow of goods and services within the province. Romblon Electric Cooperative and Tablas Island Electric Cooperative distribute power to the mains islands. The aggregate capacity of both cooperatives is 2.5 megawatts. Local water utilities supply the needs of Romblon. There are eight operational telecommunications exchanges in the province. Four commercial and development banks operate five branches within Romblon to service the financial needs of the province.
Building the province's infrastructure support is an investment priority. Telecommunications, power generation, better sea and air transport facilities can fully propel the islands as a regional trade and distribution center. Resource-based industries still provide the bedrock on which the economy stands. Investments in improved marble quarrying and processing, gemstone finishing, processing meat, fish and fruits, ceramics and handicrafts can make use of readily available resources. There is a also a huge potential in seaweed farming, open sea fish culture and tree farming. Tourism can also provide a windfall of economic development for the province. It has a host of natural attractions, such as the formidable Mt. Guiting-Guiting and its surrounding forests, caves and waterfalls, Tinagong Dagat in Calatrava and the hot springs of Corcuera and Banton. Isolated coves, beaches and islands fringed with coral reefs such as Logbon, Alad and Cobrador can appeal to vacationeers. The town of Romblon, with its Spanish era forts, church, old houses and handicrafts make a great heritage tourist destination.
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