An artist's illustration of the ethnic Filipino war boat, caracoa, with a sumbul (encircled) tied to its prow.

From Bagasumbul to Naval:
A Historical Review

By Prof. Rolando O. Borrinaga, Ph.D.
School of Health Sciences
University of the Philippines Manila
Palo, Leyte

(Paper presented at the Historical Lecture on Naval Pueblo Day,
Sangguniang Bayan Session Hall, Naval, Biliran Province, September 26, 2007.)


This paper consists of two parts. The first part deals with the etymology of some key words that are vital to the understanding of our identity as people of Naval. The second part is a narration of documented historical events in our local geography, from as early as possible in the Spanish regime until the creation and early years of Naval as a pueblo in the late 1800s.

I. An Exercise in Etymology

Webster’s dictionary (1988) defines etymology as “the tracing of a word or other form back as far as possible in its own language and to its source in contemporary or earlier languages.”

I apply etymology here because I believe this method could help crack certain puzzles in the history of Naval, our hometown. Our heritage could be better understood if we first clarify the contexts and evolving meanings of four key words that are vital to our identity as a people. These words are: Naval, Bagasumbul, Sumbul, and Karaykaray.

These are what I found out in my research:

A. Naval –

- “Of or having to do with ships and shipping” (Webster’s dictionary 1988); connected with the sea.

- Adopted to commemorate the great victory of the Spanish Navy against the Dutch Armada during the historic “La Guerra Naval de Manila” in 1646. The series of victories was attributed to the miraculous help of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, the chosen patroness for our town (Souvenir Program 1966.) The name and its associated meaning would have pleased the church and government authorities at the time of our town’s creation.

- But Fr. Juan Inocentes Manco Garcia, the founder of our town, might have also entertained the idea of commemorating the successful defense of Bagasumbul, the settlement’s old name, against three waves of Moro attacks, which recorded folklore claim he had led sometime in the 1830s (Chico 1957, 25-27). The parallel memorializing of a local heritage in the new name would have pleased the local participants of the anti-Moro struggle.

B. Bagasumbul –

- Spelling variants – Bagazumbol (Tantuico 1980, 136); Bagasumbol (Souvenir Program 1966; Chico 1957, 27-28); Bagasumbul (Artigas 1914, 320).

Evolving meanings:

1. “Like feathers (of tangbo).” (Tantuico 1980, 136).

Tangbo (Arundo vulgaris); other name, bugang. An erect grass that grows to a height of 1.5 to 3.5 meters. Grows abundantly in swamps and muddy streams. Dust brooms are made out of its panicles (

In bancas or in sailboats, people murmured “baga sumbul” – like feathers - when they approached the [Inagawan/Banderahan] point (Tantuico 1980, 136).

2. “Somewhat pointed place (parece punta)” (Souvenir Program 1966).

Traveling from Biliran to Almeria, the late Padre Inocentes would say they are going to a place beyond “bagasumbul,” that is, beyond the “somewhat pointed place” (Souvenir Program 1966).

The place referred to is known as Inagawan or Banderahan Point. The name Inagawan (place of abduction), popularly used by the people of Barangay Caraycaray, is a folkloric memorial of an event that happened during the second Moro raid in the 1830s. The raiders abducted a newly-married woman fishing in the area with her husband; the husband was not caught (Chico 1957, 26-27).

The name Banderahan, popularly used by people living in the poblacion, refers to the flag pole erected on the point around the turn of the 20th century. It was either a geodetic survey marker or was used to signal for help or reinforcements by the Constabulary detachment camped at the old watchtower in Sitio Ilawud (Borrinaga 2002, 142). An interviewed local fisherman (Barotol 1990) said the base of the flag pole was already underwater some three fathoms deep. The original point (punta) had been eroded by the sea.

However, a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey area map (1899) labeled the same point of land as Pta. Sabán (sic, Punta Sabang or Sabang Point). This label refers to the northern part of the mouth of Caraycaray River; Inagawan or Banderahan refers to the southern part.

3. “An obstacle to the enemies.” (Chico 1957, 9; his translation of Artigas’s cited text.)

4. “The place was named after the founder of the said settlement, who happened to be called Bagasumb(u)l.” (Lepasana 1954, as quoted by Chico 1957, 9.)

5. “Embarrassment to the enemies (embarazo a los enemigos).” (Artigas 1914, 320.)

C. Sumbul –

- Spelling variants - zumbol (Tantuico 1980, 136); sumbul (Artigas 1914, 320); sumbol (Sanchez de la Rosa 1914); sombol (Sanchez 1711; Alcina 1668a).

- The spelling should be sumbul, to be faithful to the word’s phonetic sound.

- The early Jesuits knew that the Bisayan language and alphabet only had three vowels: a, i, and u. There was also no letter z in the native alphabet. Yet, in the early years, their practice was to transcribe in Roman letters almost all “u” sounds with an “o” (Alcina 1668b). In later decades, they faithfully transcribed the “u” sounds in Roman letters, but did not abandon the previous spelling. Thus, for example, both doco and ducu (meaning, to bend one’s head) appear as entries in the oldest Bisayan dictionary by Father Sanchez (1711), which indiscriminately mixed up the o’s and the u’s in many words throughout the volume.

Evolving meanings:

1. Sumbol – plumage [feathered ornament] that they put in the prow of their sea-craft to know from where the wind comes (Sanchez de la Rosa 1914).

2. Sombol – the plumage that they place on the [wooden] projection of the prow of the boat (Sanchez 1711).

3. Sombol – a plumage which they tie to the prow [of the boat] as a sign of their victory or as the greatest sign of conquest (Alcina 1668a).

D. Karaykaray –

- Spelling variants – Caraycaray (common usage); Karai-karai (Artigas 1914, 321).

Evolving meanings:

1. “Waray[-waray] word for the wavelets and ripples produced by the rapid downstream flow of water through the declining shallows and barrier rocks between different water levels of a river” (Folk description noted by Borrinaga 1992).

2. “Stony and shallow part of the river where the water runs clear” (Makabenta 1979).

3. “The noise of the river that crosses this barrio [of Naval], and where there are many crocodiles” (Artigas 1914, 321).

4. “To walk behind the steps [of somebody], and a place for stopover (Sp., ventas; Bis., harapitan) of one in another” (Sanchez 1711).


The above presentation shows that the meaning and the complementary national and local contexts of the name Naval remained fixed and clear through time. There is hardly any room for confusion and misinterpretation of its intended meaning.

However, the three other words are more problematic, because their contexts and meanings evolved through time. They have been particularly trivialized in recorded interpretations in the recent past.

Let us take the more familiar word Bagasumbul. By 1980, its meaning had drastically changed to “like feathers (of tangbo),” a grass species. In 1966, its meaning had been reduced to a geographic characteristic, a “somewhat pointed place (parece punta).”

For some reason, these two recent meanings radically departed from the original reference to a trait of an actual person or of a people – “an obstacle to the enemies” (Chico, 1957), the name of the founder of the settlement (Lepasana 1954), and “an embarrassment to the enemies” (Artigas 1914).

How and why were the old meanings forgotten? Was this part of some cultural cleansing process to rid ourselves of the perceived stigma of the “war-like” image of our ancestors?

Perhaps some answer can be gleaned from the changing meaning of the word sumbul. The three recorded definitions all referred to a plumage, a feathered ornament that the natives placed on the prow of their boats. Originally, sumbul was a symbol of victory or great conquest, a war trophy self-made by victorious natives returning from their inter-barangay conflicts until the Spanish contact (Alcina 1668a). By 1711, when the local wars had ceased, the sumbul had been reduced to a mere decorative item in the native boats (Sanchez 1711). By 1914, this item had been grossly trivialized as a determiner of the wind’s direction (Sanchez de la Rosa 1914), a function better done by a small triangular banner or flaglet and not by an entire plumage.

A similar fate of trivialization happened to the word karaykaray. In the past century, the meaning of the word had been reduced to aspects of a river and its water. Lost in the collective memory was its original reference to acts of people figuratively walking behind the steps of somebody (a great leader worthy to be followed?) and a place for stopover (for rest during travel or temporary alliances?) (Sanchez 1711).

For purposes of contrast, let me make some statements using the recent and the oldest meanings of the familiar words bagasumbul and karaykaray:

Statement A (with the new meanings): Tangbo grasses with feather-like panicles (bagasumbul) thrive in bagasumbul, the somewhat pointed place, in the shallows of a river (karaykaray) of a village called Caraycaray.

Statement B (with the old meanings and the word sumbul added): A native chief culturally equated as a symbol of a great victory or conquest (sumbul) once lived in a village that he was deemed the founder and was named after his moniker. Bagasumbul (like a symbol of a great victory or conquest), the person, was considered an obstacle or an embarrassment to the enemies. Many other people followed his footsteps (karaykaray) because of his feats and lived under his leadership, either permanently or as transients, near his domain in a riverside village called Caraycaray.

It is apparent that Statement A with the new meanings of the key words gives emphasis only on aspects of physical geography, while Statement B with the old meanings gives emphasis on attributes of actual humans, and not just geography.

The statement with the old meanings raises a set of intriguing questions: Who were the people who did caraycaray, that is, walked behind the steps [of somebody] in a place that also served as a stopover? Were they the followers of the person labeled as Bagasumbul (like a symbol of a great victory or conquest)? What was this great victory or conquest represented by a sumbul in the folk mind?

Lapulapu was Bagasumbul theory

These were the questions that led me to theorize that the great victory suggested by the folk mind was probably the native victory over the Spaniards in the Battle of Mactan in April 1521, that the person referred to as Bagasumbul was Lapulapu of history, and that the people who walked behind his steps were the legions of Lapulapu followers who were among the earliest settlers of Barangay Caraycaray.

And so, after the writing of the annotated history of Naval in collaboration with several local intellectuals in 1989-1990, which was published in Kinaadman journal in 1992 (Borrinaga,, 1992), I proceeded to write another paper with the tentative hypothesis that Lapulapu was the person attributed to as Bagasumbul in our folklore. The paper was published in the same journal in 1995 (Borrinaga 1995).

A dozen years after its publication, I still collect evidence to strengthen the Mactan-Naval connection and to bolster the “Lapulapu was Bagasumbul” theory. At the least, this theory has not yet been totally debunked or refuted in the literature. A lengthy postscript has been added to the original article that is included in my next book titled Leyte-Samar Shadows: Essays on the History of Eastern Visayas.

II. Documented historical events

After the etymological exercise, let me proceed to narrate the documented historical events in our local geography.

The earliest known recorded description of our vicinity, known then as Isla de Panamao, was from the report of Thomas Cavendish’s voyage around the world in 1588 (B&R Vol. 15, 297). It said:

“The eight and twentieth day [of January 1588], in the morning about seven on the clock, riding at an anchor betwixt two Islands, we espied a frigate under her two coarses [sails?], coming out between two other islands, which (as we imagined) came from Manilla, sailing close aboard the shore, along the main Island of Panama[o]. Here we rode at anchor all that night, and perceived that certain Spaniards (which came from Manilla to Ragaun [sic], to fetch a new ship to the Kings, there [being] built) has dispersed their band into two or three parts, and kept great watch in several steeds [small boats?], with fires, and shooting off their pieces. The island [Panamao] had much plain ground in it, in many places, and many fair and straight trees do grow upon it, fit for mak[ing] excellent good masts for all sorts of ship. There are also mines of very fine gold in it, which are in the custody of the Indians….”

The part of Panamao Island referred to in the Cavendish report appeared to be the plains of the present Naval.

Panamao (read: pan-amaw), the ancient name of Biliran Island, referred to a heavy-duty net used for catching large fish. The panamao was used to ordinarily catch duyung (sea cows) in the sea. This net would also be set on land to catch wild hogs and other animals (Alcina 1668c).

In 1600, there was already an unnamed village here, the one described as the nearby base of the Spanish, native and other workers in the first known Spanish shipyard in the Philippines on Isla de Panamao, and which had been visited by Jesuit missionaries based in Carigara starting in 1601 (Chirino 1604). We had postulated that the site of this village was located in the present Sitio Ilawud of Barangay Caraycaray, along the southern bank and near the mouth of the Caraycaray River, and that the shipyard was initially located at the nearby Sabang beach across Inagawan Point (Borrinaga,, 1992).

A total of six galleons were reported to have been built in Isla de Panamao (Artigas 1914, 252).

Our island had a change of names from Panamao to Biliran between 1668 and 1712. This name-switch was most likely influenced by the catastrophic eruption of the Panamao Volcano probably around 1669, a milestone year for Tacloban associated with a recorded “rain of ashes” in its vicinity (Tantuico 1980, 107). The natives probably decided the name-change on the belief that this would waylay the bad spirits in the destructive volcano (Borrinaga 1999; 2002).

The oldest meaning of biliran

In the past, several authors had submitted various theories about the meaning of biliran. But the earliest definition of the word is found in the oldest Bisayan dictionary (Sanchez 1711). It has an entry for bilir or biliran, bildan, which refers to the “corner or a border of the ship or vessel.” Thus it is possible that biliran was the label introduced by the natives for the Spanish galleons and similar boats that were constructed here in the early 1600s. But this term failed to displace barco, the Spanish-inspired label.

In 1675, the first seedlings of cacao (Theobroma cacao) imported from Mexico arrived in the country and were propagated by the Jesuit missionaries in Carigara, Leyte (PLEASE Foundation 1995). Cacao cultivation was probably part of their economic rehabilitation efforts for Isla de Panamao, a part of the Carigara Parish that was presumably damaged by the lahar from the recent volcanic eruption.

On 10 September 1712 the pueblo which had become known as Biliran was created (Chico 1957, 33). The pueblo of Biliran included the settlements in the different areas and islets of Biliran Island, excluding Maripipi Island. We had also postulated that the poblacion (town center) of Biliran pueblo was situated in the present Sitio Ilawud, on the same site that we had just postulated as the village base of the workers in the Spanish shipyard on Panamao in 1600, or 112 years earlier (Borrinaga,, 1992).

In May 1735, several inhabitants of Leyte petitioned Governor General Fernando Valdes y Tamon to allow them to resettle Biliran Island in Leyte. They claimed that the island had been abandoned for the past 50 (sic) years and were presently inhabited by bagamundos (vagabonds) due to the frequent Moro raids (PNA 1734). Though the claimed number of years of abandonment (50) seemed exaggerated and did not reckon with Biliran’s pueblo creation in 1712, the drastic decrease in its population due to the Moro menace was presumably real.

Apart from the effects of the Moro raids, the diminution of Biliran’s population between 1712 and 1735 could also be attributed to the government-promoted migration to more central areas of Leyte and Samar to keep the people “under the bells” of the church (Cruikshank 1985).

In 1744, the first detailed map of the Philippines was drawn up by Jesuit Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde. It was published in Manila in 1749 as part of his Historia de la Provincia de Filipinas de la Compania de Jesus (Murillo 1749). The cartographer was apparently confused about where Panamao Island was closest to Leyte. He bent the island and made it appear almost connected to the mainland in two areas - at the center and west of northern Leyte, respectively. In the same map, the northernmost point of Cebu, placed on almost the same latitude directly west of Panamao, was labeled Punta de Bululaqui.

Spanish traders who traveled on their cargo boats probably brought along with them a printed copy of Father Murillo’s map. In our vicinity, when they asked about Punta de Bululaqui, which could not be seen in the west from our island, they were presumably pointed instead to Bulalacao, a cove which swamps used to be the habitat of “sparkler” birds (presumably the blue heron) north of Panamao Island.

History behind a Panamao legend

The misrepresentation of local geography in the map apparently gave birth to the legend of Punta de Bulalacao in Isla de Panamao. This was supposedly the point of origin of Spanish galleons with fair-skinned and elegantly dressed men and women as passengers that brought cargoes of cacao seeds to Manila (Granali 1991). This local “fairy tale” appears to have been woven from two historical realities (the galleon constructions and the cacao cultivation) that happened decades apart in our island and a mirage (Punta de Bulalacao) that arose from a crudely drawn map of our area. This three-component tale could be dated to have started around the 1750s.

Associated with the “fairy tale” is the myth of a city at the top of the now-dormant Mt. Panamao, which had been ascribed as the source of the cacao-laden galleons. The historical reality behind this myth appears to be glow seen at night on the peak of this eruptive volcano around 1668. At that time, Jesuit Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina, who was stationed in Samar, had “often seen the mountains (sic) on the island of Panamao throwing out fire … especially on very dark and stormy nights” (Alcina 1668d).

The Moro raid of 1754

Biliran must have been resettled and sufficiently recovered over the next two decades since the petition of 1735. But it was devastated again by the best documented Moro raids in our vicinity in 1754. The pueblo was razed to the ground and “only two” of its inhabitants were reported to have escaped capture. The raiders also burned all the houses and destroyed its outlying settlements of Caybiran, Mapuyo and Maripipi (Archivo General de la Nacion 1755). The key paragraph of the report of this event is as follows:

“On the twenty-sixth of May of this year [1754] there entered in the pueblo of Biliran of this Province of Leyte and Catbalonga [i.e. Samar] numerous Moros who went by land along the little river of Anas, a distance of one league and a half or two away from it. Thus, having reached the interior part of the mountain, they plundered the dwellings and wrought great devastation. They seized or captured many inhabitants with the exception of the gobernadorcillo [native mayor] who managed to escape [and also the fiscal – treasurer - in another paragraph]. They plundered and stole all the jewels [alhajas] and the church furnishings. They razed and destroyed all the planted fields along with all the houses, so much so that there was no place to live or any plantations left to survive on.”

The quoted paragraph suggests that there was only one major river system in the vicinity in 1754. This was the Anas River, and its water reached the sea through the river mouth facing the present Barangay San Pablo. The place-name Macababalo (lit., can cause widowhood), the old name of San Pablo, appears to be a local memorial of an offshoot of this disastrous Moro raid in 1754. Many people became widows because the assigned lookouts living in this hillside settlement failed in their duty to warn the nearby population about the presence of the raiders in the vicinity.

The “Biliran Commune”

For a decade starting the mid-1760s, the myth of a “city” with glowing lights at night on a mountain of Panamao Island had a semblance of reality in the “Biliran Commune,” a self-sustaining communal society carved out of the foothills south of Biliran Island (Borrinaga 2006). The religious revolt instigated by the commune’s leader and supporters all over the region reached the height of notoriety around 1770, when the Augustinians started serving Leyte and the Franciscans started serving Samar following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768 (Borrinaga and Kobak 2006, 68-74; Cruikshank 1985, Ch. 1).

This historical episode started on 10 October 1765, when a government document published in Manila appointed a certain Don Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara as cura (parish priest) of San Juan Nepomuceno in Biliran pueblo (Kobak 1979). A secular priest who hailed from Samar, he turned out to be deluded and heretical.

Padre Gaspar (as Guevara is known to folklore of the present-day Biliran town) created a new poblacion by moving it away from its original site in now Sitio Ilawud of Barangay Caraycaray to a hilltop in what is presently known as Barangay Hugpa, some 6 kilometers northeast of the town proper of Biliran. The poblacion transfer was presumably intended to avoid another disastrous Moro raid like what happened in 1754 (Borrinaga 2006).

The priest called the new site Albacea, the Spanish word for “executor of the testament” (Lumapak 1957, 12) Here he set up a sanctuary, enthroned himself in the “chair of Peter” with the royal throne in Biliran Island, and styled himself as the “first of the priests of the world” (Kobak 1979).

From his sanctuary in the forest commune, Padre Gaspar spread his doctrines, granted indulgences, spread news of miracles in the Leyte-Samar region, recruited and sent out disciples to incite revolts, conferred sacred orders, gave out offices, legislated, threatened those who opposed him and, together with an “alcalde mayor” of Biliran whom he appointed, fought against the Franciscan friars in Samar and the Augustinians in Leyte. He ordained sub-deacons, and attracted a great number of followers, especially among the women. He was also cordially treated and sheltered by the Alcalde Mayor (governor) of Samar (which included Leyte until 1777), who also worked with him (Kobak 1979).

Padre Gaspar was captured by Moro raiders and was drowned to death near Tagasipol Islet north of the present Kawayan town shortly before 1775, about 10 years after his assumption as cura of Biliran (Lumapak 1957, 28).

As a result of the transfer of the poblacion to the new hilltop location (Albacea), the old site in Sitio Ilawud became known as Binungtuan (i.e., “towned,” the past tense of bungto, the Waray-waray word for town in verb form).

With Padre Gaspar’s transfer of the poblacion, the geographical area that is now known as Naval was reduced to the status of a visita (village with satellite chapel) of Biliran pueblo. However, many residents of this visita also moved to a more elevated location two kilometers northeast of the old poblacion in Sitio Ilawud. This settlement is still called Caraycaray.

Evolution of Naval

The town of Naval owes its beginnings to Fr. Juan Inocentes Manco Garcia, who was the assistant parish priest and later parish priest of Biliran pueblo from around 1848 to 1861 (Souvenir Program 1966). By then the pueblo of Biliran had been reduced to the western half of the island, with the creation of Caibiran as a separate pueblo in 1828. And the place that would become Naval (the area around the old poblacion in Sitio Ilawud) was already called Bagasumbul (Borrinaga,, 1992).

According to folklore, Padre Inocentes (as Father Garcia was known) would make trips to Almeria, the northernmost outpost of his assignment, from his parish base in Biliran poblacion. Passing by the site of the present poblacion of Naval, he would pause in his journey to admire the beautiful sweeping plains of the area. Struck by the flatness and fertility of the land, he invited his relatives and friends from Dimiao, Bohol, and Danao, Cebu, to come and settle in this place (Souvenir Program 1966).

The new migrants settled on an area near Tubud (spring), some two hundred meters north of the present town plaza of Naval, and about three kilometers northwest of the village of Bagasumbul (in Sitio Ilawud), the poblacion-turned-visita of Biliran pueblo. They were followed by other migrants from Panay and Negros (Borrinaga,, 1992).

In the early years, Padre Inocentes divided the land among the members of three regional migrant groups: the Cebuanos, the Boholanos, and the Hilonggos (Souvenir Program 1966). He also initiated the efforts to build the first church and convent of the new settlement and to dig irrigation canals for the rice fields of Bagasumbul (Tantuico 1980, 137).

Local landmarks known until the 1960s apparently served as coastal boundaries during the land distribution process initiated by Padre Inocentes. The use of Google Earth measurements in the Internet website would show that one-kilometer distances separated Sabang in the south to Aslum (a species of orange tree) in the north, from Aslum to Duha ka Punung Lubi (lit., two coconut trees, near the present Biliran Provincial Hospital), from Duha ka Punung Lubi to Laka (prob. May laka, lit., tree with a broken branch), and from Laka to Atipolo (another tree). Two-kilometer distances separate Atipolo from Agpangi (i.e., pangi tree), and from Agpangi to Jamurawon (molave tree), once a barangay of Naval.

The name Bagasumbul, which sounded “war-like,” was changed to the more “peaceful” name, Naval, in 1859 (Chico 1957, 28).

The gobernadorcillo (mayor) at the time was Severino Saberon. He was interested in instruction and in seeing the children in school. He had a solution for the lack of paper; he made them write on banana leaves using the ink of the nuus (squid) for their pens. For those boys who did not go to the schools, they were punished by being sent to the convent to serve as sacristanes (altar boys) (Borrinaga and Kobak 2006, 95).

On 26 May 1860, Naval was granted Superior approval to exist as a parish separate from Biliran, its mother church. The parish was formally erected by the Diocese of Cebu on 26 September 1860, under the protection of Our Lady of the [Most Holy] Rosary (Redondo 1886). In August 1861, Fr. Santos de Santa Juana took up formal residence as the first parish priest of Naval, and served the town for 21 years until 1882 (Souvenir Program 1966).

Pueblo Day

On 25 July 2007, the Sangguniang Bayan of Naval approved during a public hearing to pass a legislation to adopt 26 September 1860 as the new “Pueblo Day” of the town. This was based on the most authoritative document available, the official parish directory of the Diocese of Cebu, which this writer acquired in 2004 and which provided the date for the formal erection of Naval as a parish, an act that also legitimized its de facto pueblo status.

The new date amended an erroneous date, 23 September 1869, which was enacted as Naval’s “Pueblo Day” in 1996 (Sangguniang Bayan 1996). The 23 September date was not corroborated by the primary sources (Redondo 1886 and Artigas 1914) cited in the secondary source document (Chico 1957). The older documents gave the 26 September date. And the year 1869 (instead of 1860) was a typographical error in the book of Artigas, who used Redondo as his source (Borrinaga 2007).

Padre Inocentes was known to have named the new pueblo as Naval, in honor of its adopted patroness, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, whose miraculous intercession assured the Spanish victory over the Dutch Navy during the historic “La Guerra Naval de Manila” in 1646 (Souvenir Program 1966; Chico, 1957, 27-78).

However, this writer is of the opinion that Padre Inocentes might have also entertained the idea of commemorating the successful defense of Bagasumbul, which he led as the assistant parish priest of Biliran against three waves of Moro attacks on this settlement in the 1830s (Chico 1957, 26).

A “win-win” solution

It appears that the impending separation of Bagasumbul from the mother town of Biliran in the 1850s was a highly charged and hysterical affair, and one marked by social tension and angry recriminations (Borrinaga 2006). It seems the influential officials in Biliran poblacion snubbed and refused to endorse Bagasumbul’s pueblo petition to the colonial authorities.

Padre Inocentes apparently acted on the volatile situation by opting for an alternative method of creating a pueblo, that is, by establishing a separate parish using Naval as the name. For this, he only had to deal with the ecclesiastical authorities in Cebu. And he spared himself the trouble of softening the fixed decision on the issue among the officials in the mother town.

There is an evidence of the apparent haste involved in Naval’s creation as a parish. The novena for Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary was actually one intended for Virgen de Lepanto (Bago 1989). It was probably the only novena material for the Virgin that was available in the convent when our pueblo’s first fiesta was celebrated on 7 October 1860, a first Sunday (shown in a reconstructed calendar), more than a week after the parish was erected. The same novena was used thereafter.

The name Naval itself, instead of Bagasumbul, might have been intended by Padre Inocentes to please all interested parties in our pueblo’s creation. The folk perception has it that Naval was the “peaceful” name and Bagasumbul was “war-like.” Yet both names actually memorialized great naval victories, one (Naval) by the Spaniards against the Dutch in 1646, the other (Bagasumbul) by our ancestors against the Moro raiders in the 1830s and against some unnamed famous enemy in the remote past.

With benefit of hindsight, Naval now appears as an all-embracing name with a thread that links the centuries of our local history. Aside from its intended meaning (to memorialize a great naval victory), its maritime sense is associated with the meaning of Panamao (a fishing net), the old name of our island; the ship-building activities in our island around 1600; and the old meaning of Biliran (from bilir, the round-edged triangular corner of a boat), the later name of this island.


Alcina, Francisco Ignacio, SJ. Historia de las islas e indios de Bisayas … 1668. (a) Part I, Book IV, Chapter 16; (b) Part, Book III, Chapter 2; (c) Part I, Book II, Chapter 16; (d) Part I, Book II, Chapter 30. Three books of Part I of the Alcina manuscripts have been translated to English and published. See Kobak, Cantius J., OFM, and Lucio Gutierrez, OP (trans. and eds.), History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands (Manila: UST Publishing House). Part I, Book I (Vol. 1) was published in 2002; Part I, Book II (Vol. 2) in 2004; and Part I, Book III (Vol. 3) in 2005. Part I, Book IV (Vol. 4) is in process of publication.

Archivo General de la Nacion (Mexico). Documentos del Ramo de Filipinas existentes en el Archivo General de la Nacion de la Republica Mexicana. Año de 1755. Relacion de las Irrupciones que han hecho los Moros en las Provincias e Yslas de este Continente, desde el tiempo en que ultimamente se dio parte a Su Magestad hasta el presente, y desde el Yngreso del Gobierno del M. Y. Sr. Don Pedro Manuel de Arandia y Santestevan, Presidente Gobernador y Capitan General de estas Yslas. Manila, Mayo 24 de 1755. (The transcription of this document is found in Appendix 16 of the book The Kris in Philippine History by Dr. Luis Camara Dery [Manila: By the Author, 1997].)

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Bago, Alberto M. Personal communication, 1989. Mr. Bago grew up under the care of his uncle, Msgr. Felix Sabenicio, who had served as parish priest of Naval from 1922-1930 and from 1931-1947.

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__________. “Atrocities and Intemperances: Revolutionary Ferments in Biliran Province from 1899 to 1909,” in: Bernardita Reyes Churchill, (eds.), Resistance and Revolution: Philippine Archipelago in Arms (Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2002), 122-143.

__________. “Lapu-lapu in Biliran? (A Tentative Hypothesis),” Kinaadman XVII: 2 (1995): 207-214.

Borrinaga, Rolando O., Bago, Alberto M., Granali, Bienvinido H., Gahum, Jose Sr., and Abilar, Antonio A. “Beginnings of Naval, Biliran Island: A Revisionist Account,” Kinaadman XIV: 2 (1992): 129-140.

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__________. “How Biliran got its name,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 November 1999, p. 19.

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Cruikshank, Bruce. Samar: 1768-1898. Manila: Historical Conservation Society, 1985.

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PNA, Cedulario 1734, Expediente 26, fol. 182-184: - “Junta General de la Hacienda sobre representacion que hichieron los naturales que poblan la isla de Biliran perteniciente a la jurisdiccion de Leyte haber poblado dicha isla tiempo de 5[0] años. - Manila, 14 de Mayo de 1735” - cited by Cantius J. Kobak OFM, “A Preliminary Survey of Samar-Leyte Documents in the Philippine National Archives,” in Leyte-Samar Bibliographies, ed. Fr. Raymond T. Quetchenbach SVD (Tacloban City: Divine Word University, 1976), p. 38. The attendant circumstances were described by Dr. Luis Camara Dery in The Kris in Philippine History (Manila: By the Author, 1997), p. 25.

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Sangguniang Bayan of Naval. Ordinance No. 20, Series of 1996, “An Ordinance establishing a Pueblo Day Celebration every September 23 of the year thereafter in the Municipality of Naval, Biliran,” August 28, 1996.

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