The Bicol Region

Whaleshark "Butanding" in Donsol, Sorsogon. DOT Photo

Long before any westerners reached the region, the ancient Bicols (the people) already has the culture of their own. They called their land IBALON, possibly after their chieftain-DATU GAT ABAAL, who ruled the inhabited territories from his seat of power at Sawangan on the mouth of Makabalo River which is now the present day Legazpi City.

The sword and the cross of Spain reached Ibalon in 1570 when part of Legazpi Urdaneta expeditionary force headed by two Augustinian friars, Fr. Alonzo Jimenez and Fr. Juan Orca landed at the southwestern coast of the western peninsula. The named the southern part of the peninsula “TIERRA DE IBALON” and the northern part , “TIERRA DE CAMARINES”. Tierra de ibalon is also referred to as the first Christian settlement in the island of Luzon.

After the Christianization and colonization of Ibalon , the peninsula was divided in to two encomienda. The eastern portion. The encomienda de Busaingan went to Pedro Arnedo, while the pther half was given to Rodrigo Arias Giron. Busaingan which means “breaker” was the name given to the coastal settlement of the southern tip of Luzon, The present town of Santa Magdalena in Sorsogon Province.

Ibalon had a port call for galleon plying the Manila-Acapulco route. Historians believed that this could be what is now known as the port of Legazpi City. It was at this port that Bishop Salazar, the first bishop assigned to the Philippines was stranded for the few weeks during he was able to learn the abuses of encomienderos.

It was believed that the report of Bishop Salazar could have been one of the causes for the abolition of the encomienda system in Ibalon, thus, paving the way for the birth of two original Bicol provinces- AMBOS CAMARINES which included Albay and Sorsogon.

The boundaries of the Region were clearly delineated in a decree issued by Spanish Governor General Narciso de Claveria on October 19,1836, fixing the territorial limits between Ambos Camarines underwent a series of divisions and fusions until 1919 when the Philippine Legislature enacted Act. No. 2809, creating the separate province of Camarines Sur.

Partido de Ibalon, which comprise the eastern part of the peninsula had changed in name very much earlier when a decree was issued in 1663 renaming this political subdivision Albay. Some of the town of Ambos Camarines and Ibalon were interchanged. The islands of Catanduanes and Masbate were declared seperat military districts.

Sorsogon which used to be part of Albay beacame a province in 1894. Byy virtue of an executive order issued by Governor-General in 1908, Masbate was made a sub-province of Albay by the American Civil Government. It became an independent province on October 26, 1945 by virtue of the Commonwealth Act No. 687.

But presently, as the Bicolanos go back to redicover their beginnings, their stirred up the trend to favor the more native name: KABIKOLAN or simply BIKOL.


Bicol Region lies at 122° to 124° east longitude and 12° to 14° latitude or generally at the midsection of the country. Occupying the southern stretch of Luzon, the Bicol Peninsula is surrounded by natural barrier. Actually, seas that can by highways for contact with other people. The area is bounded on the north by Lamon Bay and Pacific Ocean on the East, the Sibuyan Sea and Ragay Gulf on the west. It has land access to the rest of Luzon through its neighbor on the north, Quezon Province.

The Bicol Region stretches towards the Pacific Ocean for more than 160 miles from the province of Camarines Norte in the northwest, to Sorsogon in the southwest. The underbelly of Bicol is composed of the provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate which stand guard on the northern and southern approaches.

The Bicol region is composed of four contiguous provinces: ALBAY, CAMARINES SUR, CAMARINES NORTE, and SORSOGON; two island provinces of CATANDUANES and MASBATE and seven cities namely Legazpi City, Naga City, Iriga City, Tabaco City, Ligao City, Sorsogon City and Masbate City.

It has a total land area of 1,763,249 hectares of approximately 17,632,400 square kilometers. Cmarines Sur is the biggest with 526,682 (naga City and Iriga City included) and Catanduanes, the smallest with 151,148 hectares. The other provinces have the following areas: Albay-Legazpi – 255,257 has.; Camarines Norte – 211,249 has.; Masbate – 404,769 has. Of this land area, 1,250,460 hectares are alienable and disposable while 359,789 hectares are public forest areas.


The western and southern parts of the Bicol Region along Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte and Albay do not have pronounced dry and wet seasons. Rainfall in this areas are evenly distributed the year round, which make them suited to agriculture. The eastern and northern portion of the region are characterized by a definite absence of dry season with a very pronounced maximum rain period from November to January.9


As of 2000, the Bicol Region registered a population of about, 4,755,076 which represented 8 percent of the country’s total population.

In terms of the distribution of the region’s population, Albay has the biggest population followed by Camarines Sur. Catanduanes has the smallest population.


The region is generally hilly and mountainous except for a few stretches of plains extending from Camarines Sur to the southwestern part of Albay and several smaller coastal and inland plains in other parts of the peninsula. It has many rivers, lakes, bays, mountains, volcanoes, and waterfalls, caves and springs. The beautiful and interesting spots are well distributed in the area. The region is dotted with volcanoes with the imposing and majestic Mayon Volcano as the most domiant.


Investors looking for a favorable busiess environment will find Bicol an ideal place. Currently, the region is identified in the national map as a tourism and maritime zone due to its accessibility to Manila and Visayan Provinces.

The region manifests a mixture of dynamic culture, resilient and religious people, and literate workforce.

Bicol is accessible to Manila and the rest of Luzon through air, land, rail and sea. Manila is about 9 hours away fro those taking the south road of the Manila—Bicol route and about 45 minutes by air transportation.

In terms of telecommunications, the region’s network consists of wired and wireless telecommunications. Communication lines with the latest technology had been installed throughout the region ranging from landlines using fiber optics and cellsites for cellular phones. An array of radio and television networks, postal services, Internet Service Providers (ISP) and cable networks are also growing in number rendering their utmost services to the public.

The region is a major supplier of geothermal energy with its Tiwi and Bacon-Manito Geothermal Plants. A wide selection of places for conferences, conventions and training are available. The region also prides itself of having a literacy rate of 96% with schools and universities at par with those in Manila.

Money transactions are made easy through the services of different banking institutions and ATM Networks in major urban centers. Aside from being highly literate, the Bicolano workforce is skilled and hardworking. Majority of the workforce is English speaking.

The region’s economy is based on light industry and agriculture. Its main products consists of rice, coconut, corn, cement, abaca products, cutlery, and ceramics. The region also plays host to varied types of large companies belonging to local and multinational investors. (Courtesy: Wow Bicol)



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