Even before the coming of the Spanish colonial government, Naga, which was then a flourishing village off the riverbanks of the storied Naga River, was already a thriving community. As pointed in the book of Prof. Danilo M. Gerona, a local historian, Naga was then a premier village with a comparatively sophisticated weaponry and surprisingly advanced technology. The name “Naga” derived its origin from the narra trees, which were then in abundance. Thus, in 1573, when the Spanish Troops arrived led by Capt. Juan de Salcedo, the colonizers were amazed to find a community with a fairly well advanced culture. In 1574, Captain Pedro de Chaves founded Ciudad de Nueva Caceres in honor of Don Francisco de Sande, then governor of the province and native of the City of Caceres in Spain. Naga, the premier native village and then a Spanish pueblo, formed part of the Spanish colonial city. Nueva Caceres remained the capital of Ambos Camarines provinces and later of the Camarines Sur province until the formal creation of the independent component city of Naga under the Philippine Republic. Naga’s birth as a chartered city formally took place on December 15, 1948 by virtue of Republic Act No. 305. Rep. Juan Q. Miranda sponsored this legislative act which put flesh into the city’s bid to become among the only few independent component cities in the country.
CIUDAD NIN NAGA has been for hundred of years a center of trade, education and culture, and the seat of governmental and ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
In 1573, on his second expedition to this region, the great conquestador, Juan de Salcedo, discovered here a flourishing Bikol Village called Naga, because it is said, of an abundance of Narra (naga in Bikol) trees about the place. In 1575 (200 years before the start of the American Revolution), Capt. Pedro de Chavez, the commander of the garrison left behind by Salcedo, founded on the site of the present business center (across the river from the original Naga) a Spanish city which he named Ciudad de Caceres, in honor of Francisco de Sande, the governor general and a native of the city of Caceres in Spain. It was still by this name that it was identified in the papal bull of August 14, 1595 that erected the See of Caceres (together with those of Cebu and Nueva Segobia) and made it the seat of the new bishopric.
In time, Spanish city and native village merged into one community and became popularly known as Nueva Caceres, obviously to distinguish it from its namesake in Spain. It had a city government as prescribed by Spanish law, with an ayuntamiento and cabildo of its own. At the beginning of the17th century, there were only five other ciudades in the Philippines.
With the advent of the American rule, it was reduced to a municipality. In 1919, it lost its Spanish name, when, by law, it became officially known as Naga. It acquired its present city charter in 1948, and its city government was inaugurated on December 15 of the same year.
The bishops of Caceres occupied a unique place in the Philippine Catholic hierarchy during most of the Spanish regime. By virtue of the papal brief of Gregory XIII, ecclesiastical cases originating in the Spanish Indies, which ordinarily were appealable to the Pope, were ordered to be terminated there and no longer elevated to Rome. Decisions of bishops were made appealable to the archbishop and those of the latter to the bishop of the nearest see. Thus, in the Philippines, the decisions of the archbishop of Manila were subject to review by the bishop of Caceres whose jurisdiction then extended to the province of Tayabas. In this sense, bishops of Bikol were delegates of the Pope and could be considered primates of the Church of the Philippines.
This was the reason why bishops of Caceres and archbishop of Manila were sometimes engaged in interesting controversies in the sensational Naga case and in such issues as canonical visitation and the secularization of the parishes.
As papal delegate, Bishop Francisco Gainza, then concurrently bishop of Caceres, sat in the special ecclesiastical tribunal which passed upon the civil authorities' petition to divert Fathers Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora of their priestly dignity. Gainza did not only refuse the petition but also urged their pardon.
Situated at the center of the Bikol peninsula and surrounded on all sides by rich agricultural, forest and fishing areas, Naga is also at the confluence of the Naga and Bikol Rivers. Thus, it has always been an ideal place for trade, and as center for schools and church and government offices.
In 1868, the first normal school for women in the entire Orient was established in Naga as the Colegio de Sta. Isabel. Each parish in Bikol was required to send at least one pensionada to study there that they might be trained to run the parochial school in their own home place. The colegio’s present day population of more than 5,000 shows the appreciation of the Bikol people for its century of work for Bikol youth.The University of Nueva Caceres, adjacent to Naga’s Centro, is the first university in southern Luzon. Over 9,000 students are being trained “non scholae ser vitae” in its halls. Students come from as far south as Zamboanga to attend its law, engineering, commerce, liberal arts courses. Its Bicol Museum is the best in the entire Peninsula.
Naga has a multitude of other fine schools: Naga College Foundation, Camarines Sur National High School, Bicol College of Arts and Trade, Naga City Science High School, St. Joseph School, Hope Christian School, Philippine Union College and many energetic business and fashion academies.
(by Luis General, Jr. and Fr. James J. O’brien, S.J. with updates from CPDO)