Historical Background of Naga City

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 downtown Naga, just opposite Naga's tallest structure, the Holiday Hotel, you will see a park situated between Peñafrancia Ave. and Elias Angeles Street, and right in the middle of it the lofty monument to Bikol's Quince Martires. Actually, Bikol's martyrs of freedom number in the thousands but these fifteen have been specially singled out as symbols of the rest because on January 4, 1897, just five days after Dr. Rizal was executed, eleven of them were likewise shot at Bagumbayan field in Manila. The others died for country in exile or in prison.They were avenged, however, at the Peñafrancia Fiesta, September 18, 1898 for corporals Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo convinced their fellow members of the guardia civil not to allow the same fate to befall them as had befallen the Daet patriots. So on the night of the fiesta they attacked the Spanish officers' quarters, routed them and then did battle with the rest of the Spanish community who had established themselves in the convento of the historic San Francisco Church (just opposite the Quince Martires monuments, its old bell tower can still be seen). When word of this startling defeat reached Partido, Legazpi, Sorsogon and Catanduanes, all Spanish forces and governmental men withdraw to Iloilo. Sad to say, in January 1900, the American imperialistic forces invaded Camarines Sur and headed for Naga. However, Naga resident General Ludovico Arejola, organized a large guerilla army and fought the Americans at Agdangan, Baao. Afterwards he set up a camp in the mountains of Minalabac and held out for a full year and two and two months more, until rampant sickness forced the surrender of himself and his men in a formal ceremony in Naga on March 31, 1901. In late December 1941, Naga was again put under another foreign power, Japan, but once again on May 1 and 2, 1942; the combined guerilla forces of the province smashed their way into Naga. Their main purpose in doing so was to liberate the 30 American prisoners in the provincial jail. At the risk of their own lives and those of their relatives and neighbors not only freed, but also sheltered their former colonizers in the mountain. On April 9, 1945, a large number of Major Juan Q. Miranda's guerillas again attacked the Japanese forces in Naga. American planes also heavily bombed the city. The American army arrived finally on April 27. Naga became a chartered city in 1948. On the first decade of 1700's the first chapel to the Virgin Mary of Peñafrancia was constructed just above the city and along the banks of Naga River that is the avenue upon which the image is triumphantly borne from downtown Naga on the afternoon of Peñafrancia Saturday. This devotion is an authentic regional fiesta and the population of the city more than doubles on those days as pilgrims come from all over the six Bicol provinces as well as many from Manila and other distant places to share in this great religious experience and festival.Three (3) of the most venerable institutions and structures in Naga are clustered together along the upper part of Elias Angeles Street. They are the Cathedral that begun in the year 1816, the Holy Rosary Seminary and the Colegio de Sta. Isabel. Founded in 1793 as both a college and a seminary, The Holy Rosary Seminary is one of the oldest schools in the republic. It educated literally thousands of the sons of all the leading families from as far north as Mauban, Quezon, and as far south as Leyte. In 1925, the laymen’s department was separated from the seminary and became the Camarines Sur Catholic Academy, which in turn, in 1940 became the Ateneo de Naga. Naga Parochial School took over the training of the elementary boys in 1948.

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)