HISTORY OF IRIGA
Barely half a century after Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines on March 16, 1521, Iriga, now a city, was only a visita of Nabua, Provincia de Ambos Camarines. Because of the disastrous floods that occur during rainy seasons in suburban Poblacion of Nabua, Father Felix de Huertas, the then parish priest, advised the farmers to move to I-raga (donde hay tierra or where there is land) where they can plant their crops without fear of being flooded. The flood victims of Nabua who moved earlier and followed the suggestions of their parish priest were the fortunate beneficiaries of the harvest of their agricultural plantation coming from the rich and fertile soils of I-raga, more so, those who planted at the foot of Sumagang Mountain (Mountain of the Rising Sun, now Mt. Iriga) said to be nature’s given symbol of the Irigueños lofty ideals and noble visions.
As population spread out and evangelization progressed, the settlement at the foot of Sumagang Mountain developed in size and wealth, slowly pushing the aborigines (Agta) up to the thickness of the forest. And in 1578 the I-raga settlement was established as “visita” of Nabua under Fray Pablo de Jesus and Fray Bartolome Ruiz, both Franciscans. Three decades later or on January 4, 1641, Mount Asog (named after a negrito chieftain who ruled the aborigines) or Mt. Iriga, erupted. That eruption brought much fear to the settlers but with their strong faith and belief a miracle happened and as witnessed by local folks, the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mother and her son Lord Jesus or “Nuestra Señora de Angustia” at sitio Inorogan saved the people from terrible earthquake and flood. The eruption formed the cavernous gully on the side of Buhi leading to the steep gorge which was the crater of the “volcano”.
Iriga, according to Fray Felix Huertas in his lengthily-titled Estado Geografico, Topografico, Estadisticdo, Historico-Reliogoso de la Santa Apostolica Provincia de S. Gregorio Magno published in 1865, came from the native word iraga, which means “poseedores de mucho terreno,” or “possessors of much land.” From a mere “doctrina,” a religious administrative word which roughly means a “mission post” in 1583.
In 1683, this progressive visita of I-raga was converted into Pueblo de la Provincia de Ambos Camarines with a population of 8,908 which several decades later the name I-raga was changed to Iriga by the dipthongal Spanish authorities and advocated St. Anthony of Padua as Patron Saint and June 13 as the annual fiesta.
From the middle of the 19th century until the first two decades of the 20th century, Iriga was a major abaca-producing town in the Bicol region, largely because of the rich volcanic soil surrounding Mt. Iriga which it spewed in its last eruption about six hundred years before the coming of the Spaniards in Bikol.
According to William Freer, the American Superintendent of Schools in Camarines Sur, “The sides of the mountain nourish rich plantations of abaca owned by several Spaniards, and shelter several hundreds of the Philippine aborigines, the Negritos, who are now employed on the plantations. Because of the production of abaca the town of Iriga ranks third in importance in Camarines, being outclassed only by Nueva Caceres and Daet.”
During the incumbency of Don Martin Mendoza as Capitan Municipal, in the memorias de la Provincia de Ambos Camarines, showed that the “Pueblo de Iriga” was composed of “barrios y visitas distinguida la poblacion centro del casco en 5 barrios que son San Roque, San Francisco de Asis, San Juan Bautista, Sto. Domingo de Guzman y San Miguel Arcangel con 6 visitas fuera del casco denominados San Nicolas de Tolentino, San Agustin, San Antonio Abad, Sto. Niño, Santiago de Galicia y la visita de los monteses” with a population of 13,813. There were only four roads mentioned, they were coming from Nabua going to Baao, to Buhi and to Polangui, Albay, now the diversion road passing Salvacion, Masoli, Bato, then to the south road going to Polangui, Albay and there was only one way going to Nueva Caceres (Naga) via Bicol River by boat.
In 1913, the Manila Railroad (MRR) Company Station and the public market were established in their respective present site which readily contributed to the rapid growth of Iriga making it the center of trade and commerce in Rinconada area. It was also at this time that Mondays and Thursdays were declared as market days in Iriga.
The Municipality of Iriga continued to prosper through the years. The original “barrios y visitas” have developed sitios which later on, these sitios have metamorphosed into distinct and separate barrios.
After the Second World War, San Ramon, San Rafael, Cristo Rey, Sta. Isabel, San Vicente Norte, San Andres, Sta. Teresita, Perpetual Help, Sagrada, Niño Jesus, San Pedro and Antipolo, former sitios of barrio San Agustin, San Isidro and San Nicolas were created as barrios. And, the barrios of La Anunciacion and Sta. Elena were sitios of Sto. Domingo and Santiago, Del Rosario (Banao) of Santiago and Sto. Niño and La Purisima of San Francisco & part of Sto. Domingo, Sta. Cruz Sur of San Francisco. Francia and San Jose from San Miguel and San Vicente Sur, Salvacion, La Trinidad and La Medalla from the large barrio of San Antonio.
Some of these barrios were already created during the incumbency of Mayor Jose C. Villanueva in 1960. And the latest and the 36th barrio ever created was Sta. Maria which comprises the sitios of Tubigan, Katungdulan, Bagacay, Sampaga, Rao and Cawayan of barrio Sta. Teresita by virtue of Republic Act 6228.
AS A CITY
Through the unflinching support and willful cooperation of the town’s people, Mayor Jose C. Villanueva at the helm of stewardship successfully gained the conversion of Iriga into the signing of R.A 5261 otherwise known as the Charter of Iriga City on July 8, 1968 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos, considered to be the turning point of Iriga. The City, however, was formally organized and inaugurated as the third city of Bicol on September 3, 1968 by Presidential Proclamation and officiated by the President of the Philippines.
Since then, Iriga City has developed tremendously making it not only as the center of trade and commerce in Rinconada area but the whole Bicol Region as well, as it is strategically located in between the cities of Naga and Legaspi.
In 2004, Madelaine Alfelor-Gazmen, the daughter of the late Camarines Sur congressman, Ciriaco R. Alfelor and granddaughter of Camarines Sur Governor Felix O. Alfelor, became Iriga’s first woman city mayor, and only the third city mayor after his uncle, Emmanuel R. Alfelor was similarly elected in 1994 and served the city for 3 consecutive terms (1994-2004).
In her last term in 2013, Mayor Gazmen, has already made her mark as a no-nonsense city executive when she transferred the operations of the city government to its new home in barangay Sta. Cruz Sur. The new city hall as well the beautiful New Iriga City Public Market, the slaughterhouse and City Library, will no doubt be Mayor Gazmen’s lasting legacy and monuments to the city of her own birth, the city she wants to call “city of crystal-clear springs,” and where they spring eternal, like hope.
Her administration promoted good governance and started it off by launching Iriga as a Character City on September 4, 2004 to lead and encourage others to become better persons. Strengthening the system and structure of governance became her priority. Enhancement programs like the Public Service Excellence, Ethics and Accountability Program (PSEEAP) granted by The Asia Foundation and the British Embassy, the City Development Strategy (CDS), Transparent Accountable Governance (TAG) and the Public Governance System (PGS) were adopted and institutionalized. Her overall development program for Iriga has been largely centered on the bigger context of achieving its vision of becoming an Agro-Ecotourism Center in the Philippines by 2015. Part of her approach is communicating her programs to her constituents which is meant to raise awareness and educate the people about the city’s development perspective, and mobilize community participation and involvement in the various government programs. Her advocacy on good governance and responsible citizenship provided the much needed impetus guiding the city in its present status as a primary growth center in the Bicol Region. These were the same reasons that gained her and the city numerous prestigious awards and citations given by national and international entities. Grant funds for development projects and capability building totaling Php 300M. were also awarded to the city during her term.
In 2013, Ronald Felix Y. Alfelor, an Electrical Engineer by profession, became the next mayor of the city. He is the younger brother of former Mayor Madelaine Alfelor Gazmen. Considered one of the youngest member-mayor of the Leagues of Cities of the Philippines at 33 years old, he advocated and made a covenant to build a city with a strong and responsive good local governance that promotes responsible citizenship by: ensuring the people’s security in their life, liberty and property; enhancing the participation of the citizens in local governance; providing public services to citizens to ensure a healthy, safe, and desirable environment, as well as a literate, skilled and entrepreneurial citizenry to achieve a sustainable and conducive economic and social growth so that all Irigueños will realize their dreams and aspirations.
He proclaimed his mission to strive to deliver excellent public service at least cost, by adopting the principles of “doing things right the first time and walking the extra mile” to ensure increased performance efficiency and development outcomes.