Brief History: Biliran Province

In the early Spanish chronicles, Biliran Island was known as Isla de Panamao, referring to its northernmost mountain which was an eruptive volcano described in the 1668 manuscripts of Jesuit Father Francisco Alcina. Other accounts also described the island as a shipyard during the Spanish period.

The earliest written mention of the name Biliran Island was made around 1685, the name Biliran referring to a native grass called “boro-biliran” which abounds in the area. It was theorized that cataclysmic eruption of Mount Panamao in 1669 has prompted the change of name into Isla de Biliran, probably influenced by a folk belief of name-switching, which was supposed to appease the evil spirits believed to have caused the eruption.

On 1712, the settlers of Biliran Island petitioned to be elevated into a status of a pueblo and a parish. For half a century, the settlement was ravaged by Moro raiders, turning the settlers into vagabonds. In 1735, inhabitants of Leyte petitioned Governor General Fernando Valdez y Tamon to allow them to resettle Biliran Island. However, the pueblo of Biliran was destroyed by the Moros in 1754.

Having suffered several raids over the years, the settlers strived to protect themselves finally defeating the Moros in 1777. Another raid in 1813 was aborted upon seeing the local armadilla prepared for battle waiting for them. With the Moro raids neutralized in the beginning of the 19th century, new pueblos were organized leading to the present geography of Biliran province. The pueblo of Biliran was re-established in 1782, followed by Caibiran in 1828, Naval in 1869, Almeria in 1886, and the towns of Maripipi, Kawayan, Culaba and Cabucgayan around 1899 by the revolutionary government under President Emilio Aguinaldo.

The island of Biliran first gained the status as a Subprovince by virtue of  R.A. 2141 which was enacted by Congress on April 8, 1959 . Under this charter, the municipalities of Almeria , Biliran, Cabucgayan, Caibiran, Culaba, Kawayan, Maripipi and Naval including all the territories comprised therein  consisted into a sub-province of Leyte known as the Sub-province of Biliran, with the seat of the government in the municipality of  Naval .

From 1959 to 1969, the sub-province was headed by a Lieutenant Governor and a Special Board Member to represent in the Provincial Board of Leyte, until the enactment of R.A. 5977 on June 21, 1969, granting the full executive powers to the provincial governor, the creation of executive offices and granting the sub-province exclusive benefits of funds accruing to it. The enactment of R.A. 6415 on August 27, 1971, completed the creation of the sub-province with the addition of necessary executive departments, making the Sub-province of Biliran, in so far as its administration is concerned, as distinct and separate from Leyte, with the  municipality of Naval as its capital.

During the synchronized elections on May 11, 1992  a Plebiscite was conducted to ratify the approval of the conversion of the sub-province into a regular province pursuant to Section 462 of Republic Act No. 7160 . On May 21, 1992, the member of the Plebiscite Board of Canvassers proclaimed the conversion of the independent province known as the Province of Biliran by unanimous votes. Since then, the Province of Biliran regularly celebrates its Provincehood Anniversary every 11th day of May with fanfare, religious and civic activities.

(With data from Prof. Rolando Borrinaga)