History of Naval

The history of Naval on Biliran Island goes much deeper into the past than the “from Bagasumbol to Naval” theme that our folklore, folksongs, the 1961 Naval Centennial Celebration, and the first printed history written by the 1966 Naval Municipal Historical Committee would make us believe to have started around the 1850s.

In this revisionist paper we present theories on our town’s geologic origin, push back its recorded history by 250 years, and clarify certain controversial issues related to Naval’s founding in the 1850s.

For the natural history of Naval, a “delta-formation theory” has been proposed to explain its geologic origin. A geologic survey of Leyte published in 1954 also described the “coastal alluvial plains in Naval (as) the largest in (Biliran) island,” an exception from that of the surrounding regions of the island which are characterized by broken hills and mountains.

For the recorded history involving the present territorial jurisdiction of the town of Naval (see map), there was already an unnamed village here in 1600, the one described as the nearby base of the Spanish, native and other workers in the first known Spanish shipyard in the Philippines on Isla de Panamao (the present Biliran Island), and which had been visited by Jesuit missionaries based in Carigara starting in 1601. We postulate that the site of this village was located in the present Sitio Ilawod (a sitio is a cluster of few houses, ilawod refers to the seaward portion) of Barangay Caraycaray, along the southern bank and near the mouth of the Caraycaray River; that the first hospital in the Visayas region was established here in this village by the Jesuits in 1601; and the the shipyard was initially located at the nearby Sabang beach across Inagawan.

On 10 September 1712 the pueblo which had become known as Biliran filed a formal petition for becoming a separate pueblo and parish. This pueblo of Biliran included the settlements in the different areas and islets of Biliran Island, excluding Maripipi Island.7 We also postulate that the poblacion of Biliran pueblo was situated in the present Sitio Ilawod, on the same site that we had just postulated as the village base of the workers in the Spanish shipyard on Panamao in 1600, or 112 years earlier.

To support our claim for Sitio Ilawod as the poblacion of Biliran pueblo, we argue that the lantawan or watch tower on this site was erected long before 1712, as the previous requirement for this pueblo’s formation. We surveyed on 3 February 1990 the remaining traces of coral stone blocks of this watch tower (called trinchera sa Moros, the local reference to this fort against the historical Moro raiders). We found them at ground level overlooking the Caraycaray River in a neglected state. Flooding had apparently caused this relic to gradually sink into the swamp through the years. It was barely two meters above the water level at low tide and had been overgrown with weeds and nipa palms.