Tacloban developed from a small fishing village, a barrio of Basey, Samar. The word Tacloban evolved from “Taklub”, a basket-like contraption for catching fish. It became a major trading town in the late 18th century. The city is well-known for its role in World War II, being a major base for the US forces and the first town liberated by Douglas MacArthur’s forces from the Japanese Imperial Forces. For a time, it served as the capital of the Philippines while Manila was under Japanese control.
The city is also known for being the hometown of the flamboyant former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, whose Romualdez family still commands a large political following in the area.
For several decades, Tacloban was a barrio of Basey, Samar. At the time, the place was known as Kankabatok – meaning belonging to Kabatok, because its most prominent inhabitant was named Kabatok. The change of name came about in this manner: Kankabatok was a favorite haunt for fishermen. They would use a bamboo tray called “taklub” to catch crabs or shrimps. When asked where they were going the fishermen would answer, “to tarakluban”, which meant the place where they used “taklub” to catch crabs. Later, the name was shortened to Tacloban.
It is not definitely known when Tacloban became a municipality because records supporting this fact were destroyed during a typhoon. It is commonly believed that Tacloban was officially proclaimed a municipality in 1770. Others however maintain that it was in 1669 during which time there was a rain of ashes. It was the Augustinian mission followed by the Franciscans who sparked the people’s interest in religious activities. Within a year’s time the first church was built with two lofty belfries under the untiring effort of Fray Aniceto Corral.
Carigara was the capital of Leyte at the time. With Don Hipolito Gonzales’ incumbency as alcalde mayor of the province, a popular clamor for the transfer of the seat of the province came up. Thus, on October 5, 1774 after the construction of the Casa Real and the prison, the transfer of the seat of the provincial government was officially approved. In the year 1824 however, Don Pedro Antonio became alcalde mayor and restored Carigara as the p rovincial capital on march 31, 1824. This enhanced bitter disputes. It was finally Don Ceferino Fernandez, alcalde mayor in 1827 who succeeded in pacifying the controversy.
The final approval for making Tacloban the capital of the province of Leyte cam on February 16, 1830. The decisive reasons for choosing it as capital were:
– 1) it had the ideal location of the port area,
– 2) the place was well-sheltered and adequate.
During the Philippine-American war on January 17, 1899, General Vicente Lukban (for whom a street is named in the San Fernando district) came to Tacloban to talk about the problems of the people. The provincial government was evacuated to Palo while General Mojica and his men prepared to fight the Americans. On January 31, 1900 General Kohe arrived with an American team to negotiate a cease-fire and surrender of the province. He was firmly refused. On the following day armies stormed the trenches and by 2:00 PM, the province was in American hands. General Mojica and his men fled to the interior towns and it took a long time for the Americans to cajole every town until every revolucianario had surrendered. Mojica and Lukban eventually yielded to American sovereignty. Captain Leon Rojas, Sr. surrendered last. He led his men in a colorful pageant of surrender by riding on a white horse to the spot where the Americans formally received them. When peace finally, Rojas was designated chief of Police of Tacloban. A company of American soldiers was placed under his command.
In February 1901, the first American military governor of Leyte, Col. Murray, assumed office. He had only one aim in mind: gain the friendship of the people by getting their confidence. In a gesture of sincerity, he opened Tacloban to world trade. Civic-spirited citizens cooperated and organized a committee for peace. Don Gabriel Galza, the founder, became its first president. Their first undertaking was to petition Governor Murray for the release of prisoners who were in Tanauan. The governor received the petition favorably and thus peace and order in the whole province was completely restored.
With American military rule over, Taclobanons who were trained in the art of self-government took over the reins of the administration. Catalino Tarcela became the first provincial governor. There were others who were responsible for the progress and development of Tacloban. Among them were Lodovico Salazar, known to all as Capitan Lodo, the first public teacher of the town (a street is named after him). Lodovico Basilio, known as Capitan Bigong, and Capitan Martin Hidalgo. Of the womenfolk, Doña Eulalia Rubillos, wife of Governor Vicente Diaz is remembered for having served the first Filipino flag that fluttered in the Leyte sky when the revolutionary government was established.
On May 24, 1942, Tacloban awakened to see Japanese imperial forces in its midst. The town offered no active resistance to their oppressive occupation. For little more than two years, it suffered from hunger, terror and brutalities of the invaders. Despite the ugliness of war, the people never forgot to pay homage to their Patron saint, Sr. Santo Niño, by celebrating the town fiesta. One such big commemoration was on the fiesta of 1843, on June 30 where an industrial and agricultural fair was held in the old Leyte park. Here, hate and sorrows of war were forgotten so that it became one of the most remembered carnivals the town ever held. The mayor at that time was Vicente Quintero.
Leyte was the first in the itinerary of MacArthur’s return route to the Philippines. Thus, on October 20, 1944, while the waters of Leyte Gulf were calm and clear, six battleships hit the beaches at Cataisan Point and nearby areas. Before twilight, the Tacloban airstrip which was the objective of the day was recaptured by the first division. The entire Cataisan Peninsula was soon under the command of Major General Verne D. Mudge at 3:00 PM of October 21. This day, Tacloban was liberated from the enemy. In a rousing welcome, Filipino civilians line the streets greeting the liberators. Chewing gun, cigarettes, chocolates and wide American smiles flowed freely – all symbolic of friendship and freedom.
On October 22, 1944, Tacloban City was safely back in American hands. On October 23, 1944, General MacArthur announced the establishment of the Philippine Civil Government on the steps of the provincial capitol. He installed Sergio Osmeña Sr. as the president in the presence of Lt. General Walter Krueger, Lt. Gen. Richard Sutherland and Col. Ruperto Kangleon with a guard of honor consisting of First Lt. John Gregory and 30 dirty and tired but
efficient-looking soldiers. After the liberation, Tacloban’s first appointed mayor was Paulo Jaor. The inauguration of the Republic of the Philippines saw Epifanio Aguirre as mayor of Tacloban.
On June 20, 1952 by virtue of Republic Act no 760, Tacloban City was born. Dr. Ildefonso Cinco, last mayor of the Municipality of Tacloban became the first city mayor.
Tacloban City has grown from a small fishing barrio of Basey to a bustling, growing center of commerce and industry, into probably the first most important city in Eastern Visayas.