Eastern Visayas is one of three regions situated in the middle of the Philippines and serves to link the islands of Luzon and Mindanao through the National Maharlika Highway that runs through it. Also known as Region VIII, this area is composed of the three major islands of Leyte, Samar and Biliran. It has 6 provinces: Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, Southern Leyte, and Samar; 7 cities: Tacloban (highly urbanized city), as the regional capital, Borongan, Baybay, Ormoc, Maasin, Calbayog and Catbalogan; 136 municipalities, and 4,390 barangays. It has a total land area of 23,231.4 square kilometers which accounts for 6.8 percent of the country’s land area.
The region is strategically located, being the only gateway to northern and southern parts of the country, via the National Maharlika Highway, which links the islands of Luzon and Mindanao. It is bound by the Surigao Channel and the island of Mindanao on the south; by the San Bernardino Strait and the tip of the Bicol Peninsula on the north; the Maqueda Bay, Camotes and Visayan Seas, and the islands of Cebu and Bohol on the west; and the Leyte Gulf, the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean on the east. Eastern Visayas is home to the longest and the most graceful-looking bridge in the Philippines, the San Juanico Bridge, and the tallest, the Agas-Agas Bridge.
Region VIII registered a total population of 4.1 million based on the 2010 Census of Population. There are about 177 persons per square kilometer in the region. The inhabitants are Warays but Cebuanos also settle in Ormoc City, Western Leyte and parts of Southern Leyte.
Majority of the locals here are Waray and speak Waray-Waray. Warays are descendants of Austronesian migrants who settled in the Philippines in the Iron Age. In 1521, they became the first Filipinos encountered by Europeans, care of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. They subsequently became one of the first local groups to convert to Christianity. Notable Warays include Former First Lady Imelda Marcos and statesman Norberto Romuáldez. Some claim the existence of another speech variety known as Sagul spoken on the Island of Biliran and is in actuality a mix of both Cebuano and Waray. However, others claim that ‘Sagul’ is just codeswitching rather than a separate language. The word ‘sagul’ means mixed in the Waray-Waray language and may simply refer to the practice of mixing up both Waray-Waray and Cebuano which are spoken in Biliran.
Eastern Visayas is dubbed as the geothermal capital of the Philippines for its abundant geothermal power reserves. The Tongonan Geothermal Plants in Tongonan, Ormoc City, also known as the Leyte Geothermal Power Field (LGPF), is the second geothermal power producer in the world. The region also houses two of the country’s top dollar earners: the Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corporation (PHILPHOS) and the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refinery Corporation (PASAR).
The region is rich in natural resources, including vast agricultural lands with fertile soil, abundant water and wet climate. Among its major crops are palay, coconut, banana, camote, corn, abaca and sugarcane. It is the country’s second largest producer of coconut and abaca among the 17 regions. It is also rich in freshwater fish and other marine resources.
The establishment of the 6.8-hectare Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Park in Leyte Province, which houses an inbound and outsourcing telemarketing and call center company, accelerated the growth of the ICT industry in the region and provided employment to the populace.
The Regional Development Plan (RDP) 2011-2016 envisions Eastern Visayas to become an eco-tourism haven, an agri-business and ICT leader where related activities in agriculture, services and industry are cognizant of environmental sustainability, and where men and women are secure, self-sufficient and economically empowered.
The region remains relatively under-the-radar compared to other tourist destinations in the Philippines, but this is slowly changing. More and more people troop here in pursuit of rugged coasts and landscapes, secret caves and waterfalls, and fascinating histories — as well as the company of people content with the simple life, happy to enjoy the bounty of nature.