Masbate is an island province of the Philippines located in the Bicol Region. Its capital is Masbate City and consists of three major islands: Masbate, Ticao and Burias, and 14 small islands. Masbate is composed of three main islands: namely, These islands are separated by the following: Masbate Pass, separating Masbate Island from Ticao Island; Ticao Pass, separating Masbate Island from Sorsogon and Burias Pass separating Burias Island from Sorsogon. Several small islets could be found on its surrounding territory especially on the north of the Visayas and southwest of the Bicol Peninsula. The province is bounded on the north by the Bicol Mainland, on the south by the Visayan Sea, on the west by Sibuyan Sea and on the east by the Burias Pass, Ticao Pass and Samar Sea.
The province covers a total land area of 4,151.78 square kilometers. It is politically subdivided into three congressional districts, 20 municipalities, one city and 550 barangays. Masbate had a population of 834,650 as of the 2010 census, growing at an average rate of 1.66 percent from 2000 to 2010. The province had an average population density of 201.0 persons per square kilometer.
Masbate is the biggest cattle raising province in the region. Its main economic activity is agriculture with copra, rice, corn and tobacco as its main products. Fishing is also a major industry in the province. Until lately, the province is the site of the biggest gold mining operation in the region. Other minerals found in the island province are manganese and limestone. Gold and cattle, celebrated in Rodeo Pilipino, are the main drivers of its economy. Natural attractions include the beaches at Dacu, Bituon and Talisay, the waterfalls at Tagoron and Catandayagan and the islands of Bontod, Deagan, Cagpating and Baybay.
Due to its geographic location, Masbate is a melting pot of dialects and cultures. Residents in the capital town of Masbate speak the native Masbateño with a mixture of the Bicol dialect; natives of Cataingan, Palanas, and Dimasalang along its east coast use Samar-Visayan; residents from Pio V. Corpus, Cataingan and Placer in the south speak Bohol and Cebu Visayan; along the western coast of Mandaon and Balud, people converse in Ilongo and Capiceño; natives of the Burias island talk in variants of the Bicol dialect and Visayan due mainly to the droves of migrants to the island during the sixties.
The province of Masbate is known as cattle country. The cattle breed found on the island was taken from herds in India that have flourished in the benign climate of the island. The province is the second largest supplier of cattle that is brought to Manila for slaughter. This industry has inspired the establishment of a ‘Rodeo Filipino’ on the third week of June. This festival features a week-long tournament of bull riding, cattle wrestling, lassoing, calf casting, post driving, carabao racing and a host of other ‘rodeo’ games. This unique observance is also accompanied by cattle raising contests, a trade fair and parades, much like the rodeos in the American West.
Masbate has carved an important economic niche in the Philippines based on its thriving livestock and metallic mining industries and on the foundation of these industries, further growth is assured. Masbate lies strategically in the cross roads between Bicol and the Visayas. The province sprawls over 4,048 square kilometers of territory that is suitable for a range of activities such as agriculture, pasturing, and fishponds. The province is a top livestock producer raising, not only cattle, but swine, carabaos, goats and poultry as well. Fishing grounds that support small and medium scale fishing activities surround the islands. Apart from these resources, the province is also blessed with great deposits of gold, copper, silver, iron, manganese, limestone, marble, clay, quarts and feldspar, which allow Masbate to contribute almost 60 percent of Bicol’s mine receipts. Nearly 500,000 Masbateños comprise the provincial workforce and this large pool of workers adequately answers the need for hardworking and motivated labor for the burgeoning industries of the province.
Masbate is accessible by air and sea links from several points in Luzon and the Visayas. There are two airstrips on the island, one used for domestic flights run by Asian Spirit and other airlines that link the province to Manila and Legaspi. There are sixteen sea ports around the province which provide regular service to various points in Luzon and the Visayas. A network of concrete, asphalt and gravel roads link the different municipalities of the mainland. Telecommunications services provided by four companies allow domestic and overseas telephone links. Power is available in the northern and eastern towns of the province while water is readily supplied from local sources.
Livestock farming, and agriculture remain as the main sources of livelihood for the province. The local government continues to support the growth of these industries and encourages the establishment of value adding activities. The province will benefit from agri-based industries such as food, dairy and beef processing, feedmills and livestock support services, breeding farms and hatcheries. Mining also remains highly profitable. The current operation of Atlas Consolidated in gold mining still leaves possibilities for other players. The province holds unexploited deposits of iron, manganese, copper and bauxite.
Archeological diggings around the gold mines of Aroroy give evidence of flourishing settlements on the island of Masbate from the 14th up to 16th century. The existence of these settlements encouraged the Spaniards to explore the island, then called Masbad, under the direction of Mateo de Saz and Martin de Goiti, to gather supplies for the Spanish settlements in Cebu and Panay. The Spaniards found flourishing settlements on the island and in the neighboring islands of Ticao and Burias. It was from Masbate that the Spaniards eventually landed on Luzon.
Masbate became part of the province of Ibalon, which later became the province of Albay. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the islands of Masbate, Ticao and Burias were heavily raided by Moro slavers. During the late 18th century, these islands formed way stations for slave raiders who gathered captured slaves in various points before transporting them to Mindanao and Sulu. The Moros were forced to abandon these stations at the turn of the 19th century.
In 1837, thousands of settlers, many of them from surrounding provinces of Bicol, Samar, Cebu and Capiz migrated to Masbate lured by the news of gold in Aroroy. Masbate became a separate politico-military comandancia in 1846. In 1905, it was annexed to Sorsogon under Act No. 1413. However, on December 15, 1920, the island regained its status as a separate province through Act No. 2934.