On the northernmost tip of Eastern Visayas is the province of Northern Samar, perhaps one of the least explored and exploited provinces in the country today. The province has its roots to the settlements established by the Jesuits between 1599 to 1605 whoc established a mission-residence in what is now known as Palapag. In 1768, the Jesuits were expelled from Samar and replaced by the Franciscans. The settlement thrived amidst Muslim raids coming from the southern island of Mindanao. The San Bernardino Strait to the north of the province was a strategic waterway for the Spanish galleons plying the Manila-Acapulco route.
The province has an area of 3,498 sq. km. ranking 35th in size among the 74 provinces in the country and accounting for some 1.2 percent of the country’s total land area. About 52 percent of the area is covered by forests. Population is placed at 380,398, 44 percent of which belong to the 1-14 age group. A variant of the Waray dialect is primarily spoken with English and Pilipino well understood among the populace. A minority (2.6%) speak Kapul, a dialect similar to the Muslim language in Mindanao and believed to be unique to the island of a similar name located a few kilometers off the main island.
The seat of government in in the capital town of Catarman. Northern Samar is classified as a second class province. This classification has caused some controversy as national and regional indicators of economic performance does not seem to tally. Northern Samar has been included into the “Club 20” — the 20 most impoverished provinces in the Philippines.
The towns of San Isidro and Allen serve as the main links to Luzon for land transport coming from the Visayas and Mindanao. Recently, regular flights plying the Catarman-Manila route were stopped. It is not likely to be resumed soon.
Northern Samar is known for its unspoilt, almost unexplored, natural and historical attractions. Remnants of churches, lighthouses and other structures spanning several centuries and deeply reflecting the history of the country dot the land. Fantastic rock formations and pristine, abandoned beaches are some of the best places to go in this province.
The province is relatively young but has vital economic, social, religious and historical significance. Northern Samar officially became a province after a plebiscite ratified Republic Act 4221 on November 9, 1965. This is the law that divided the island of Samar into the three provinces that exist today.
The town of Catubig was the first Spanish pueblo and cabezeria to evangelize the northeastern region of the Samar island. The cabezeria was later transferred to Palapag in 1605 when the residence of the Cabo de Spiritu Santo was relocated there. The region was then called Ibabao, (roughly the Northern Samar of today). The Sumoroy Rebellion (1605-1650) made Palapag a famous byword in Philippine history.
During the 18th century, Ibabao became the stopover of the Acapulco galleon trade when its abaca, bees wax and other agricultural produce were in demand by Spanish, Mexican, and Peruvian households. Palapag was the Pacific port of call. Capul, by the San Bernardino Strait, was the provisioning call of the galleons which plied between Manila and Mexico once a year. Formerly known as Abak (after the ancient ruler of Java who brought the first settlers to Ibabao), Capul got its name from the word Acapulco.
The Ibabao residents also figured prominently during the Spanish and American occupation in the Philippines. The Pulahanes continued to fight a guerilla war even after the capture of General Lucban by the American forces in Catubig in 1902.