Siquijor is the third smallest province in the country both in terms of population and land area, after Camiguin and Batanes. For a time it was sub-province of Negros Oriental. Called Isla del Fuego of the ‘Island of Fire’ by the Spanish before, Siquijor is considered by many Filipinos to be a mystical island, full of witches and other supernatural phenomena.
Siquijor Province is a small separated island between Visayas and Mindanao. Neighboring Cebu and Bohol in the north, it is nearest to Negros Oriental Province, being only 30 kilometers away, and 565 kilometers away from Manila. It boasts a total landmass of 343 square kilometers, occupying merely 0.11% of the national territory. A major part of the province is mountainous area made of coral rocks, together with 84.46 square kilometers of relatively flat coastal area, 15 square kilometers of beach and 3.8 square kilometers of tropical forest. Its climate of the year is divided into dry season and rainy season, with the annual average temperature of 27.8 degrees centigrade and the annual average rainfall of 1,305 mm, and the humidity stands at 78%.
The province is made up of 6 municipalities and 134 barangays, with its capital named Siquijor Municipality where 1/4 of the population resides. It has a total population of 100,000, of which the majority live in the countryside and over 90% are literate. The major language used is Cebuano, and a small number of people speak the local dialect, Tagalog or Spanish.
Despite the rugged terrain, agriculture is still the predominant sector in the province, and some 13 600 hectares are under agriculture cultivation. The major crops are corn, coconut, cassava, rice, rubber, mango and jackfruit, etc.. The main export products are copra, knitting craft, toy and garment. There are 18,000 hectares of forestland with a rather high production of timber. The fishery output is relatively big, with not only fish farms on the sea but also fresh water and marsh fish ponds.
Siquijor’s distinctive rich marine life and extensive mangroves to white sandy beaches and bays. Natural inland attractions include waterfalls, flowing springs, tree parks and caves – most of which are unexplored. Numerous white sand and beaches make up most of Siquijor Island’s shoreline. Additional Siquijor’s coast is lined with magroves, coral, fishes and other water life, which makes it an excellent attraction for diving enthusiasts.
Siquijor lures nature lovers and adventurers to explore its numerous caves, springs and rivers, and to climb up Mount Bandilaan, the highest peak at the center of the island. Mount Bandilaan also features a man-made rain forest boasting unexplored caves and a butterfly sanctuary where one of the biggest butterflies in Asia is found. Being a coral island, it also invites diving enthusiasts to explore the reefs surrounding the island, teeming with marine life which have been remarkably left untouched. For tourists who just want to lay back and relax, the island offers a never-ending stretch of white sand beaches, all 102 kilometers of shorelines surrounding the island. It also provides a trip to the past with the old Cang-Isok house, St. Francis de Assisi Church, St. Isidore Labrador Parish and Convent which is reputed to be one of the country’s largest convents. The town of San Juan is the home of the renowned Capilay Spring Park, the site of a natural fresh water spring, a swimming pool, and park amenities.
Siquijor’s long ago reputation as a place of magic and sorcery both attracts and keeps visitors away. The province is well-known for its festivals that focus on primitive healing rituals where incantations are sung while the old folks make potions out of herbs, roots, insects and tree barks. Among the other attractions in the island are the beaches, caves, waterfalls, Bandilaan Natural Park, and butterfly sanctuary. White sand beaches make up most of the 102-kilometer coastline of the island. Most visitors proclaim that the true “magic” of Siquijor is that once you experience the island’s beauty and wonder, you’re hooked for life and never want to leave.
Very little is known about Siquijor and its inhabitants before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century. During its occupation, however, caves in the island yielded old China wares which could mean Chinese traders had arrived earlier. It is thought that the island was once thickly covered with molave, thus the island was called Katugasan by early folks. The lush vegetation in the hilly lands attracted great swarms of fireflies, thus trees were all lit up with the luminous creatures. Perplexed by the trees aglow with fireflies, the Spaniards called the place Isla del Fuego or Island of Fire. The inhabitants on the other hand, believed that the island rose from the sea amid fire, thunder and lightning, thus the name Isla del Fuego.
Esteban Rodriguez of the Legazpi Expedition in 1565 led the first Spaniards to officially discover the island. He was captain of a small party that left Legazpi‘s camp in Bohol to explore the nearby islands which are now called Pamilacan, Siquijor and Negros.
Founded in 1783 under the administration of secular clergymen, Siquijor became the first municipality as well as the first parish to be established on the island. Siquijor was from the begining, administered by the diocese of Cebu. As for civil administration, Siquijor was under Bohol since this province had its own governor. The first Agustinian Recollect priest, Father Vicente Garcia arrived in Siquijor in 1794. Several years thereafter, priests of the same order founded the parishes of Larena (initially called Can-oan), Lazi (formerly Tigbawan), San Juan (Makalipay) and Maria (Cang-meniao). With the exception of Enrique Villanueva, all of the present six municipalities had been established as parishes by 1877. From 1854 to 1892, Siquijor became part of the province of Negros Oriental, and became a sub-province in 1901.
In 1971, Siquijor became an independent province by virtue of Republic Act No. 6398. The capital was officially transferred from Larena to Siquijor in 1972 through a plebiscite held on November 8, 1971 and confirmed through Proclamation No. 1075.