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Rx for A Region's Identity: The case for naming Northern Mindanao

Misamis Region

By Mike Banos

Of the four administrative and one special regions in Mindanao, only

Northern Mindanao enjoys the dubious distinction of having a generic

We have the Zamboanga, Caraga, Davao and Socskargen regions, as well

as the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Not that the
people of our region, variously known as Region 10, Region X, Northern
Mindanao, Amihanang Mindanao or Normin, to mention a few, can be
faulted for trying to get one.

By October 10 this year, it will be nine years since the Region 10

Tourism Council passed a resolution asking the national government to
rename Northern Mindanao as the MISAMIS region. The motion was passed
following a presentation by then Commissioner Antonio J. Montalvan II
of the Historical and Cultural Commission of Cagayan de Oro during the
council's 5th general assembly October 2, 1999 at Gingoog City.

Montalvan's presentation was based on his paper “Resurgence of

Identity: The Heritage of Misamis, 1818-1945” tracing the Misamis
region's rich cultural and historical heritage from the times of the
Himologan settlement at the Huluga caves site dating back to the Late
Neolithic Age or 377 A.D. down to contemporary history in World War II
when Cagayan de Misamis (as Cagayan de Oro was then known) and
Bukidnon became rallying points for the underground resistance against
the Japanese invaders.

Montalvan traces the Misamis region’s beginnings during the early

1800s when the Spanish government decided to pacify Mindanao. The
island was made into one province with Zamboanga as its capital. It
was divided into three politico-military districts under the
administration of a military governor: the Primero Distrito de
Zamboanga, Segundo Distrito de Misamis and Tercio Distrito de Surigao.

The largest of these was the Segundo Distrito de Misamis which covered
present day Zamboanga del Norte, the Lanao and Misamisprovinces,
Camiguin, Bukidnon,and the northern portions of Cotabato and

The Misamis district was further subdivided into four: the Partido de
Misamis, Partido de Dapitan, Partido de Cagayan and Partido de

It was named Misamis after its capital town at the mouth of Panguil
Bay, now Ozamiz City. Here, the Spanish Jesuit Jose Ducos built the
Fuerza Real de la Virgen del Triunfo as a fortress against Moro
raiders who had to pass through the narrow bay in their raids against
Spanish and Filipino towns along the coast.
The Misamis district, particularly the Partido de Dapitan, is also
significant historically because it was here where Filipino national
hero Dr. Jose Rizal was exiled from 1892-1896. Montalvan cites the
rich oral tradition which tells of Rizal's famous friends, patients
and visitors and his many sojourns around the region.

For instance, there was the Jesuit lay brother Juan Costa whose “Aguas
Potables” waterworks in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental became the
inspiration for Rizal's famous Talisay water system which still works
to this day at the Rizal shrine in Dapitan.

Although it remains little known to this day, Misamis was the only
region which actively joined the Katipunan revolt against Spain. On
September 29, 1896, 350 revolucionarios, including 50 Bukidnon lumads,
overwhelmed the Spanish garrison and raided the armory of the Fuerza
Nueva Victoria in Calaganan (present-day Balo-i) near Iligan. Unable
to seize Cagayan because of superior Spanish forces, the
revolucionarios proceeded to Sumilao and marched down the coast where
they commandeered a boat and landed in Balingasag.

From there the group stormed the Tercio Civil outpost in Gingoog where
the uprising was finally put down in January 1897 with the help of
reinforcements and a gunboat from Butuan.

Montalvan writes that although the Camiguin writer Vicente Elio y

Sanchez wrote an account of it in the Manila newspaper La Oceania
Española, it was censored by the Spaniards. Augustinian Recollect
chronicles reveal that this revolt was in fact instigated by a
communication from Katipuneros in Luzon, making Mindanao the ninth
province to join the Katipunan revolt, albeit not included in the
eight rays of the sun in the Philippine flag which represent the eight
provinces which first rose against Spanish tyranny.

Misamis also became the first region in Mindanao to join the new
Philippine Republic under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. On December 26, 1898,
the new Filipino flag was borne aloft in a public demonstration for
Philippine independence in the streets of Mambajao, Camiguin. And on
January 10, 1899, Philippine independence was proclaimed with much
fanfare in Cagayan de Misamis, which also elected the first set of
local officials and officially raised the Filipino flag for only the
second time ever in the island (the first was in Surigao).

During the Second World War, Misamis became a part of world history
when Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the United States
Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) landed in Macabalan port in
Cagayan de Misamis on March 13, 1942 after successfully escaping from
invading Japanese forces in Corregidor in a flotilla of PT Boats. The
National Historical Institute (NHI) recently installed a MacArthur
Marker in Macabalan which recalls this historic event in world
MacArthur stayed over at the Del Monte compound in Bukidnon until
March 17, 1942 when he and his family and a few of his staff were
airlifted to Australia in two rickety B-17s. Around a week later,
Phil. Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon and Vice President
Sergio Osmeña, Sr. also used the same route to escape from Corregidor
to Australia.

Bukidnon added to the lore by becoming the headquarters of the

Philippine government under Gen. Manuel A. Roxas during the early
years of the war. It was also here where Gen. William Sharp became the
last US general in the country to surrender to the Japanese.

Later, Lt. Col. Wendell W. Fertig, who led the guerrilla movement in
Mindanao, and the United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) had
their base and headquarters in the town of Oroquieta, Misamis

Montalvan said this was significant because Oroquieta then was

considered to be the capital of the entire Free Philippines, perhaps
the only time in our country's history when its capital was in
Mindanao, in the region then known as Misamis.

Not the least, Montalvan cites the significance of Misamis in pre-

history through the discovery of the Huluga caves and open site in
Cagayan de Oro city in the early 1970s. A fragment of a skull sent to
the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California for a dating technique
known as acid racemization showed it dated back to 377 A.D.

It’s long overdue for government, business and civil society to

undertake a strong advocacy for the regional identity of Northern
Mindanao by coming up with an appropriate moniker for Mindanao’s so-
far remaining generic region.

Rx for a Regional Identity? Misamis Region, no less. It is culturally

correct, historically accurate. What is taking us so long?


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