by Mighty Baylon
It was said that even before the Spaniards came, our region was already called Ibalon by its inhabitants. I doubt if we were already a united entity during that time owing to the difficulty of transportation and communication and having no ruler higher than a datu. But somehow due to a common language, albeit with distinct dialectical variations, its people might have some sort of common identity.
Ibalon was explored by the Spaniards in 1569 coming from two directions. One expedition came from Panay and passed by Masbate, Ticao and Burias islands before landing on the southern coast of Bicol and it was said it reached Camilig (Daraga) though some thought that the expedition reached only portions of the current Sorsogon.
Another came from Manila passing by current Laguna de Bay and probably through Mauban, Quezon in search of the famed gold of Mambulao (J. Panganiban today) and Paracale (but which was reported to reached the present Naga City). It was said that most of the inhabitants of the place then were Tagalogs coming from Mauban and trade links were maintained via boats in Lamon Bay.
This aspect can only be understood today if one knows the trade winds and that sailing by boat (paglalayag) is the dominant method of long-distance transportation then owing to the lack of roads. Southern Bicol is definitely known in Panay because the historical fishing season in central Philippines revolved around the Sibuyan and Samar seas where fishermen followed the fish in a counterclockwise cycle.
The expedition that emanated from Manila called the northern part of the peninsula called the place “Tierra de Camarines” due to the abundance of rice camarins. The southern half of the peninsula was called “Tierra de Ibalon”.
Another expedition was launched in 1573 coming from Manila. Entering the current Naga from San Miguel Bay it followed the course of the Bicol River until it reached Lake Bato where they found the village of Libon (or Libong). This expedition later reached the current Legazpi probably through the Albay portion of the Bicol River.
Ecclesiastically, the whole of Bicol was under the diocese of Nueva Caceres which was founded in 1595. But militarily the northern part was ruled from Manila and the southern part was ruled from Panay. The southern part was for a short time called the “Partido de Libon”.
Later the term “Tierra de Ybalon” was used to refer to the whole peninsula. In 1636, the peninsula was divided into two administrative areas. To “Ambos Camarines” the areas under the present towns of Donsol, Camalig, Guinobatan, Jovellar (Quipia), Ligao, Oas, Polangui and Libon was transferred. This was latter called the “Partido de Iraya” . However the areas under the current towns of Lagonoy, Sagnay (but these probably included the whole of the current Partido area) and Caramoan peninsula were included in “Partido de Ibalon”. This is thought to be the area called “Partido de Lagonoy”. This arrangement is only understandable if trade winds and sea patterns are considered and the Bicol River as a transportation artery is recognized.
In 1846 “Partido de Iraya” and “Partido de Lagonoy” were exchanged, paving way for the modern division of Albay and Camarines Sur.
Steve David, a charter member of UP Ibalon, did the research of the term “Ibalon” in behalf of our organization. He was the proponent of the name “Ibalon” for the new organization that will replace UP Paglaom. However, I vetoed his spelling “Ybalon”. Too close for comfort and we will just spend the rest of the time explaining the spelling.
The name was carried and as they say the rest is history.