Welcome to Tabaco City
Capital City of Padyak and Tabak
Today, I visit one of the youngest cities of the Bicol Region in the Philippines, Tabaco City, whose name accordingly is taken from the razor-blade ‘tabak,’ local name for bolo. Stories have it that the tabak-making industry has been existing even during the years before the Spaniards came. Part of this story is when asked by Spanish visitors about the name of the place, the natives who were unable to understand the question would get irritated and would get their tabak to ward them off.
But history has it also that it takes its name from ‘tabaco’ the Spanish name for the tobacco plant.
‘Tabak’ is symbolic of the people’s time-tested values of cooperation and teamwork simply because this blade of bolo is forged by two blacksmiths called locally as ‘panday’ who alternately hammer on the steel to mold it into its final form. In fact, my grandfather who happens to be wed with a Tabaquena is the first blacksmith I have ever known in my life.
Aside from the ‘tabak,’ this city is also known as the city of the cutlery because of the production of other kitchen including farming implements. This industry has flourished and contributed much to the reputation which the former Albay town holds true to this very day.
On top of this, Tabaco City remains dependent on agricultural produce. People engage more on farming and others on fishing, being a coastal city. Fruits and vegetables sold at cheaper prices back to back with handicraft industry abound in its market. Mats, bags and the like made of ‘karagumoy’ plant which are grown in the place.
Topography and History
Tabaco existed as a town since circa 1731 until its declaration as a city on March 24, 2001. It is surrounded by the towns of Malinao, Malilipot, Oas, Polangui and Ligao City. It is one of the eight towns that share Mayon Volcano which is found south of the city.
San Miguel island which is one of the four main islands of the Lagonoy Gulf is within the jurisdiction of Tabaco. It shares five barangays of the 47 barangays comprising the city.
Tabaco is a fourth class city and is one of the three cities of Albay. These include Legaspi City and Ligao City.
The city boasts of several landmarks which entice and win both local and foreign attention.
Mayon Resthouse now called Mayon Skyline International Hotel is nestled halfway to the tip of Mayon Volcano and on slopes which have not been hit by lava flow offers a year-round humid climate to the visitors, at about a degree like that of Baguio City. Oftentimes foggy and hazy, going up the slopes gives everyone the feel of excitement together with the rushing thoughts that made up what Mayon Volcano is in the minds of the people, tourists and visitors.
From this vantage point, visitors can clearly see on a sunny day the rivers and lakes of nearby towns and villages, Pacific Ocean, San Miguel Island, Curangon Shoal and Mount Malinao, another volcano near Mayon.
Located 3,000 feet above sea level, the Mayon Planetarium and Science Park at the slopes of Mayon Volcano is a perfect destination for educational tours and pleasure trips endorsed by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Science and Technology (DOST). It is a one-storey structure equipped with library, virtual room, mini museum and audiovisual hall where students and tourists who are interested to learn stories about Mayon Volcano and can come, commune and enjoy the beauty of nature – nature at its best.
The vintage government building called Palacio Presidencia constructed in 1929 has housed the local government for almost a century now. The building is now considered a rare historical structure since only six buildings of similar design are believed to exist in the Philippines.
The The Smith, Bell and Co. House now the Manalang House was once one of the grandest houses in Tabaco (then a town in Albay province) in the 1900s. It has been declared by the National Historical Institute (NHI) as one of the most well-preserved spanish homes in the Philippines.
The Saint John the Baptist Church, located within the poblacion stands as Tabaco’s most distinguishable landmark which has survived for years and is now among its beloved cultural treasure. It was first built in 1616 by the Franciscan missionaries headed by Fr. Pedro de Alcareso who came in 1587.
The church building is a classic earthquake baroque structure erected starting 1864 and completed in 1879 and is considered one of the oldest churches in the province of Albay. It is designated a national landmark by virtue of Presidential Decree 260 issued August 1, 1993.
The church structure, produced through the creative and distinctive craftsmanship of the Filipino masons uses stones. During those times when forced labor was undeniably the labor system, cement was not yet available so they made a mixture of eg albumin, molasses and lime as binder and hardener. Its stone walls are massive while its belltower is detached from the main structure.
Trade and Transportation
For years, Tabaco has been making its contribution in the trade and commerce in the region.
Part of this is the Tabaco International Port which is a natural harbor found on the eastern side of Albay province and is the only international seaport in Bicolandia.
It has been key to regional and national trade making it as an indispensable harbor for the traffic of goods entering and exiting the city, province and region. It is serving as a passenger and cargo movement facility to the islands of San Miguel, Cagraray, Batan and Rapu-rapu, including the provinces of Catanduanes and Camarines Sur.
The same city is also known as the padyak capital of the Philippines. Tabaco will not be Tabaco without these tricycles driven mostly by men which have been dominating the streets of the town, now a city for decades.
This has been giving jobs and livelihood to thousands of hardworking Tabaknons and their families.
Of course, this city is accessible by land, water and air via the Legaspi Airport in Legaspi City, Albay’s premier city.
Since its inception in 2002, the Tabak Festival is celebrated annually in June for the feast day of the city’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist. This is a yearly celebration setting every festive Tabaknon through its colorful street dancing presentations, beauty pageants, exhibits and trade fairs.
As I leave the city today, I have my heart full of wonderful stories about Tabaco City, an old Albay town, now a city, always making a great contribution in the lives of the Bicolanos and the Tabaquenos in particular.
I know, I have to learn many things about the place, its people and history. I will have to do it soon. In the meantime, these have been my harvest.
With much hope that I will be back someday, I will certainly reap more beautiful stories about the place and be proud that I found a home in Tabaco City.