December 09, 2023

Surigao - Some History


Surigao some History

Last week I gave you a look into the tourism industry, or lack thereof, that exists in the Philippines. I’d like to give you a bit more background info on this city, Surigao, and some of its history. You might be pleasantly surprised, or bored, but a little education thrown into your early morning reading surely couldn’t go astray.

You probably know that the Philippines was pretty much Spanish territory in the 1700’s, a period when just about all newly discovered countries were made into Spanish, Portuguese or British colonies. Oh yeah, some French too. And don’t forget the Dutch. Those countries had prolific explorers back then, discovering lots of new places to open trade routes and to conquer.

Surigao was initially called Banahao and was home to the Augustinian Recollect missionaries in 1752. The Philippines revolution happened in 1898 and their flag was hoisted on Mindanao putting an end to Spanish rule. American occupation took place in 1901. More relevant to Australia are the sea battles that took place during Wold War II, one of which was the Battle of Surigao Strait on October 25-26 in 1944. This naval battle is regarded as one of the most significant in the Pacific War and one which helped turn the tide against the Japanese.

The sea battle was known as the Battle of Leyte, an island I can see from the Pebble Beach here at Mabua, and there were three aspects to the action. The Surigao Straits battle, already mentioned, San Bernadino Strait, and the Cape Engarno encounter.

Australian battle cruiser HMAS Shropshire and the Tribal class destroyer HMAS Arunta were directly involved in this, the greatest naval battle of all time. It’s history now, of course, that the American fleet aided by Australian ships, won that war-defining action. Torpedoes were responsible for most of the deadly damage to the Japanese ships, not fired from submarines but from destroyers.

As a result of this battle, there were obviously a lot of sunken ships and it’s no coincidence that SCUBA diving on the island of Leyte is hugely popular. Whether they get to dive on World War II wrecks I don’t know. Similarly, there are many dive centres in Surigao and on the nearby island of Siargao. Siargao is better known for its surf, the only place strangely enough in all the Philippines that you can catch a wave. I have planned to go there next week. White sand beaches, surf, resorts, waterfalls and caves and rivers – sounds utterly boring…not!

There are two regions of Surigao – Surigao Del Sur and Surigao Del Norte. This city itself, to be honest, has little to offer in the way of great places to eat or interesting places to see. Luneta Park is in the centre of town, but has limited appeal for a tourist. Traffic, in such a smallish city, is horrendous. However, the surrounding areas are a tourist bonanza. Some of the places mentioned are on Mindanao and others are situated on the closest islands.


San Isidro Marine Sanctuary – Snorkeling, tropical fish

Basul Island – mentioned in my last travel story

Pagkawasan Beach – On Hikdop Island. Fine white sand beaches, swimming, relaxing

Buenavista Cave – Also on Hikdop Island. Stalagmites and stalactites

Danawan Island – Fishing village and fine beaches

Puntar Bilar Dive site – That’s a short ride from where I am now. I scouted it yesterday on a motorcycle. Next trip I will take my snorkel.

The Mabua Pebble Beach – well I live here. While I prefer sand, the pebbles are okay, round and smooth. Still a challenge to walk on, but the water clarity defies description.

Silop Cave – Not far from the city

Battle of Surigao Strait Museum – has lots of stuff collected by divers from the wrecks. That answers the question about sunken warships, right?

Waterfalls – there are heaps with the most popular being the Tinuy-an Falls

I have found the local people to be happy despite their hardships, mostly centred on poverty. There are a lot of capital works going on with the infrastructure. Some are being done due to government policy, but some are repair work from the earthquake not so long ago. Neither Marshall law nor the problems in Marawi seem to be affecting this area. Thank heavens.


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