AN ALIEN from another planet coming to earth may think that the city by the river, with its booming trade and commerce, may only be 70 years old as it feted its platinum year as a chartered city last week. Naga was in fact reliving June 18, 1948 when then President Elpidio Quirino -- surrounded by Bicol political bigwigs at that time, namely Camarines Sur Rep. Juan Q. Miranda, Senator Vicente Madrigal, and Secretary Mariano Garchitorena -- signed in Malacanang House Bill No. 1255 into Republic Act No. 305 which formally gave Naga its Charter. Six months after the enactment of the legislative measure, the newly-created City of Naga was formally inaugurated on December 15, 1948 with Leon SA Aureus, a former guerilla officer, appointed as its first city mayor.
But that Martian visitor must be told that the native settlement of Naga was older than when the Spanish conquistadores, led by Captain Juan de Salcedo, found their way to that river in 1573 and saw narra trees growing luxuriantly on both sides of the tributary.
And if one would look closely at the escutcheon of Naga’s official seal, he would discover the years 1573, 1575, 1900, 1946, and 1948 recorded on it, which actually mark important milestones, as it were, in Naga’s existence.
Following Salcedo’s expedition, Captain Pedro de Chaves in 1575 founded the Spanish city of Caceres (later Nueva Caceres), across the river not far from the original native settlement which is now the land occupied by barangays Lerma and part of Tinago. The Spanish city a few years later was to become the seat, not only of military, and later, civil government, but also of episcopal authority over the whole of Southern Luzon. Thus, the bishopric of Caceres became one of only three original bishoprics in early years of Spanish archipelago in the Orient, the two others being Manila and Cebu. Curiously, the façade of the present San Francisco Church in downtown Naga used to face the river banks of now Blumentritt Street to encourage the natives to embrace the Catholic faith by crossing the Naga River, which was then the chamber of life and commerce among the natives and travelling Chinese merchants.
As time went by during that Spanish colonial period, “the two separate entities – native Naga and Castilian Nueva Caceres – expanded and by the end of 19th century, through free admixture, the inhabitants of one and the other unit considered themselves residents of one and a common town. Then followed the official and religious recognition of the fusion of both units under the name of Nueva Caceres at first, which, during the second decade of the 20th century, was changed to the native vocable Naga.”
The unified Naga or Nueva Caceres became the focal point for Bicolanos to rage against foreign domination, and it was in this city that the martyrs of 1897 were tortured before their shipment for execution to Manila and exile for two to Africa. It was also in this city where the rebellious guardia civiles led by Elias Angeles caused by force of arms the surrender of the Spaniards in Bicol on the day of the Penafrancia fiesta in September 1898. This marked the end of over 300 years of Spanish rule in Bicol.
In 1900, the first American troops established themselves in the city. In 1946, the Bicol guerillas holding camp in Tangcong Vaca liberated Naga from the superior Japanese Army even before the American troops arrived. In post-war 1948, it was proclaimed a chartered city, independent of the provincial government, which was one of only few throughout the country and the first in Bicol to be declared as such.
By reckoning the beginning of its recorded history in 1573, Naga, the city that we love so dearly, is now 445 years old, which is more reason for us to be proud of.