Dapitan traces its beginnings long before the Spanish conquistadores set foot on the island of Mindanao. Its earliest settlers were the Subanens, a nomadic tribe of Indonesian stock known to have settled and lived along the banks of the river or “suba” out of which their present day tribal identify originated. Fear of pirates taking shelter during foul weather in the natural harbors of Dapitan’s irregular coastlines forced the timid Subanens to move further into the hinterlands.
Early cartographers of the Philippines showed Dapitan’s location in their maps of Mindanao in varying names in which they had known it such as: “Dapito” in Kaerius’ map of 1598, “Dapite” in Dudley’s map of 1646, “Dapyto” in Sanson’s map of 1652, and “Dapitan” in Moll’s map of East Indies 1729 and in Murillo Velarde’s map of 1734.
There are two versions of how Dapitan got its name. One is from Fr. Urdaneta, who called the place “Daquepitan” which was later changed to “Dacpitan” and still later to “Dapitan” because of the difficulty in pronouncing the former. The second version is derived from the word “Dapit” which means “to invite” in the local Cebuano dialect. This refers to the original group of Boholanos from Panglao, Bohol who were invited by Datu Pagbuaya, the acknowleged founder of the city, to go with him to the “Dakung Yuta”, that is Mindanao, and the settlement they established was called Dapitan. This is the traditional version of how Dapitan got its name.
In various historical reports, there are authentic accounts of trading voyages in the early periods and it is hinted that commercial relations may have been established with Dapitan, already a thriving settlement. It is probable that interaction occurred with the traders and there may have been a mingling of culture.
In addition, the divergent cultures brought by the European invaders, the Americans, the Japanese and the different Visayan groups of settlers in Dapitan which caused the emergence of a distinct culture the present crop of Dapitanons have.
THE TRANSITION TO TOWNSHIP
Dapitan was already a thriving settlement when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in 1595. It is believed that with Legaspi in the expedition were some Agustinian friars who converted the natives to Christianity. Foremost of the converts were Pedro Manooc, son of Pagbuaya, and Manooc’s daughter, Maria Uray.
Even long before the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines in 1768, they had already established mission stations in Zamboanga, Dapitan, Iligan and Butuan. Outside of these strategic beachheads, however, the whole Mindanao hinterlands remained untouched by the Cross. The permanent Dapitan mission was founded in 1629 headed by a Jesuit missionary, Father Pedro Gutierrez.
It was only after the establishment of the Jesuit mission that a strong and stable form of government was finally erected. The Spanish authorities adopted the local form of government that was already existing but placed the officials under the absolute control of the Spanish government. The settlement came to be known as the “pueblo”, and its head variously called either “Datu”, “Capitan” or “Cabeza de Barangay”.
The politico-military commandancia of Dapitan until the end of the Spanish domination in 1898 was still dependent on Misamis. It was only during the revolutionary period that Dapitan became an integral part of the Filipino forces in Zamboanga.
During the American occupation, Dapitan continued to be a part of Zamboanga, one of the two districts comprising the Provincia Mora. Dapitan remained a part of Zamboanga province until 1952 when it was divided into two provinces, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur.
The first election for the Provincial Governor of Zamboanga took place in 1922. Atty. Florentino Saguin, a Dapitanon, won over two opponents who were leading citizens and political veterans of Zamboanga City. In the second regular election in 1925, another Dapitanon, Don Jose Aseniero, was elected governor of the province.
FROM A SMALL TOWN TO A HISTORICAL CITY
From a small town replete with history, Dapitan took a giant step forward and became a chartered city by virtue of Republic Act No. 3811 which was signed by then President Diosdado Macapagal on 22 June 1963, thus becoming the first city in the Province of Zamboanga del Norte. It is officially known as the “Shrine City of the Philippines”. It is one of the four cities of Region IX, these are Zamboanga City, Pagadian City, and Dipolog City. Today, it is at the threshold of finding its rightful place in the global village.
ROLE OF THE CITY IN REGION IX
The harmony in contrast provided by the Christian and Muslim cultures in Zamboanga City has turned the Regional Center into the country’s most fascinating tourist destination. For this reason, Zamboanga City has been identified in the country’s Five Year Development Plan as a tourist spot that should be developed. In addition to this, Dapitan City has also been identified as a tourist destination in Region IX. Its value lies in the fact that the original estate of Dr. Jose P. Rizal has been declared as a National Shrine and is presently being administered by the National Historical Institute. It is a major tourist spot and ranks second only to Fort Santiago in Metro Manila in terms of number of visitors.
While the Rizal Shrine is continuously attracting both domestic and foreign tourist, the City is an attraction by itself. Concrete and well paved roads, stretching to the coastal barangays in the north and towards the interior barangays have turned it into a showcase of beauty and cleanliness. The Dapitan Bay with its expanse of clean beaches is also a constant attraction to tourist.
Here lies the greatest potential of the City with respect to the Region and the regional economy. Its value in the tourism industry cannot be overstated and with proper support from the national leadership, this potential can still prove to be the triggering device towards development.