Last updated on September 30, 2019
The Cagayan de Oro area was continuously inhabited by Late Neolithic to Iron Age Austronesian cultures. The oldest human remains discovered was from the Huluga Caves, once used as a burial place by the natives. A skullcap sent to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1977 was dated to be from between 350-377 AD. The caves have yielded numerous artifacts, but most areas have been badly damaged by guano collectors and amateur treasure hunters. Associated with the cave is the Huluga Open Site, believed to be the site of the primary pre-colonial settlement in the region identified as “Himologan” by the first Spanish missionaries. The site is located about eight kilometers from present-day Cagayan de Oro. The discovery of a grave site in 2009 uncovered remains of Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) celadon ware and Sukhothai period (1238–1347 AD) Sangkhalok ceramic ware, in addition to body ornaments and stone tools. It indicates that the region was part of the ancient maritime trading network of Southeast Asia. Skulls recovered from the sites show that native Kagay-anons practiced artificial cranial deformation since childhood as a mark of social status, similar to skulls from archeological sites in neighboring Butuan.
The Huluga Open Site was damaged extensively in 2001 to give way to a bridge project by the local administration. It was the source of controversy when a team from the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program dismissed the archeological importance of the site by declaring it as a “camp-like area” and not a settlement and thus not worthy of heritage protection under the laws. It was alleged by local conservationists that the UP-ASP team were influenced by the local government so the bridge project could continue. The site is still not protected and continue to be quarried, despite protests by local historians and archeologists.
The Himologan settlement was still occupied by the time the Europeans made contact. In 1622, two SpanishAugustinian Recollect missionaries reached the settlement and described it as being inhabited by a mixed stock descended from highlander Bukidnon Lumad and sea-faring Visayans (“Dumagat”). They described the men of the settlement as being tattooed like other Visayans and the women as being ornamented with intricate jewelry, some of which were golden. They also identified them as animists, practicing traditional anitism, though they paid tribute to Muhammad Kudarat, the sultan of the Islamized Sultanate of Maguindanao to the south.
In 1626, Fray Agustín de San Pedro persuaded the chief of Himologan, Datu Salangsang, to transfer his settlement down the Cagayan River, to the present-day Gaston Park. De San Pedro later fortified the new settlement against Sultan Kudarat’s raiders.
In 1738, Spanish dominance was felt in Cagayan de Oro. When Misamis gained the status of province in 1818, one of its four districts was the Partidos de Cagayan. In 1871, the “Partidos” became a town and was made a permanent capital of Misamis.
On February 27, 1872, Governor-General Carlos María de La Torre issued a decree declaring Cagayan the permanent capital of Segundo Distrito de Misamis. During this era, the name of the town was known as Cagayan de Misamis.
In 1883, the town became a seat of the Spanish government in Mindanao for the provinces of Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte.
On January 10, 1899, Cagayan de Misamis joined the government of Emilio Aguinaldo and celebrated its independence from Spain. It was the second time the Aguinaldo government was declared and the new Philippine flag raised on the Mindanao island. By virtue of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States; this caused friction and resulted in the Philippine-American War.
On March 31, 1900, Americans occupied the town of Cagayan de Misamis and on April 7, 1900, a battle erupted in the town center led by General Nicolas Capistrano and Filipino resistance fighters. This would later become known as the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis. The Americans won the war, and about forty years later, gave the Philippines its independence on July 4, 1946. The war years in Cagayan de Oro were prompted by the presence of the Americans in 1898. The Americans were initially and successfully repulsed by the Kagay-anons forces led by Mayor Don Apolinar Vélez at the historic Battle of Makahambus on June 4, 1900.
After the troubled years, peace finally brought back the economic activities to normality under the guidance of the United States. Consequently, from a purely farming-fishing area, Cagayan de Oro emerged into a booming commerce and trade center.
May 3, 1942, American and Philippine forces fought heroically against invading Japanese forces from Panay. Unable to resist the overwhelming and the better supplied Japanese, the allied forces retreated to more defensive positions outside the city. The Japanese burned most of the city and took up residence at Ateneo De Cagayan university, now Xavier university and used the ferry crossing near San Agustin Church. The Carmen bridge did not exist at that time.
The Japanese army implemented a scorch earth policy. Filipino and American guerrilla forces fought back during this occupation and American planes bombed both the university and San Agustin church on October 10, 1944. The Japanese were never able to successfully move outside the city for any length of time due to the constant pressure and attacks from the Philippine resistant movement. American and combined Free Philippine forces landed in Cagayan de Oro on May 10, 1945, three years and 7 days after the Japanese occupation.
During this period the Japanese committed many atrocities against the local population of Cagayan de Oro, as they did throughout the Philippines. Colonel Fumio Suski and two hundred of his men escaped capture during the liberation of the city and withdrew into the mountainous jungle. They were caught two years later, only 38 had survived but when caught they had been cannibalizing the Higaonon tribal people. At least 70 people had been eaten.
In 1948, the barrios of El Salvador and Molugan with their sitios known as Sala, Sambulawan, Sinaloc, Lagtang, Talaba, Kalabaylabay and Hinigdaan were separated from Cagayan de Oro to form the town of El Salvador.
In 1950, the barrios of Opol, Igpit, and lower Iponan (now Barangay Barra) were separated from Cagayan de Oro to form the town of Opol.
On June 15, 1950, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 521, which granted the status of a chartered city to the Municipality of Cagayan de Misamis. This was made possible through the efforts of then Cagayan de Oro Congressman Emmanuel Pelaez.
During the martial law era, Cagayan de Oro was not spared from military bombings and the usage of brutal mechanisms against dissenters of the Marcos regime. When martial law ended, more than a thousand people from the city were tortured, raped, electrocuted, or salvaged. Cagayan de Oro was then declared a highly urbanized city by the Ministry of Local Government on November 22, 1983. In 1986, the city participate in the People Power Revolution through rallies in the streets of the city. When the revolution succeeded and ousted Marcos from power in Manila, the city was among those who supported the installation of Corazon Aquino as president.
In 1992, the National Museum of the Philippines recognized the archaeological value of Huluga when it gave the Open Site and caves separate accession numbers. In 1999, however, mayor Vicente Y. Emano conceived the plan to bulldoze Huluga to give way to a road-and-bridge project. The project was stopped in 2001, but was eventually continued in 2002. The construction destroyed at least 60% of the archaeological sites’s open area, where the majority of artifacts can be found. Protests against the heritage destruction was made by cultural experts, but nothing happened with their plea. In 2003, the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) went to the open area of Huluga for a scientific surface investigation and managed to find earthenware, Chinese pottery sherds, obsidian flakes, animal bones, an ancient Spanish coin, and a whale harpoon similar to those being used in Lomblen Island, Indonesia. The newly discovered artifacts proved that there are still many artifacts that can be found in the area. This caused the HCA to file a case against Emano and the contractor UKC Builders, before the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). However, the construction continued and was inguarated in September 2003 by Emano. A day later, president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made a speech in UNESCOabout her administration’s gains in cultural conservation. In January 2004, the city council enacted an ordinance that authorized Emano to sign a contract with the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) of the University of the Philippines to do salvage archaeology in Huluga and vicinities. The program did not make cooperitve linkages with existing archeological programs from Xavier University. The ASP declared that the site was an ancient camp, not a settlement, due to their findings in the destroyed archaeological site. The report did not consider the findings of Xavier University. The issue later climbed into the Philippine Senate, where Loren Legardaissued a resolution for investigation of the matter, but the investigation was never approved by the other members of the Senate. The artifacts found in the Huluga Caves and its destroyed open site from 1992 to 2003 are housed in Xavier University, Capitol University, and the University of the Philippines.
Aftermath of Tropical Storm Sendong (Washi)
On the evening of December 16–17, 2011, Tropical Storm Sendong (international name Washi) caused widespread flash flooding in Northern Mindanao. In Cagayan de Oro, hundreds living near the banks of the Cagayan de Oro River were killed, with hundreds still missing.
Officials said that despite government warning, some people did not evacuate. Five people were killed in a landslide, while others died in the flash floods which occurred overnight, following 10 hours of rain, compounded by overflowing rivers and tributaries. Most of the victims had been sleeping.
In some areas, up to 20 centimeters of rain fell in 24 hours. More than 2,000 were rescued, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and at least 20,000 people were staying in 10 evacuation centers in Cagayan de Oro. Officials were also investigating reports that an entire village was swept away. The confirmed death toll from the disaster is 1,268.
In January 2017, Cagayan de Oro, along with other parts of Visayas and Mindanao, was impacted by a combination of a low-pressure area and the tail-end of a cold front. The heavy rain inundated many streets, stranding many commuters. At the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP), about 900-1,000 students were trapped as most of their campus was flooded. The students were forced to climb to the upper floors of the school’s buildings and wait until rescue arrived. The city’s shopping malls on Claro M. Recto Avenue were also severely affected, with Limketkai Center completely inundated by the floodwaters. A basement parking area of a mall at the corner of Corrales St. was covered with water, while another one near Bitan-ag Creek was flooded as well, even though the area was elevated.
On December 21, 2017, Typhoon Vinta (international name Tembin) impacted most of Mindanao. It made its landfall in the Davao Region. Three bridges were closed due to rising water levels in Cagayan de Oro, where 1,719 individuals were forced to evacuate. Roughly 30,000 people were either stranded in ports or stayed in evacuation centers while 22,000 people moved to higher grounds due to heavy flooding.