Last updated on September 30, 2019
Tacloban was first known as Kankabatok, an allusion to the first inhabitants – Kabatok. They established their dwellings in the vicinity of the present day Santo Niño Church. Others who came later were Gumoda, Haraging and Huraw who erected their own settlements in nearby sites. Huraw’s domain is the hill where the city hall now sits. The combined settlements acquired the name Kankabatok, meaning Kabatok’s property.
The constant threat of pirates due to its lack of a natural barrier hindered the development and progress of the settlement. And so the place never figured out in the early centuries of the Spanish colonization of Leyte. When the Jesuits (the first evangelizers of Leyte) left in 1768, the Augustinians took over and in 1770 they established the barrio with a chapel (visita) of Tacloban under the jurisdiction of Palo. The Augustinians who came from the Province of the Holy Name of Jesus based in Cebu were also responsible in introducing the devotion to the Santo Niño becoming therefore the heavenly patron of the settlement. With the Moro raids in check, the place became a hub for commercial activity and soon after the place was renamed Tacloban becoming an independent municipality and then capital of the province of Leyte. In 1843, the Augustinians ceded the administration of the parish to the Franciscans.
The change of the name came about in this manner: Kankabatok was a favorite haunt of fishermen. They would use a bamboo contraption called a “taklub” to catch crabs, shrimps or fish. When asked where they were going, the fishermen would answer, “(to) tarakluban”, which meant the place where they used the device to catch these marine resources. Eventually, the name Tarakluban or Tacloban took prominence.
It is not known when Tacloban became a municipality because records supporting this fact were destroyed during a typhoon. It is commonly believed that Tacloban was officially proclaimed a municipality in 1770s. In 1768, Leyte and Samar were separated into two provinces, each constituting a politico-military province. Due to its strategic location, Tacloban became a vital trading point between the two provinces.
The capital of Leyte was transferred from one town to another with Tacloban as the last on 26 February 1830. The decision to make Tacloban the capital was based on the following reasons: 1) ideal location of the port and 2) well-sheltered and adequate facilities. On 20 June 1952, Tacloban was proclaimed a chartered city by virtue of Republic Act No. 760.
The arrival of Colonel Murray in 1901 made him the first military governor of Leyte. His first official act was the opening of Tacloban port to world commerce. Before World War II, Tacloban was the commercial, education, social and cultural center of the Province of Leyte. Copra and abaca were exported in large quantities. The leading institutions were: Leyte Normal School, Leyte High School, Leyte Trade School, Holy Infant Academy and Tacloban Catholic Institute.
In November 1912, a typhoon swept through the central Philippines and “practically destroyed” Tacloban. In Tacloban and Capiz on the island of Panay, the death toll was 15,000, half the population of those cities at the time.
On 25 May 1942, Japanese forces landed in Tacloban, signalling the beginning of their two-year occupation of Leyte. They fortified the city and improved its airfield. Since San Pedro Bay was ideal for larger vessels, the Japanese Imperial Naval Forces made Tacloban a port of call and entry. This time was considered the darkest in the history of Tacloban and the country due to the incidences of torture among civilians, including the elderly. In response, guerrilla groups operated in Leyte – the most notable of which was the group of Ruperto Kangleon.
Leyte was the first to be liberated by the combined Filipino and American troops. General Douglas MacArthur’s assault troops landed in the Tacloban and Palo beaches (White Beach and Red Beach, respectively) and in the neighboring town of Dulag (Blue Beach) on 20 October 1944. These landings signaled the eventual victory of the Filipino and American forces and the fulfillment of MacArthur’s famous promise: “I Shall Return.”
Three days later, on 23 October, at a ceremony at the Capitol Building in Tacloban, MacArthur, accompanied by President Sergio Osmeña, made Tacloban the temporary seat of the Commonwealth Government and temporary capital of the Philippines until the complete liberation of the country. The provincial government of Leyte and the municipal government of Tacloban were re-established.
Paulo Jaro was the Liberation mayor of Tacloban. The first mayor of this capital upon inauguration of the Philippine Republic was Epifanio Aguirre.
On 8 January 1960 MacArthur made his “sentimental” journey to Leyte. He was greeted with cheers by locals when he visited Tacloban.
The city was proclaimed as a highly urbanized city by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on 4 October 2008[ and ratified by the people on 18 December 2008. Tacloban was officially declared an HUC at 10:40PM of that day.
Debris lines the streets of Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan hit the city.
On 8 November 2013 (PST), Tacloban was hit by the full force of Typhoon Haiyan, causing massive destruction across the city. Dead bodies were scattered on the streets, trees were uprooted, and a 13 ft (4 m) storm surge largely destroyed the airport, though it functioned soon after as a makeshift command and evacuation center. After taking a helicopter flight over the city, US Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way – every single building, every single house.” Widespread looting and violence is reported to have taken place and local government virtually collapsed, as many city officials were victims. President Aquino declared a state of emergency in Tacloban. The official final death toll stood at 6,201.
On 17 January 2015, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, arrived in Tacloban to celebrate mass with the survivors of Haiyan (Yolanda).The pope arrived in Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport on a flight operated by Philippine Airlines.