Baybay was believed to be the only settlement on the western coast of Leyte known to the first Spanish conquistadors that came with Magellan, as was Abuyog in the eastern part of the province, and Limasawa and Cabalian in the south. In 1620, the Jesuit fathers which belonged to the "residencia" of Carigara, the first and central station of the Society of Jesus in Leyte.
By superior approbation, Baybay was created a parish on September 8, 1835 with the invocation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. However, the town was erected and independent parish on February 27, 1836.
When the Augustinians took over the administration of the parish after the expulsion of the Jesuits, they opened the first school in Baybay. During their time, the first road leading to Palompon was constructed, thus bringing Baybay closer to her neighboring municipalities. The Augustinian fathers stayed in the town for 75 years - all of which they devoted to the upliftment of the natives in education and in their economic standing.
The first church of Baybay was built in Barrio Punta where it still stands today but is in need of repair. Punta is one of the seven original barrios of Baybay and was even believed to be the original site of Baybay itself, although there are others who say that it was actually in Kabkab, in the vicinity of Barrio Pangasugan.
Chinese invaders attempted to conquer the community, but the brave and staunch natives foiled several attempts. When the Spanish conquistadors spread themselves out to the provinces, an expeditionary force under Felipe Segundo, evidently looking for a bigger settlement, landed in a barrio north of the town which was and still is called Pangasugan. Landing near the river, he pointed to a spot and asked a native in Spanish for the name of the place. Unable to understand Spanish and thinking that Felipe Segundo wanted to ask about the river, he answered in Visayan, " Ang suba nagbaybay sa Pangasugan." This is how Baybay got its name.
Baybay also suffered from Moro raids. On October 22, 1605, one such raid occurred and the pirates, after leaving countless dead, carried off 60 men as captives. Again, on November 4, 1663, moors under the dreaded Corralat took their toll of human lives and captives after mercilessly slaughtering the handful of men who defended the town with the aid of the parish priest.
Baybay suffered a great setback in 1866 when a great fire practically reduced the town to ashes leaving only the chapel of the Holy Cross in a miraculous manner.
The civil administration of the town during the Spanish era was placed in the hands of the gobernadorcillo, assisted by a teniente and the different jueces and cabezas. In 1892, in accordance with the provisions of the Mayura law, the head of the municipal government was given the designation of "Capitan Municipal" and his assistants in office were called "teniente mayor indice" and the "teniente de policia." For the first time, a juez de paz was designated and a detachment of guardias civiles was placed in the town.
The construction of the church, which still stands today, was begun under the engineering administration of Mariano Vasnillio during the term of Fr. Vicente E. Coronado in 1852. The construction lagged for ten years after which the work was resumed under Maestro Proceso, who came from Manila for the purpose of finishing the work. The church was finally finished in 1870 after Capitan Mateo Espinoso, a sculptor and painter of renown, put on the finishing touches. The altar and the rails as they stand today are a credit to his genius.
As the Spanish residents moved away in the early months of 1898, the reins of local government passed completely into the hands of the Filipino officials. An election was held and Don Quirimon Alkuino was elected as the first Filipino presidente. However, after about four months, Gen. Vicente Lukban nullified the results of the election and ordered another one to be held, with the same results. Lukban ordered that the barrios of Baybay be named after the tenientes, thus Caridad was renamed "Veloso," Plaridel became "Alvarado," Bitanhuan was named "Coronado." San Agustin "Sabando," Punta "Virgineza," Pomponan "Montefolka," Gabas "Bartolini", etc.
Throughout these years, Baybay developed into one of the biggest towns in Leyte.
The port of Baybay was closed in 1899 by the American coast guards. The price of commodities soared and products like copra and hemp accumulated in the docks. The order was lifted, but only after 14 ships, the greatest number to dock in port at one time, had stayed in port for days waiting for the order to leave.
On February 10, 1901, the first Americans arrived in Baybay on the ship "Melliza", their arrival caused great confusion and the people evacuated to the barrios. Only a few officials stayed in the town. The next day, soldiers scoured the countryside convincing the people to return to their homes.
Even while the local government was under Don Quirimon Alkuino, he was under orders to follow Capt. Gilmore's (commander of the American attachment) advice. Eventually, this caused conflicts in the local government, and Filipinos took to the hills to join the fight against the Americans.
There were several attempts to attack the American garrison in the town, but practically all of them failed because the Americans had superior arms. Don Guilermo Alkuino and Don Magdaleno Fernandez led the first attack with more than 200 men. The American soldiers fought another in Barrio Pomponan that resulted in the death of 30 men and the destruction of the barrio.
A group of Hilongosnons under the renowned Francisco Flordelis made an attempt in 1901 but they were driven off in a battle at Barrio Punta.
Filipino nationalist made Baybay one of the areas where they made their last stand against the Americans. Later, the surrender ceremonies were held in the town, but only after numerous conferences between American officers and Filipino pacifists were held to effect the surrender of the resistance leaders. The surrender of Capt. Florentino Penaranda who was the last to give up the fight was a colorful one. All his men and officers, thousands of them, gathered at the banks of the Pagbanganan River. From there, they marched to the plaza in front of the municipal hall where the American officers were waiting. Before the Filipinos laid down their arms, Penaranda delivered a speech that even today is considered one of the most stirring addresses made in the province. To commemorate the event, a sumptuous banquet was held for the Americans and the Filipino nationalists. The following day, the Filipino soldiers trekked home in their uniforms to start another life of peace and work.
A sect of the Protestant religion entered Baybay for the first time sometime in 1900. They established their own church in the poblacion. In 1902, the Philippine Independent Church established itself in the barrio of Caridad; shortly afterwards, the Seventh Day Adventists came in.
At the turn of the century, a provincial high school was founded in Baybay, one of the first high schools in Leyte. The government also established the Baybay National Agricultural School for young farmers of Visayas and Mindanao.
The Japanese forces came to Baybay in two waves in 1942. A puppet government was established shortly after their arrival wherein Paterno Tan Sr. was the mayor.
In 1944, American planes passed the town in bombing missions in Cebu. They bombed a ship at anchor in the port of Baybay and left it in flames. The Japanese Imperial Forces left the town on October 19, 1944.
Baybay was used by liberation forces as a springboard for patrol units in the south and for forces that went north for the great battle of Ormoc, where a fierce battle was raging. The hospital was taken over by the provincial government and is still functioning today.
Baybay today is one of the biggest towns in Leyte, both in population and land area. (The land area is 410.5 sq. Km.) It leads in the category of third class towns in the province.
Baybay is consist of 23 Zones and 70 Baranggays. As of September 1995, it's population is 87,179 which includes institutional population.
The Opening of the Church in Baybay
I was the 3rd missionary to ever serve in Baybay. I relieved the first senior companion and became the second senior to serve there. Briefly, when I came there we were all meeting in our house for church. This was only a one-hour sacrament meeting. We used to sit around the lounge and pass a cup and saucer for sacrament. It was not even a branch then, only a group. After the first sacrament meeting I told my companion that no one would want to join this so we locked ourselves away for two days and planned and organized things. When I left about 3 months later we had a branch, a full 3 hour church program, mid week choir practice (I cannot sing but I did in Baybay) and mid week MIA. We also had a church sign made, lots of pews (we did it with a missionary couple from Ormoc) and a sacrament table built. We ordered a box of manuals, sacrament cups and trays from Manila that we organized through one of the missionaries in Ormoc and his Bishop father in Manila. That way we cut all the red tape and got all the stuff quick through unofficial channels. I am still waiting for my financial reimbursement from the district president in Ormoc for the money I paid out for the materials J. When I left 3 months later we had not baptized anyone but I think there were 16 baptisms later on with the new missionary.
© Boris Brak, August, 2001. - Comments: The Webmaster.