Isabela (province)

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Province of Isabela
[[Image:Ph seal isabela.png|250px]]
[[Image:Ph locator map isabela.png|250px]]
Region Cagayan Valley (Region II)
Governor Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca (LP)
Barangays 1,055
Physical characteristics
Area 10,664.6 km²
(2nd largest)
Total (2000) 1,287,575
(17th largest)
Density 121/km²
(18th lowest)

Isabela is the second largest province of the Philippines next to Palawan. It is located in the Cagayan Valley Region in Luzon. Its capital is Ilagan and borders, clockwise from the south, Aurora, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Kalinga, and Cagayan. This primarily agricultural province is the rice and corn granary of Luzon.


People and culture

According to the Philippine Census in 2000, Isabela was the most populated province among the five provinces in Cagayan Valley (Region II). It has a population of 1,287,575 people and comprising 45.7 percent of the 2.8 people in the region. At the national level, the province contributed 1.7 percent to the total population of 76.5 million.

For all ages, the sex ratio in Isabela was about 105 with 660,627 males and 626,948 females in the 2000 Census of Population and Housing (Census 2000). There were more males than females below 50 years old.

Ilocano was the most prominent ethnic group in Isabela. Of the total household population, 68.71 percent classified themselves as Ilocanos. The next two prominent ethnic groups were Ibanag (14.05 percent) and Tagalog (10.02 percent). The remaining 7.22 percent were either Gaddang, Paranan, Yogad, or were from other ethnic groups.

Economy and tourism

Agriculture, mainly rice with a relatively large corn crop, is the biggest industry in Isabela. Farming is highly mechanized as most of the agricultural lands are irrigated. With the presence of the Isabela State University, joint ventures, other foreign assisted projects, and the Magat Dam, agriculture has a high level of productivity. It is also the hub of trade, commerce, and other economic activities due to its central location in the region. The wood industry used to be a top earner for the province but due to the logging ban imposed in the Cagayan Valley Region, activities in this industry have considerably declined. However, furniture making using narra and other indigenous forest materials continues.

Some potential investments are in fisheries and tourism. Isabela has a fertile fishing ground on the Pacific Coast. The reservoir of the Magat Dam is utilized for fish cage operations, such as tilapia production for domestic markets.

Tourism is relatively a new industry being developed in the province. Support services and accommodation facilities are likewise being developed. Tourism focuses mainly in and around Santiago City and can be noted by the presence of the only McDonalds in the province.


Aguinaldo Shrine in Palanan, the site where Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans.
Aguinaldo Shrine

in Palanan, Isabela is the historical place where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured by the American forces, thus ending the Philippine Revolution in 1901. It is accessible by aircraft, pumpboat and trekking thru Sta. Ana, Cagayan, San Mariano/Cauayan and Ilagan, Isabela respectively.


Isabela Museum and Library The repository and custodian of the rich historical and cultural heritage of the Isabelinos. Features a gallery exhibit & collection of antiques such as artifacts, fossils, ethnographic items, heirloom pieces, visual arts (photographs, paintings, sculpture, graphic arts); historical and cultural dioramas, miniature models of provincial landmarks, among others. It was inaugurated on May 11, 1999 and is housed at the old capitol building in Ilagan. Open from Mondays to Saturdays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.


Bonsai Forest (Sumanget, Dinapigue) The 200 km² area is accessible by land transport from Baler in Aurora Province and by air from Cauayan Airport.

Sta. Victoria Caves and Environmental School at Fuyo National Park It features naturally formed lattices and sparkling rock formations. Visitors are given lectures and allowed to plant their own seedlings, and those enrolled at the Environmental School are given certificates. Within the area is the Pinzal Falls conducive for swimming and other recreational facilities like carabao-drawn carts and horseback riding. The park is 15 kilometers from Ilagan town proper.

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (Palanan Rainforest) The largest protected area in the country with more than 3,000 km² of rainforest, and the lowest at 800 feet (240 m) above sea level. Declared number one in biodiversity and also one of the top 10 biodiversity “hotspots” in the world. Research showed the existence of unknown and unnamed species of flora and fauna. A confirmed habitat of the Philippine Eagle and the Cloud Rat. Its coastal areas host whales and dolphins and other cetaceans. Ideal for scuba diving and other water sports, and a mountaineering/trekking challenge. Accessible by light aircraft from Cauayan Airport (Cyclone Airways), pumpboat from Sta. Ana in Cagayan and Baler in Aurora Province, and trekking from San Mariano, Cauayan City and Ilagan in Isabela. Also accessible by air transport from Tuguegarao City Domestic Airport through CHEMTRAD


Shrine of Our Lady of the Visitation (Guibang, Gamu) Guibang Church, which houses the Miraculous Lady of the Visitacion, is located along the national highway of Gamu, Isabela and frequented by travelers passing along Maharlika Highway. It is now as famous as the Shrine of Piat Basilica Minore as it comes alive in July every year when religious pilgrims come to offer prayers of thanks and to ask for another year of good fortune. The image of the miraculous Lady was canonically crowned on May 26, 1973 and acknowledged as a National Shrine on January 24-26.

St. Mathias Church together with its cylindrical bell tower in Tumauini, Isabela.

Parish Church of St. Mathias (Tumauini) Built in 1753 under Dominican Supervision and completed in 1805, it is an ultra-baroque church unique for its extensive use of baked clay both for wall finishing and ornamentation. Clay bricks come to life in concentric circles on the façade, spiral curves on the finial serpentine reliefs, and many finely molded details – flowers, foliage, surfaces, cherubs, and saints. Its architecture bears Chinese ancestry. This church of stone features a unique cylindrical bell tower that is the only one of its kind in the Philippines. It was declared a National Historical Landmark on February 24, 1989.

Our Lady of Atocha Church (Alicia) Passing by Angadanan town on February 12, 1805, Fr. Manuel Mora, OP wrote that “Angadanan has a convent of bricks, though not totally finished. Its church is timber, wood and bamboo. The number of inhabitants is 791.” The church and convent as seen today in the town of Alicia, beautiful and solid, was built by Fr. Tomas Calderon, OP and inaugurated in 1849, with Fr. Francisco Gainza, OP, then vicar of Carig (now Santiago City). Famous for their antique Spanish architectural designs, these churches are found along the national highway and are accessible by land transport.

San Pablo Church.

San Pablo Church Built in 1624, it is said to be the oldest in the province. Its lofty bell tower of six layers including the circular apex made of adobe is the tallest in the Cagayan Valley. San Pablo, the oldest town of Isabela, was founded by Padre de Sto. Tomas, 210 years before Isabela was made a province.

St. Rose de Lima Church (Gamu, Isabela) Built in 1726, it is famous for its Spanish architectural design. The feast of the patronal saint of Gamu is celebrated every August 23.


Giant Butaka at Ilagan junction.

World’s Biggest Butaka (Ilagan, Isabela) It is 11 feet 4 inches high, 20 feet 8 inches long, and 9 feet 7 inches wide. It weighs 2,368 kilos and was constructed by 25 workers in 29 days.

Magat Hydroelectric Dam, built in the 70's.

Magat Dam Tourism Complex (Magat Hydro Electric Power Plant) Asia’s biggest dam project at the time of its construction. It serves the primary function of power generation and irrigation. Its reservoir area of 44.5 km² has a great potential for water-based recreation like fishing, boating and water skiing, among others. The plant is accessible by passenger jeepney and bus from Santiago City.

Special interest

Untouched Palanan.

Trekking, mountaineering, camping and exploration

at Palanan, Dinapigue, Maconacon and Divilacan forest area

Diving and snorkeling

at Dicotcotan Beach

River Cruise

at Palanan River

Crocodile Watching (Crocodylus Mindorensis)

at San Mariano at night.


Isabela comprises an aggregate land area of 10,665 square kilometers, representing almost 40 percent of the regional territory. It is the largest province in North Luzon and the second largest province in the Philippines in terms of land area.

Map of Isabela.

Isabela is subdivided into 35 municipalities and 2 cities.




The province is divided into three physiographic areas. The eastern area, straddled by the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, is rugged and thickly forested. A substantial portion is uncharted. These unexplored hinterlands are home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, while others are government reservations. The western area is a sprawling fertile valley hemmed by the Central Cordillera. It is criss-crossed by the mighty Cagayan River, Siffu river, and Magat River. Its mountains rise to a peak of about 8,000 feet, and are home to one of the world’s largest remaining low-altitude rainforests, with numerous unknown endemic species of flora and fauna and exceptional biological diversity. The area is popularly known as the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park.


Queen Isabella II of Spain

Prior to 1856, there were only two provinces in the Cagayan Valley Region: Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya. The Province of Cagayan at that time consisted of all towns from Tumauini to the north in Aparri and all other towns from Ilagan southward to Aritao comprised the Province of Nueva Vizcaya. In order to facilitate the work of the missionaries in the evangelization of the Cagayan Valley, a royal decree was issued on May 1, 1856 that created the Province of Isabela consisting of the towns of Gamu, Angadanan and Camarag (now Echague), Carig (now Santiago City) and Palanan. The new province was named in honor of Queen Isabela II of Spain.

Although the province did not play a major role in the revolt against Spain, it was in Palanan that the final pages of the Philippine Revolution was written when the American forces led by General Frederick Funston finally captured General Emilio Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901.

The first Provincial Governor of Isabela was Rafael Maramag, a former Municipal President (then a term for Municipal Mayor) of the capital town Ilagan. Rafael Maramag was also the first Municipal President of Ilagan and was succeeded by his brother Gabriel. Crescencio, a son of Gabriel also served as the longest Municipal Treasurer of Ilagan and also served as the Deputy Provincial Treasurer for Isabela.

The Americans built schools and other buildings and instituted changes in the overall political system. The province’s economy, however, remained particularly agricultural with rice replacing corn and tobacco as the dominant crop. World War II stagnated the province’s economic growth but it recovered dramatically after the war. Isabela today is the premier province of the north, one of the morsy progressive in the country and Santiago, the commercial center of Region 02 has been declared an independent city last July 7, 1994.

In 1995, a bill was passed legislating that Isabela be divided into two new provinces: Isabela del Norte and Isabela del Sur. A referendum was held on the same year with a strong majority voted not to separate the province.


For almost 40 years the province was under administration of the Dy family. In the 2004 gubernatorial elections, the voting public favored local radio broadcaster Grace Padaca against incumbent governor Faustino Dy, Jr.

Notable Residents



External links

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Coordinates: 17°00′N, 122°00′E

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