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Isabela Province : The Rice and Corn Granary of Luzon

Isabela is the second largest province in 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 the corn granary of Luzon.


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, Bindang (now Roxas) 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 were written when the American forces led by General Frederick Funston finally captured General Emilio Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901. Isabela was reorganized as a province under the American regime through Act No. 210, passed August 24, 1901.

Its first provincial governor 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. A son of Gabriel also served as the longest Municipal Treasurer of Ilagan and also served as the Deputy Provincial Treasurer for Isabela. Isabela was ruled by the Dy family for 34 years, from 1969 to 2004. The dynasty started with the patriarch of the family, Faustino Dy, Sr. who served as the Cauayan Mayor from 1965-1969 and as a Governor of Isabela for 22 years (1969-1992). He was replaced by his son, Benjamin G. Dy in the gubernatorial seat from 1992 to 2001. Another Dy took the gubernatorial seat in 2001 when Faustino Dy Jr. won the 2001 elections after having served first as a Representative of the 2nd district of the province from 1992 to 2001.

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. In 1942, the Japanese Imperial forces occupied Isabela. In 1945, liberation of Isabela commenced with the arrival of the Philippine Commonwealth Troops and guerrillas attacked by the Japanese Imperial forces in World War II. Isabela today is the premier province of the north, one of the most progressive in the country and Santiago, the Commercial Center of Region II, was declared an independent city on 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 in the same year with a strong majority voting not to separate the province.

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.



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 and the 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 and is criss-crossed by the mighty Cagayan, Siffu, and Magat Rivers. It's mountains rise to a peak of about 8,000 feet and is 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.

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 the region and the second largest province in the country in terms of land area.


Economy and Tourism

Isabela is first class in terms of income classification. 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.

There are 2 airports in the province - Cauayan Airport and in Palanan.


Tourist Attractions


BONSAI FOREST at Sumanget, Dinapigue is about 20,000 hectares. The area is accessible by land transport from Baler in Aurora Province and by air from Cauayan Airport.

STA. VICTORIA CAVES Environmental School at Fuyo National Park features naturally formed lattices and sparkling rock formations. Visitors will be given lectures, allowed to plant their own seedlings and will be enrolled to the Environmental School and given certificates. Within the area is the Pinzal Falls conducive for swimming. The park is 15 kilometers from Ilagan town proper.

NORTHERN SIERRA MADRE NATURAL PARK (PALANAN RAINFOREST) is the largest protected area in the country with more than 300,000 hectares of rainforest and is the lowest at 800 feet above sea level. Declared number 1 in biodiversity but also one of the 10 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Researches conducted in the Park by national and international organizations concerned with environmental preservations 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. A mountaineering/trekking challenge! The place is accessible by light aircraft from Cauayan Airport, pumpboat from Sta. Ana in Cagayan and Baler in Aurora Province and trekking from San Mariano, Cauayan and Ilagan in Isabela. It is also accessible by air transportation from Tuguegarao Airport through CHEMTRAD.


GUIBANG CHURCH houses the Miraculous Lady of the Visitacion, a national shrine. Guibang Church is located along the national highway of Gamu, Isabela and frequently visited by travelers passing along Maharlika Highway.

PARISH CHURCH OF ST. MATHIAS IN TUMAUINI was built in 1753 under Dominican Supervision and was 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 facade, 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.

THE CHURCH OF ALICIA (Our Lady of Atocha Parish) AND GAMU are famous for their antique Spanish architectural designs. These churches are along the national highway and are very accessible by land transport

MAGAT DAM TOURISM COMPLEX (MAGAT HYDRO ELECTRIC POWER PLANT) is Asia's biggest dam project at the time of its construction. It serves the primary function of power generation and irrigation. Built at a cost of $83.7 M (P3.5B) during the 70s, the plant can generate a power of 360 megawatts for the Luzon Grid and is capable of irrigating 102,000 hectares of agricultural land, Its reservoir area of 4,450 hectares has a great potential for water-based recreation like fishing, swimming, boating and water skiing among others. The plant is accessible by passenger jeepneys and buses from Santiago City.

SAN PABLO CHURCH. The church was built in 1625 and is said to be the oldest in the province and its bell tower 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.


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.


Tourist Destinations

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park

a.     Dinapigue

  • Bonsai Forest
  • Dibulo Falls

 b.    San Mariano

  • Dibulo Falls
  • Rapids and Hydro Power Site

 c.     Palanan

  • Aguinaldo Park/Shrine
  • Digoyo Cave
  • Digoyo Point
  • Dicangrayan Falls
  • Dominalno Lake
  • Disadsad Falls
  • Hagdan na Bato
  • Ancient Burial Site at Brgy. Dimolit (Archeological Site)
  • Palanan Wilderness/Rainforest
  • Payong na Bato
  • Sabang Area/Island
  • Sisangkilan Falls
  • Tatlong Bato
  • Tumarindik
  • White Beach
  • Culasi Beach

d.    Divilacan

  • Bicobian Cove
  • Honeymoon Island

e.     Tumauini

  • Antagan Caves

 f.      Ilagan

  • Sta. Victoria Caves
  • Fuyot Springs

Special Interest

  • 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.
  • Marine Habitat Appreciation: Pristine Mangrove, coral reefs, diving, snorkeling and swimming
  • Terrestrial Habitat Appreciation: trekking and bird watching (Philippine eagle and, cloud rat, golden crowned flying fox)


Historical Aguinaldo Shrine

Maconacon - Blos River

Palanan-Diguyo Point


Divilacan-Honeymoon Island

Reina Mercedes

List of Accommodations

Here is the list of hotels located in the province that offer good accommodations to everyone who wants to visit the province ofIsabela.

Ilagan City

  • D Infinity Hotel, Ilagan, Isabela

Santiago City

  • Hotel Mancio and Dencio, Santiago City
  • King George Hotel, Santiago City
  • New City Lodge, Santiago City
  • Honey Lodge, Santiago City
  • Carig Plaza Hotel, Santiago City
  • Green View Lodge, Santiago City
  • Smiley Inn, Santiago City
  • Country Farm Hotel & Resort, Santiago City
  • Garon Hotel and Resort, Santiago City


By plane

There is a direct flight from Manila to Cauayan City or a flight going to Tuguegarao City in the province of Cagayan, then ride a bus going to Isabela.

By bus

There are buses from Manila that travel directly to Cauayan City and buses that pass through Ilagan, with travel time of 8-10 hours. From Cauyan City, you can ride a jeep or bus going to the different towns of the province.