According to the 2015 census, it has a population of 337,063 people.
It served as the former capital of the Rajahnate of Butuan before 1001 until 1756. The city used to be known during that time as the best in gold and boat manufacturing in the entire Philippine archipelago, having traded with as far as Champa, Ming, Srivijaya, Majapahit, and the Bengali coasts. It is located at the northeastern part of the Agusan Valley, Mindanao, sprawling across the Agusan River. It is bounded to the north, west and south by Agusan del Norte, to the east by Agusan del Sur and to the northwest by Butuan Bay.
Butuan City was the capital of the province of Agusan del Norte until 2000, when Republic Act 8811 transferred the capital to Cabadbaran City. For statistical and geographical purposes, Butuan City is grouped with Agusan del Norte but governed administratively independent from the province while legislatively administered by the province’s 1st congressional district.
Butuan, during the pre-colonial times, was known as the Rajahnate of Butuan, an Indianized kingdom known for its metallurgic industry and sophisticated naval technology. The rajahnate flourished at the 10th and 11th centuries CE, and had an extensive trade network with the Champa civilisation and the Srivijaya Empire.
By 1001, the rajahnate had established contact with the Song dynasty of China. The History of Song recorded the appearance of a Butuan mission at the Chinese imperial court, and the rajahnate was described as a small Hindu country with a Buddhist monarchy, which had a regular trade connection with Champa. The mission, under a Rajah named “Kiling”, asked for equal status in court protocol with the Champa envoy, but ultimately was denied by the imperial court. However, under the reign of Sri Bata Shaja, the diplomatic equality was eventually granted to the kingdom, and as a result the diplomatic relations of the two nations reached its peak in the Yuan dynasty.
Evidence of these trading links are in the discovery of 11 balangay boats around Ambangan in Barangay Libertad, which was described as the only concentration of archaeological, ancient, ocean-going boats in Southeast Asia. Other evidences of the post are the discovery of a village in Libertad that specializes in gold, deformed skulls similar to reports in Sulawesi, and the discovery of many artifacts by locals and treasure hunters.
On March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, Ferdinand Magellan ordered a mass to be celebrated. This was officiated by Friar Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusian chaplain of the fleet, the only priest then. Another priest, the French Bernard Calmette (Bernardo Calmeta) had been marooned at Patagonia with Juan de Cartagena for being implicated in the mutiny at Puerto San Julián. Conducted near the shores of the island, the Holy First Mass marked the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Rajah Colambu and Siaiu were said to be among the first natives of the soon-to-be Spanish colony to attend the mass among other Mazaua inhabitants, together with visitors from Butuan who came with the entourage of Colambu, king of Butuan.
Controversy has been generated regarding the holding of the first mass—whether it was held in Limasawa, Leyte in Masao, Butuan City, in the hidden isle made up of barangays Pinamanculan and Bancasi inside Butuan, in the latest discovered site in between Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur, the small barangay of Barobo, or elsewhere. It is sure, however, that Ferdinand Magellan did not drop anchor by the mouth of Agusan River in 1521 and hold mass to commemorate the event which was held at Mazaua, an island separate from 1521 Butuan which, in the geographical conception of Europeans who wrote about it, was a larger entity than what it is now. Antonio Pigafetta who wrote an eyewitness account of Magellan’s voyage described in text and in map a Butuan that stretched from today’s Surigao up to the top edge of Zamboanga del Norte.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, more than half of Butuan, if not all of it, was burned when local guerrilla forces attacked the enemy garrison on 12 March 1943 in the Battle of Butuan.:318:7 On January 17, 1945, guerrillas attacked Japanese troops on the road between Cabadbaran and Butuan to prevent the Japanese garrison at Butuan from being reinforced. When the guerrillas depleted their ammunition supply, they were forced to retreat. Later in 1945, the Philippine Commonwealth troops in Butuan together with the recognized guerrillas attacked the Japanese forces during the Battle of Agusan. On October 20, 1948, still recovering from the war, the entire municipality was ruined by a fire.
By the late 1940s to the 1970s, Butuan’s industry specialized in timber, earning it the nickname “Timber City of the South”. The plentiful trees of the area invited many investors to the city, and inspired then-Congressman Marcos M. Calo to file a bill elevating Butuan for cityhood. On August 2, 1950, this was passed, converting Butuan into a city.
However, by the early 1980s, the logging industry of the city began to decline, although the city was still an economic haven to many investors. The city’s main income by that time frame and until this day depended on small and medium business, and large-scale projects by investors. On February 7, 1995, the city was reclassified from a chartered city to a Highly Urbanized city. sixteen days later, on February 23, the region of Caraga was created by virtue of Republic Act 7901, with Butuan as its regional center, and the provincial capital of Agusan del Norte. In 2000, Republic Act 8811 formally transferred the capital of Agusan del Norte from Butuan to Cabadbaran, however most provincial offices are still located in the city.
Butuan City is the commercial, industrial, and administrative center of Caraga region. It is a strategic trading hub in Northern Mindanao with major roads connecting it to other main cities in the island such as Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Malaybalay, Surigao, and soon, Tandag. It hosts one of the busiest airports in the country, the Bancasi Domestic Airport, serving around 525,000 passengers in 2012. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines are flying to and from Butuan City. Meanwhile, the nearby Nasipit International Port and in-city Masao Port are providing for its shipping and cargo needs.
The total number of businesses registered in 2013 was 9,619—reflecting a growth of 9.86% and almost 3 times that of the next major Caraga city. New businesses registered numbered 2,032 with a combined capitalization of P504,598,667, an expansion of 75.63 from 2012.
As further proof of its dynamic economy, Butuan City’s local income reached P330,510,000 in 2013 besting other major cities in the country. By 2014, its local income is expected to reach P513,870,000.00 or register a growth of 55%; and total income (including IRA) will be P1,515,970,000. Butuan City was ranked 4th and 16th Most Competitive City for the years 2012 and 2014 by the National Competitiveness Council of the Philippines.
More than 260 financial institutions are operating in the city such as Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company(Metrobank), Banco de Oro, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank), Philippine National Bank (PNB), Chinabank, EastWest Bank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank), Security Bank and Maybank. Rural banks are also expanding aggressively. Based on a report from PDIC (as of December 2013), total savings deposit in Butuan City amounted to P18,944,854,000, comprising 45% of the total deposits in Caraga Region. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) opened its regional office here to take advantage of the vibrant gold trading industry in the region. Insurance companies, led by Philam Life, are also present in the city.
The city’s major agricultural produce are rice, bananas, coconuts, poultry, shrimp, and milkfish. Its key industries include rice milling, food processing, wood processing, furniture, fuel distribution, shipbuilding, and construction. The manufacturing sector will soon get a boost as an industrial park is currently being developed. Butuan has also proven to be a haven for renewable energy with investments in solar and hydroelectric power generation pouring in the city.
Butuan is also fast-becoming a cosmopolitan city. Currently, there are three (3) major commercial centers catering its populace. These are Robinsons Place Butuan, Puregold Price Club (both opened in 2013), and Gaisano (Unipace). Leading mall developer, SM, is expected to break ground by the end of 2016, although some of the mall developers in the Philippines have also expressed their interest in the city such as Gaisano Capital to name a few. 7-Eleven opened its first two stores in the city. High-end real estate developers, such as Filinvest and Vista Land, have started their residential projects in the city. The A. Brown Group is also developing another exclusive community with a 9-hole golf course. More low- and medium-cost housing projects are sprouting in the outskirts of the city evident of the city’s strong market for shelter. Famous food brands have also opened shops in the city such as Jolibee, McDonald’s, Chowking, Greenwich, Mang Inasal, Red Ribbon, Goldilocks, Pizza Hut, Gerry’s Grill, Max’s and Bo’s Coffee. KFC has finally opened since December 2016.
Butuan City is becoming one of the highlights of the tourism programs in the Philippines, as more and more people, both local and foreign, are discovering the wonders and secrets of this ancient and beautiful city. It is customary for any traveler to learn a little bit of history concerning the place that will be visited, and the history of Butuan City is one of the most fascinating. Unlike other lands whose development only began during the Spanish colonization, Butuan was already a progressive and full fledge city centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards. Historical records show that as early as the 10th century, the local people were already engaged in trade and commerce with other nations and cultures, like the Champa (now Vietnam) and the Srivajaya peoples of Java, Indonesia. This is confirmed by the unearthing of several artifacts such as boats used for plying their trade. During the Spanish and American occupation, Butuan continued to make progress and the number of people who were settling increased steadily. A large number of its inhabitants were converted to Christianity, and in fact one of the issues is whether the first mass was actually held in the city.