Zamboanga Peninsula (Chavacano: Peninsula de Zamboanga; Cebuano: Lawis sa Zamboanga) is an administrative region in the Philippines, designated as Region IX. The region consists of three provinces (Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Sur) and two cities (Isabela City and Zamboanga City; the former being part of Basilan province and the latter a highly urbanized city). The region was previously known as Western Mindanao before the enactment of Executive Order No. 36 on September 19, 2001. The city of Zamboanga is designated as the regional center.
The region is located on the eponymous Zamboanga Peninsula of the island of Mindanao, that lies between the Moro Gulf(part of the Celebes Sea) and the Sulu Sea. Along the shores of the peninsula are numerous bays and islands of varying sizes. The peninsula is connected to the rest of Mindanao through an isthmus situated between Panguil Bay and Pagadian Bay. The region consists of the three Zamboanga provinces and the highly urbanized independent city of Zamboanga, and the boundary between the peninsula and mainland is artificially marked by the border between the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur and Lanao del Norte.
During the ancient era, the Zamboanga peninsula was a vast territory home to various ethnic groups – the largest of which was the Subanen people. Later on, the southern coastal areas of the region was under the influence of the JavaneseMajapahit Empire, although the empire never did conquer the area.
Sultanate of Maguindanao
In the 14th century, the Sultanate of Sulu ruled the southwestern sections of the peninsula. By the late 15th century and early 16th century, Malay missionaries further spread Islam in the southern Philippines. Sharif Kabungsuwan, a Johore-born missionary of Malay and Arab descent established the Sultanate of Maguindanao, which the entire island of Mindanao is named after. The Sultanate also occupied the entire island except present-day Caraga region and eastern portions of Davao region, stretching from the Zamboanga Peninsula to modern-day Davao City, while the Sultanate of Sulu lost its territories in Zamboanga. Magauindanao’s sultans provided Mindanao fierce armed resistance against the Spanish occupation, especially under the lead of Muhammad Kudarat. They soon allied themselves with the Sulu Sultanate. The Muslim natives of the region were collectively known as Moros by the Spanish, meaning “Moor”, though the Iberian Moors and the Philippine Muslims had little cultural connection outside of following Islam. A large chunk of the Spanish-Moro Conflict, the war between the Spanish conquerors and Mindanao’s Muslim natives took place in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
In 1569 Zamboanga was chosen as the site of the Spanish settlement and garrison on La Caldera (now called Barrio Recodo). Zamboanga was one of the main strongholds in Mindanao, supporting colonizing efforts in the south of the island and making way for Christian settlements. It also served as a military outpost, protecting the island against foreign invaders and Moro pirates and their Chinese allies.
The Zamboanga Peninsula played a central role in the Spanish-Moro conflict. It was the site of constant battling between Spanish soldiers and Moro pirate raids. While the Spanish settlers successfully established churches in the region, they suffered heavily at the hands of Moro raiders, and had to repeatedly withdraw from the region. While the Spanish achieved a tactical victory, but launching several attacks against the Sultanate of Sulu, constant fighting and attacks persisted, giving the Moros a psychological victory.
Province of Zamboanga
After the United States annexed the Spanish East Indies in 1898, the Peninsula hosted a briefly independent state called the Republic of Zamboanga. It was incorporated by the Insular Government into the Moro Province, which consisted of the Central and Western parts of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The name and status of Moro Province were changed to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu on August 16, 1916, causing Zamboanga to become a separate province.
In 1942, the Zamboanga Peninsula along with the rest of the Philippine Islands was occupied by the Empire of Japan at the beginning of the Second World War. The Peninsula was liberated in 1945 by joint American and Philippine Commonwealth forces fighting against the Imperial Japanese Army.
Together with the Sulu Archipelago, the provinces that formerly made up Zamboanga Province were re-organised into Region IX by order of Presidential Decree No. 1 as part of the Integrated Reorganization Plan of President Ferdinand Marcos, that was signed in September 24, 1972.
From 1975 to 1989, the old Region IX (Western Mindanao) was further divided into two sub-regions by Presidential Decree No. 8233 dated August 21, 1975. Sub-Region IX-A consisted of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi with Jolo, Sulu, as the sub-regional center, while Sub-Region IX-B consisted of the provinces of Zamboanga del NorteZamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay, with the chartered city of Zamboanga City as the sub-regional centre.
In the same year, the residents of Basilan opted to join the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in a plebiscite. However, the citizens of the capital, Isabela, did not want to join so the city remained a part of this region as a result of Executive Order No. 36.
Regional center issue
Executive Order (EO) 429 was issued in 1990 by President Corazon Aquino which provided for the reorganization of the administrative regions in Mindanao. It declared that Western Mindanao would comprise Zamboanga City, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Basilan, and the cities comprising those provinces. It also declared that Pagadian City shall serve as the new regional center.
However, President Fidel Ramos issued EO 325 in 1996 which reorganized the Regional Development Councils (RDCs). The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of EO 325 declared Pagadian City as the regional center in Western Mindanao.
In 2001, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed EO 36 which reorganized and renamed Western Mindanao to Zamboanga Peninsula. It was silent on the issue of regional government centers. Memorandum Circular No. 75, signed in 2004 by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, directed the transfer of regional offices from Zamboanga City to Pagadian citing EO 429 as its legal basis.
A moratorium on the transfer under Memorandum Circular No. 11 was issued on December 22, 2010 citing the high economic and social costs that the employees were experiencing in maintaining two residences and in fully transferring to Pagadian. It further directed all regional offices that are already in Pagadian to continue their operations.
However, despite the endorsement of having the regional center back to Zamboanga, National Economic and Development Authority Regional Director Arturo Valero stated that “even if Zamboanga City is not the regional center, the city will still grow” and that the city should better focus on being a commercial and industrial center.