New Government Center

Considered a highlight of Dapitan City’s continuing progress, the New Government Center resembles a palace from afar. Standing on the banks of Dapitan River, the three-story building in Barangay Lawaan cost P160 million to build.

It is the seat of government of the Shrine City of Dapitan, a place nestled among rolling mountains, pristine blue seawaters and two long rivers of the Zamboanga Peninsula.

The city has a landscape portrayed as level to rolling with elevations ranging from 200 to 400 feet above sea level.

The urban core, being an island itself, is surrounded and traversed by two rivers—the Liboran River and the Dapitan River. These features make Dapitan a picture-perfect destination and unique place for tourism and business.

Hero’s home

But what gives Dapitan its prominence as a shrine city is its role in history as the place of exile of Philippine national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

In 1892, Rizal arrived here, alighting from a bangka or ship, to serve his sentence of exile for four years. Dapitan served as Rizal’s home until his departure in 1896.

Dapitan became the first city of Zamboanga del Norte by virtue of Republic Act 3811 signed on June 22, 1963 by the late president Diosdado Macapagal. As such, it was the first town in the Philippines to be declared city despite not being able to meet population and income requirements.

Ten years after the declaration or on January 24, 1973, it officially became the Shrine City of the Philippines by virtue of Presidential Decree 105 issued by President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

First settlers

The history of the city spans over 700 years, from the arrival of the first settlers-Subanen, a nomadic tribe from Indonesia. The term Subanen was derived from the Bisayan word suba or river, where most Subanen folk lived.

Subanens were later joined by the Boholanos led by Datu Pagbuaya in 1563, and subsequently the Spaniards and the Americans. Pagbuaya was considered as the founder and the first datu of Dapitan.

Boholanos left their homes in Panglao, Baclayon, Looc and Dawis following Pagbuaya after suffering from successive defeats from the Ternatan invaders. They crossed the sea looking for a better and safer place to live or “Dakung Yuta.”

The permanent settlement of Boholanos in northern Mindanao led to the naming of the place as Dapitan, which means a place of rendezvous or meeting place of 800 families. “Dapit” in Bisayan means “to invite.” Fr. Urdaneta named it “Daquepitan” but later changed it to Dapitan because of difficulty pronouncing the word.

Modern city

Dapitan has been progressively slipping away from its rural cocoon to become a modern city. But while it has embraced modernity, Dapitan remains to be a city rich in historical value and this can still be felt just by getting a quick tour around the plaza area and the Rizal Shrine.

Its cultural properties led the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Museum to declare Dapitan as a Heritage Zone on May 27, 2011. The declaration covers Rizal Shrine, Old Town Hall Building, Rizal’s Disembarkation Site, Heritage Houses, Parochial School, St. James the Greater Church, Dapitan Plaza, and Rizal Monument, Rizal’s Relief Map of Mindanao, Casa Real, Ilihan Hill, Gabaldon Building, Sta. Cruz Marker and Old Rizal Memorial District Hospital.

Dapitan is not only a home to historical and cultural landmarks, but also a place wrapped with fun and adventures. Emerging from its rustic facet, it now houses what is considered to be Asia’s longest dual zipline and showcases the only theme park in Visayas and Mindanao called Fantasyland.

Quick facts

  • Dapitan City sits on 39,053 hectares of land in the northwestern coast of Mindanao, which is approximately 650 kilometers of Manila.
  • It is subdivided into 50 barangays.
  • It is bordered in the south by the towns of Mutia and La Libertad, Sibutad and Rizal in the east, and Dipolog City and Polanco in the west.
  • It has a population of 78,000, speaking various dialects, such as Cebuano, Ilonggo, Subanen and Tausog.
  • Majority of the Dapitanons depend on land resources for their living since the area is predominantly agricultural. Due to its terrain, which is more hilly and mountainous than plain, coconut production, which comprises 84 percent of the land area, is the main source of income.
  • Fishing, on the other hand, is the second source of livelihood considering that 13 barangays are located in coastal areas.