In 1901, Surigao was once a municipality with a jurisdictional area of 949.90 square kilometers. The Americans established a civil government in the province of Surigao. During this period, there was only one main road, an Old Spanish road, and the commercial area, market and plaza were situated contiguously. In 1930, the Old Spanish road was abandoned and a new provincial road was constructed. A Casa Real was built where the municipal administrators hold their official functions.
On May 28, 1942 during the Second World War, the Japanese Imperial Army took control of Surigao. More than two (2) years after on September 9, 1944, American forces bombed the Japanese battleships docked at Surigao harbor. The whole province of Surigao was liberated from Japanese occupation in 1945.
It was during the post-war era when economic activities in Surigao started to boom. Gold extraction in Mabuhay operated by Mindanao Mother Lode Mines, Inc. started. Population went up due to in-migration. This post-war economic growth resulted to the creation of some of its barrios into towns like Malimono, Anao-aon and Sison. It was also during this period in 1946 when the provincial capitol, municipal jail and some school buildings were constructed. The athletic field was developed.
The first election of municipal officials was held in 1948. In 1954, the first municipal building was constructed. Surigao had 23 barrios then. Construction of the municipal building was finished and inaugurated in 1955. Surigao then was a 1st Class B municipality with an annual income of P160,000.00 and a population of 50,000. It was largely an agricultural municipality producing copra, lumber, rice, corn, bananas, and rootcrops. There were two (2) school districts – Surigao East and Surigao West. The airport was developed, land transportation facilities improved and public health services expanded. There were also three (3) movie houses and three (3) hotels.
Surigao was divided into two (2) provinces – Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur pursuant to R.A. 2786 dated June 19, 1960. In 1964 another election was held. The same year marked a tragic event in the history of the Surigaonons. All developments that the have province gained literally turned into pieces from the destruction wrought by Typhoon Ining (international code name – Louise), which hit the area on November 19, 1964.
In 1969, exploration of the nickel deposits in the Island of Nonoc began with a capitalization of over P1.0 billion. On August 31, 1970, the City of Surigao was created pursuant to R.A. 6134. The first local election of Surigao as a city was held on November 1971.
There were already 53 barangays – 21 in the islands and 32 in the mainland with a total population of 51,496. The city’s official land area based on National Statistics Office (NSO) data is 245.34 square kilometers but it has a jurisdictional area of about 690.37 square kilometers owing to 21 of its 54 barangays being located in the islands. The city’s land area however, based on the 1995 field surveys and the City Assessor’s Tax Map data, registered a total of 259.64 square kilometers.
In 1974, several barangay roads were constructed. Housing, educational, commercial, and recreational facilities increased. Operation of the Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corporation in Nonoc Island started, and the first nickel briquette was produced in December of the same year. With the Nonoc nickel operations providing the industrial backbone and opening up as much as 3,000 employment opportunities, population remarkably rose, business establishments flourished and the city income reached more than P1.9 million. Total road length within the city was then 99.852 kilometers. There were now four (4) school districts. On the same year, a fire razed down the city public market.
For a period of ten years, several developments were noted. Exploration of gold mines in Barangay Mat-i, Silop and Mapawa started, construction of a cooking oil mill in Barangay Lipata by the Surigao Coconut Development Corporation, and an ice plant and a cold storage. Revenue collection increased to P7.6 million.
In 1983, revenue collections increased again to P13.4 million. About 200 kilometers of roads were opened up, repaired or improved. Several new school buildings were put up, seawalls and barangay ports were started, and the implementation of barangay water systems was expanded. The turn-around pad and stopway of the Surigao Airport was constructed, together with other government buildings. Minor improvements were also implemented on the urban drainage system, and the Lipata Ferry Terminal was completed.
Twenty (20) years after the worst natural disaster wrought havoc in Surigao, another strong typhoon – “Nitang” hit the locality in September 1984, badly destroying infrastructure, utilities, settlements and displacing several families. Two (2) years later in 1986, typhoon “Aning” devastated Surigao. On the same year, the Nonoc Mining and Industrial Corporation shut down its operations amidst declining world metal prices, high prices of crude oil, and labor problems.
On January 18, 1988, another local election was held marking the post-EDSA era in local governance. The city’s population increased to almost 100,000 and its income reached more than P23.0 million. Continuing development efforts were undertaken, especially in the rebuilding and strengthening of the city’s infrastructure backbone. Development of farm-to-market roads in the mainland barangays started, seawalls and ports in the island barangays were pursued, manpower skills training were implemented, the construction of the urban shore protection and boulevard development started. And blessedly, natural disasters and other calamities were almost nil.
The 1990’s were marked by several turn of events that offered more fruitful developmental gains for the city. The passage of R.A. 7160 in 1991 ushered the increase in the local share of the internal revenue allotment (IRA) dramatically increasing local income. Greater financial autonomy resulted to more sources of financing and more leeway in the creation of additional sources of income. This is the period of the development of local government economic enterprises beginning with the new public market in 1992, the commercial building in 1993, Maharlika Training Center and Beach Resort in 1995, then the Integrated Bus and Jeepney Terminal in 1997. The city’s income reached P200.0 million.
Basic barangay infrastructure and mainland farm-to-market roads were completed. The urban coastal reclamation and shore protection was likewise accomplished with the Surigao Wharf expansion. More so, land-based and cellular phone networks were established. There is now a cable TV operator and a local FM station. The urban area now covers five (5) barangays and a new barangay, Brgy. Canlanipa, was created bringing the total number of barangays now to 54.
The creation of Caraga Region in 1995 strengthened the city’s position as the industrial, commercial, and services center in the Mindanao Pacific Rim Area. In 1998, a revisiting of the city’s development plan was done through a multi-sectoral workshop resulting to the crafting of the city’s new development vision for 2000-2025 as: a model city for good governance, economic dynamism and environmental quality.
The years 2000 to the 2010s era ushered in more challenges and transformation for the city. Competitiveness, transparency and accountability become key considerations in the much broader local development realm. Despite high poverty incidences recorded in the provincial and regional levels, the city’s development remains on track highlighted by being recognized as one of the country’s most livable cities in 2003, awarded as Child-Friendly City, and as Mindanao’s Most Business-Friendly LGU in 2007. Governance reforms were initiated in the frontline services with emphasis for streamlining, computerization, and greater customer satisfaction together with improvements in emergency response services and disaster management. Local businesses expanded and increased and the entry of national brands in services/fast foods also started. Tourist arrivals breached the 100,000 mark and LGU income started to reach the P500.0 million level. The number of banks in the locality also increased to more than 20 with new entrants both in the rural, thrift, commercial and universal banking categories, despite the merger of several existing banks. Pawnshops and remittance centers flourished together with new hotels and accommodation establishments. The development and operation of the city’s first ever shopping mall started in 2011 and the first phase of the shore protection/city boulevard development started to transform itself as the new urban promenade.
The 2010-2020s era also marked the expansion and improvements of both the main seaport and the Lipata ferry port. Greater consciousness in environmental management, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation started to gain track ushered in by global campaigns, changing needs and new national laws and directives. The Pacific Cement Company in Brgy. Quezon shut down operations in 2014 amidst company financial issues. The city put up and started to operate a Sanitary Land Fill facility for solid waste management. A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck in 2017 bringing unprecedented damages to the city, most especially in its airport runway which rendered it unusable for several years.
Internet services is now widely accessible. Road widening projects along the national highway commenced together with new road openings/construction to support tourism activities in Sitio Tagbasingan, Mat-i and in Punta Bilar-Looc-Mabua. New arterial roads were developed providing by-pass transit from the Arellano District in Brgy. Cagniog direct to the city base port in Brgy. Taft, a by-pass road access with bridge connecting Brgy. Poctoy direct to the national highway in Brgy. Bonifacio, and another two (2) traversing and connecting the San Juan-Lipata Coastal road with Brgy. Luna and Brgy. Rizal. Tourist arrivals reached 300,000 and the city’s income breached the P1.0 billion mark. The beginning of the 2020s marked enormous challenges with the CoVid-19 Pandemic hitting the country, and grappling with uplifting the local economy and rebuilding the city after Super Typhoon “Odette” hit in December 16, 2021.
Key development scenario that is envisioned in the coming decades is the re-operation of the Cement Factory in Brgy. Quezon, the Nonoc Nickel Refinery, the development of a special economic zone in Nonoc Island, establishment of a fishing port complex in Brgy. Canlanipa, coastal reclamation for commercial estate development in the area of Brgys. San Juan, Sabang and Lipata, the completion of the four-lane road widening of the Surigao Wharf Road and the Surigao-Agusan Road, the development of Township projects in Arellano District and new city airport development in Brgy. Balibayon. Also in the pipeline are the re-negotiations for the construction and operations of the public market which are underway thru Private-Public Partnership scheme. The Philippine Ports Authority plans to upgrade and widen its services with its proposal for wharf expansion to more or less 48,950 square meters complemented with a community berthing / docking services to accommodate the small fisherfolks of the city. Ensuring food sustainability, initiatives for large scale hog production / breeders farm is also being sought.