The earliest known tribe that inhabited the area which became the Municipality of Lebak was the Manobo Lumads. Reckoning of their tribal events was based on the phases of their agricultural activity. For instance cutting and slashing period was January to February; burning and clearing, March to April; planting season was about May. After harvest, one year was over and the annual cycle was completed. Such system served as their rough estimate of time. Their history was recorded in memory and handed down by words of mouth.
For years, or maybe generations, they had been roaming around in a carefree existence in the fertile lands of forested wilderness. They occupied the areas from Sen. Ninoy Aquino, Datu Wasay, Hinalaan, Limulan, Kati, Bululawan, Capilan, Basak, Villamonte, Salangsang, Keytodac, Marawil, Manawag, Dafolan and all the intervening places. The domain was ruled separately by two powerful Sultans who were cousins. The western side was under Sultan Dewig Tuna, son of Sultan Tuna Liwas Bungo. The eastern portion was under Datu Dangayan Pagayonan.
In 1908, Ama ni Idong Guiabar, a Muslim, was appointed by the military governor to govern Kalamansig and Lebak areas. At that time, his position was called “Presidente”. His system was so democratic and liberal wherein his constituents loved and respected him.
Idong’s adopted son, Mantikayan Guiabar married Dewig’s daughter, Iket. Through the benevolence of Sultan Dewig Tuna, Datu Idong widened his private territory in Kati and Kebitic.
The Manobos did not like to stay with the Christians and Muslims in one community. They preferred to live together as homogenous group. Their nomadic instinct drove them to the mountains and hinterlands. As an ethnic group they preserved their own culture, customs, and traditions.
An interesting group was the Kalagans. They stayed along the rivers and along the coast in Tran and Turugan. Short, dark-skinned and sturdy, they were brave warriors. When the Muslims arrived they offered fierce resistance. In a series of battles they were always defeated until finally their tribe vanished.
Coming from Awang and Tamontaka of nearby province, the Tirurays reached the place after the Muslims. Some stayed in Tibpuan while others settled in Salangsang. Being hardworkers, the Manobos and Tirurays provided the manpower in the farmlands of the Muslims and Christians.
B. Government Assistance
At the start of the American regime people were encouraged to come to Mindanao for the development of this sparsely populated island of the Philippines. As an incentive, transportation was free with one-month rice provision.
One of the earliest laws passed by the U.S. Congress pertaining to the Philippines was the Homestead Act which granted 24 hectares of land to each applicant. Related to this was the Homestead Program which was sponsored by then Speaker Manuel Roxas. The Torrens Act of the U.S. Congress protected ownership of cultivated lands. Such privileges encouraged the organization of Home Seekers who served as the core group of settlers who came to Lebak.
C. Era of Pioneers
James Greensted, Luther Tilit, Mr. Fred Martin, Staples and Tan Sy Tee were American Mestizo, and foreign names. Some of them were ahead of Christians. They laid claims to lands of thousand hectares and engaged in coconut plantation, logging, sawmill and store business. There were the Salaman Plantation, American Land Commercial Company, Taguisa Plantation, Tran Plantation and the Port Lebak Lumber Company in Sta. Clara. The arriving families found employment in those companies giving them foothold to starting a new life.
The appearance of the plantation owners was mysterious as their unceremonious exit. When they left, they either bestowed their lands to adopted children, employees, and friends or just abandoned them outright..
As early as 1910, adventurous people started owning lands from Lebak. Very popular in the coastal communities was Jose Gestosani. After some years with the U.S. Navy he was dropped in Tibpuan in 1916 with the mission to educate inhabitants to the tune of American system. Known as their “Maestro” (they pronounced Maeslo), he was loved and respected by both young Muslims and Christians who were his pupils.
A distant neighbor in Kumalawit was Pedro Jalipa. He claimed the area from Kumalawit to Barurao. He was the father of one of the earliest teachers, Expectation Jalipa, who was later married to ex U.S. Navyman Felipe Peralta in 1928. By about 1922-1924, Muslims from Decalongan, Ampatuan arrived under the leadership of Datu Matabalao.
In 1924 coming from Luzon and a soldier by profession was Marcelino A. Concha. Married to Cleotilde Vilo of Cotabato City, he managed and eventually owned 721 hectares Taguisa Plantation (now Concha Farm). Some came for employment or to look for a partner in life.
D. To the Land of Promise
The fresh and invigorating winds of Mindanao reached the crowded lands of Visayas and Luzon. Ilongos, Antiquenos, Capizenos, Ilocanos and Tagalogs breathed in smell of good news tempting them to pack up and came in groups as members of Home Seekers to find a new life in the frontier.
Between the years 1925 to 1930 waves of immigrants from the Visayas started arriving. A young Agriculturist, Aurelio Faune Freires Sr. was designated as recruiting officer for the Home seekers group. He convinced his friends and relatives to migrate.
Year 1927 was the establishment of American Land Commercial Company popularly known as Barurao Plantation or American Land. Managed by Luther Tilit, with Assistant Manager Gorgonio Riego De Dios, this 1,024 hectares establishment engaged in coconut plantation, logging, sawmill, trade and store businesses served as initial source of income for new arrivals who worked as farm hands or skilled laborers prior to acquisition of their own land. The last manager, Mr. Fred Martin married a mestiza, Estrella Zeller, mother of Jesus Ortiz Sr. When the Americans left Mr. Ortiz Sr. eventually became the administrator.
From Iloilo another group of Home Seekers arrived in 1927. Among them were Juan Celeste, Gonzales, Tecson and Marquez families, together with Caraso brothers, Amado and Esperidion who got their father Martin from Iloilo the following year. For the meantime, they all worked at Taguisa Plantation.
A longer list came with Juan Juanitez in 1928. These Antiquenos included: Maximo Talagtag, Emilio Pagsuguiron, Pablo Floro, Raymundo Ogatis, Ceferino Ogatis, Catalino Ogatis, Moises Ogatis, Elias Baladjay, Jose Hierro, Vicente Relles, Juan Marquez, Jose Espanola and Vicente Espartero.
As newcomers they explored vast areas of thickest and wilderness which later be they acquired the land. After clearing areas in the eastern and northern portions of their temporary settlement, communities emerged. These are now the Barangays Taguisa, Purikay, Pansud and Nuling.
On December 26, 1929 from Ilocos Region, the Ilocanos found their way in Barurao River riding on a “danley”, a towed raft, after coming down from inter island vessel and who eventually worked worked in Barurao Plantation.
From the Bicol Region, Pascual Mendoza worked as cook of the American Land Staff. With his savings from salary P20 per month he got 24 hectares by Homestead application in Barurao. Working with him as company mechanic was Deogenes Llarenas, whom he considered as truthful companion.
Relationship among the settlers bespoke of brotherhood, neighborliness, and friendship. Datu Sangkulan Wakay in Barurao gave away portions of his claimed land to brother Christians. Peace and Order was reigning in the place. In spite of some deprivations, people were living a contented existence and taking daily life in stride. Travel to Cotabato City was by vinta, raft or motorized launch which took from twelve hours to several days. Every travel was considered a pleasure trip for they could dock anytime or sleep on the beach anywhere along the way.
Problems came with the destructive animals such as wild boars, monkeys, deer, rats, wild cats, lizard and pythons all causing failure in harvest and depletion of livestock. Their worst enemies were the life threatening diseases such as malaria, dysentery, amebiasis, cholera and respiratory ailments. Under this situation they had to fight intense desire to go back home.
E. The Pioneers Settled Down
Having arrived to the land of their dream, the pioneers settled down with mixed feelings of hope and uncertainty. They could take as many lands as they could occupy but life was full of hardships. There were no doctors or medicines available. Only one or two stores for prime commodities existed. For important needs they had to travel to Cotabato.
Services offered by the government were just a handful. In 1929, the telecommunication tower was erected in the neighboring town of Kalamansig with Deosdado Dizon as the first operator. The first Civil Service eligible was Alfredo Labrador Sr. who arrived in 1930. He served as public clerk and Deputy Municipal Treasurer. Ricardo Cabaluna was appointed Judge in the coastal towns in 1932. Handled mail matters, Mariano Escano became the Kalamansig Postmaster in 1938.
Migration to the place still continued. Datu (now Sultan) Guiwan Mastura arrived in Kati in 1935. He became a highly respected Muslim Chieftain and influential political leader.
Before the outbreak of war, Jose Drueco arrived in Barurao. His motor launch provided water transportation to and from Cotabato City. Later his jeeps were plying the route from Barurao to kalamansig.
F. World War II
All were going right with the settlers until suddenly World War II broke out. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 was immediately followed by air raids on U.S. military installation in the Philippines. After the fall of Bataan the Japanese occupied the entire archipelago including Mindanao.
Filipinos loyal to the Commonwealth restructured the civil government and the military organization. Following the appointment of Marcelino A. Concha by General William Fertig as Military Governor of the Empire Province of Cotabato, a local provisional government was organized with its seat in Barurao. Acting chairman was Conrado Juaneza with Aurelio Freires Sr., Timoteo Belarmino, Fortunato Mendoza, and Salvador Andrada as members. Micky mouse money printed on ordinary paper and bearing the signature of General Fertig was in circulation. Although without bank value, it served as a sort of legal tender acceptable in business transactions.
The resistance movement against the Japanese Imperial Army was led by Captain Feliciano Magsakay, Commanding Officer of the disbanded Philippine Constabulary in Kalamansig. It was composed of organized guerillas with its Headquarters in Barurao. In the first week of February 1942, they had an encounter with Japanese soldiers. Six Japanese and two Filipino were riding a jeep to get civil officials in Barurao. When they reached the entrance gate, guerillas opened fire. All the enemies including the Filipinos were killed except one Japanese person who was able to escape to report the massacre. While in Kalamansig where they put up their garrison; the Japanese perpetrated few killings and abuses. Discouraged by the death of their comrades they pulled out leaving a token outpose in Sta. Clara which did not last long, Liberation and Post Liberation Period.
While the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, the Pacific War officially ended. The Americans took over the supervision of the Philippine Government. In 1945 Marcelino A. Concha was still the Military Governor of the Empire Province of Cotabato. He used to hold his office in Taguisa. In that same year Aurelio Freires, Sr. was appointed Municipal District Mayor of Salaman.
The post war period brought economic, social, political problem affecting mostly those from the Visayas and Luzon. The seditionist group, Hukbalahap, was harassing the countryside and almost toppled the government. Military rule was still casting its shadow in society. By that time Mindanao as the Land of Promise became popular. Focusing their vision in the South, the ambitious, enterprising and adventurous families made up an exodus. The new arrivals engaged in business but the majority concentrated on the acquisition of land for agriculture through homestead application, sales contract, and land grabbing and squatting on both government and private properties. They penetrated the hinterlands for their precious piece of land.
The leaders of Lebak continued to build up society after the war. Salaman Institute was founded in 1948 as the first high school institution. For agriculture productivity they put up the Salaman Communal Irrigation System covering 800 hectares of rice land.
It did not take long before Lebak was populated by people from all walks of life of different tribal origins. Lebak turned around from a complacent life to a fast moving society. Society was now a mixture of different people. Consequently, it also became a breeding place for competition, suspicion, envy and resentment that seemingly led to inevitable identity crises. Rolled into one, political, social and economic problems were born.
On this unveiling scenario that seed of progress was sown in a land crisscrossed by thorny tails of trouble.
G. How Lebak gained its existence
At the start, by virtue of Executive Order No. 82 dated August 18, 1947, the Municipal District of Salaman was under the Municipality of Dinaig; the Municipal District of Lebak was under the Municipality of Kiamba. Aurelio F. Freires, Sr. was appointed Municipal District Mayor of Salaman.
Unexpectedly, an Executive Order came out down classing Salaman and Lebak into barrios, both still under Dinaig and Kiamba respectively. Reason: The two districts had very low revenue. Such development proved a challenge to Mayor Freires, Sr. He became obsessed to convert the two municipal districts (newly reduced to barrios) into a municipality.
Utilizing his financial resources as well as his personal services he launched an all-out campaign to increase tax collection. Having achieved his aim, he subsequently made use of the influential sphere of Ex-Governor Marcelino A. Concha and the potent pen of Silvestre Ramirez Sr., to form a distinct political territory.
As a result Executive Order No. 195 dated December 31, 1948 combined the two former Municipal Districts of Salaman and Lebak into an independent municipality under the name of Lebak with the seat of government in the sitio of Kalamansig. In January 1950 Freires Sr., was appointed Mayor of the new municipality.
Mayor Freires, Sr. Together with former Governor Concha and Silvestre Ramirez Sr. had the ultimate vision in transferring the seat of government from Kalamansig to Salaman.
Through his vigorous representations with influential leaders and upon the favorable recommendation of Governor Duma Sinsuat, Executive Order No. 432 dated April 12, 1951 was handed down providing for the transfer of the seat of government of the municipality of Lebak from Kalamansig to Salaman.