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Some say Ligao was derived from the word “ticau”, a once abundant tree which poisonous leaves were used to catch fish in rivers or creeks.  It was said that a group of Spaniards chanced upon some natives standing by a ticau tree and asked the name of the place. The natives thought the Spaniards were referring to the tree and promptly answered “tigaw”. The Spaniards mispronounced “tigaw” as “Ligao”.     

A variation of this story was that “Ligao” may have come from the Tagalog word “Ligaw”, which means to court or win a woman’s love. The place was known for its beautiful maidens, prompting eligible, young men near and far to try their luck at love. One such group of men crossed paths with Spanish soldiers who then asked what the place was called.   The young men thought the foreigners were asking what they are about and answered “Manliligaw” (going courting). The Spaniards began referring to the place as Manliligaw”, which was later shortened to the easier pronounced “Ligao”.

However, the most popularly accepted origin of the name “Ligao” was “licau ”,  which means to take the long way around or to deviate from the ordinary or usual route. Ligao started as a small settlement known as Cavasi in the 16th century. Cavasi and the neighboring towns including Polangui and Oas were already engaged in trade and commerce.  Cavasi was a strategic point in the trade network but the transport road leading to it is easily inundated by floods during rainy season. The merchants or “viajeros” as they were called during those times had to make a detour or “licau”. People eventually referred to the detour as “Likaw” as it became more progressive than the Cavasi settlement and its population rapidly increased.  Likaw soon supplanted Cavasi and eventually became Ligao.

 Cavasi was populated by a peace loving people and doing brisk trade, attracting natives from neighboring areas to settle in the growing community.  There soon began a power struggle among its more ambitious and aggressive leaders, creating division within. One chieftain or Maginoo, Hokoman, considered himself supreme over the others – Pagkilatan, Maaban, Sampoñgan, Makabongay and Hokoman.  The rivalry and quest for power begat strife and struck fear in the hearts of the once peaceful inhabitants.  According to historian Father Felix de Huerta, a Spanish Corporal managed to strike accord among the chieftains and the jurisdictional disputes ended. The chieftains also recognized Chieftain Pagkilatan as the new supreme leader of the entire settlement. Finally, tranquility and peace returned.

The settlement went on to prosper politically, socially and economically.  In 1606, the settlement was founded as a barrio of Polangui and was later ceded to Oas in 1665.  Meanwhile Cavasi was increasingly referred to as “Ligao”, which finally became an independent municipality in 1666.

From the beginning, Ligao’s economic backbone was primarily agricultural. Until the 1960s, majority of the population settled in rural barangays where farming was the main source of livelihood. Sustained increase in population throughout the years resulted in over-employment in the agriculture sector, which led unemployed farm workers and entire households to migrate, seeking greener pastures and opportunities in urban centers.

To stave migration, the municipal government intensified its effort to develop Ligao’s rural areas and improve economic conditions therein. In 1976, the municipality gained further economic growth with its inclusion in the integrated area development of the Bicol River Basin Development Program.

In the latter part of 1998, then Mayor Fernando V. Gonzalez started efforts to convert the Municipality of Ligao into a Component City of the Province of Albay. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo approved Republic Act 9008 on February 21, 2001, after the bill passed through both Houses of Congress.  Ligao’s conversion into a City was ratified by a plebiscite on March 24, 2001 with a YES vote of 17,754 as against a NO vote of 1,387. On that same day, the Commission on Elections proclaimed Ligao a Component City, making it the sixth city in the Bicol Region.