Over-looking the town proper from the Nakayang View Deck at Barangay Malaya. Some 399 kilometers North of Metro Manila and about 169 kilometerss Southeast of the City of Vigan, the capital of the Province of Ilocos Sur, is the promising land of Cervantes. Situated within the Cordillera Mountain ranges, the Municipality of Cervantes lies along the Southeastern tip of the province. It is bounded by the Municipalities of Mankayan and Bakun (Benguet) on the South; by Alilem (Ilocos Sur) on the Southeast, by Suyo and Sigay (Ilocos Sur) on the West; by Gregorio del Pilar (Concepcion) on the Northwest and Quirino (Angaki) on the North; and by Tadian (Mt. Province) on the East. It is cut Southwesterly by the biggest and longest river in the area, the Abra River. It is almost isolated from the rest of Ilocos Region due to its location and natural barriers. It could be reached from Metro Manila in two (2) ways. One way is by a 3-4 hour mini-bus ride through Cervantes-Tagudin Road, after a 5-6 hour bus ride from Metro Manila, via the City of San Fernando (La Union). The other is by the lengthy but reasonably wide Cervantes- Baguio Road, which could take about 4-5 hours of bus ride from the beautiful City of Baguio, after some 6-7 hours of bus ride from Manila.
The earliest known historical document about CERVANTES was that, it started as a small Igorot Village known as “MANTAMANG” an Igorot word meaning “TO LOOK OVER”. Igorot traders and Chinese merchants who always had to pass the village frequently used man and horse trails connecting the lowland and upland neighboring localities.
In the year 1879, on March 4, the residents of Mantamang petitioned that the village be recognized as a Christian town under Lepanto-Amburayan Sub-province of Mountain Province. The town was given the name Cervantes and that remained the name of the town up to the present. How it got the name Cervantes is not known or documented but it is believed that it was named after the famous poet Miguel de Cervantes.
Maximo Lilio de Garcia has written that Cervantes was formerly a barrio when it was founded by the Spanish colonizers. It started with only thirty (30) houses made of light building materials like bamboo and cogon. Inspite of the fertile lands that abound the place the native used to cultivate only small patches of ricefield, which made the barrio unprogressive.
Lilio further stated that Cervantes has a distance of twenty-four (24) kilometers from Lepanto. The system of communication was maintained on weekly basis due to its poor road that traversed the sloppy mountains zigzagging upward the hills back of Cayus where the storage house was located and down to the lowlands reaching the Malaya River, which sometimes overflow during rainy season making the trail slippery.
During the Spanish Era, a portion of the land near the Abra River bank was used as a penal colony by the Spanish soldiers who brought with them the Ilocanos from the lowlands. In the year 1883, a Malaria epidemic affected the colony prompting the Spanish officials to move to the upland, which is now the present location of the town proper. Five thousand grams of quinine ended the epidemic.
At that time the barrio was founded between Abra and Malaya Rivers, the inhabitants were distributed among the three (3) rancheria. The first settlement was established on an elevated healthful well-ventilated place, where a small house for the children of the neighboring barrios a storage building for tobacco and barracks were constructed. Springs were the source of potable clean and abundant water supply. The natives cultivated and produced vegetables and fruits suitable to the climate. Coffee was produced on the land annexed to the commendancia.
The next group of settlement founded a rancheria less than a half-kilometer distance from the first settlement. This time better types of houses were built with an estimated population of 819 residents migrating from other rancherias and barrios of Mailac Cambaguio and Magucmay. Then another small community was developed with both sections of Cervantes where a spacious administrative building, other ruinous edifices and barracks built of wood for the civil guards, were located.
Gradually these original settlers of the area, the Igorot were displaced and forced to move to the hills and mountains. This explains why at present Igorot are mostly settled in far-flung barrios while the Ilocanos, mestizos and those who intermarried with Chinese, Spaniards, Americans and other foreigners populate the central area of the municipality.
The constantly growing of trade in this mountain area made it necessary that it should have a good outlet to the coast. A road was constructed from Cervantes going to the West direction over the Malaya Range exiting at the town of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. This road was later improved and widened and became passable all the way to Bontoc.
During the American rule, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 410 and Sec. 1 of said act, states: “The territory hitherto comprised in the Commendancia of Lepanto, Bontoc and Amburayan, together with territory lying between the boundaries of Abra, Cagayan and Bontoc and not hitherto include within the limits of any province organized under the provincial government act is hereby constituted a province, which shall be known as the Province of Lepanto-Bontoc. This province as divided into three sub-provinces. The sub-province of Lepanto that shall comprise the territory hitherto included in the commendancia of Lepanto. The sub-province of Bontoc that shall comprise the territory hitherto includes in the commendancia of Bontoc and not hitherto included within the boundaries of any province organized under the Provincial Government Act. The sub-province of Amburayan, which shall comprise the territory hitherto included in the commendancia of Amburayan. The town Cervantes prior to its becoming a seat of government of Amburayan sub-province of Mountain Provbince was a capital of a military province by the Americans when they captured Cervantes. Its military governor was William Dinweddie.
Later on Cervantes became a pueblo by virtue of Act No. 441 of the Philippine Commission, which is an act providing for the establishment of a local civil government in the townships and settlements of the Province of Lepanto-Bontoc. And in 1907, Cervantes was transferred to the Province of Ilocos Sur by virtue of the provisions of Act No. 1646, passed by the Philippines Commission on May 15, 1907 providing for the transfer of all sub-provinces of Amburayan and large sections of Lepanto and Benguet to Ilocos Sur and La Union.
In June 1945 the US-FIP NL spearheaded by the 21st Infantry, defeated the Japanese Imperial Forces at Bessang Pass, part of Malaya, Cervantes. During the Japanese occupation it was at Cervantes, particularly at Bessang Pass, that the Japanese forces made their last stand in the operations in the North against a band of Filipino Guerillas. These events hasten the surrender of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who is referred to as the “Tiger of Malaya”.
It was during this year 1945, that the town Cervantes was burned and destroyed. The brick municipal building, Conchar Hotel, and the sturdy and beautiful houses of the town were burned and reduced to ashes. The main bridge that links Cervantes to Bontoc was bombed and till the present time Galongan Bridge otherwise known as Aluling Bridge, was never built.
A handsome monument was unveiled in 1954 at Bessang Pass in honor of the 1,395 United States Armed Forces in the Philippines, North Luzon (USA FIP, NC) members killed in this historical place. After the war the town is on its way to recovery and self-sufficiency.
The Cervantes Elementary School is here since the Spanish Regime. It now has 18 primary and Elementary Schools. Saint Agnes Elementary School was founded on February 18, 1920 and on June 10, 1949 the CICM and ICM missionaries inaugurated the Saint Agnes High School. In 1972 Republic Act 4424 established the Cervantes National School of Arts and Trade, which at present the Ilocos Sur Polytechnic State College- Cervantes Campus. Another milestone of education was in 1999 when the Cervantes National High School was established, through the initiative of Mayor Benjamin N. Maggay during his first term.
The Cervantes Emergency Hospital was established in 1916 through the initiative of the late Governor Calvo of Mt. Province. On June 1960, republic Act No. 2775 changed the name of the Cervantes Emergency hospital to Bessang Pass Memorial Hospital in memory of the heroes of Bessang Pass.
Cervantes was energized on March 21, 1991. The power supply came from Mt. Province Electric Cooperative (MOPRECO) through a memorandum of agreement with Ilocos Sur Electric Cooperative (ISECO).
Cervantes, Ilocos Sur became the Summer Capital of the Province of Ilocos Sur by Resolution No. 88 Series of 1993 “A Resolution Declaring Cervantes as the Summer Capital of the Province of Ilocos Sur on March 23, 1993.
On July 5, 1995 an interim Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) was organized and on April 23, 2000 President Joseph Ejercito Estrada signed Proclamation No. 284 declaring Bessang Pass National Shrine as Protected Areas (included to NIPAS Act of 1992 or RA 7560) under Natural Monument/Landmark Category.
On June 11, 1996 the Municipal Government passed Resolution No. 025 series of 1996 declaring June 14 as special non-working holiday for the town of Cervantes.