Even before the coming of the Spaniards, the major islands now under the Province of Dinagat Islands were already sparsely inhabited by emigrants coming from mainland Surigao and the nearby islands of Visayas particularly Leyte, Bohol, Samar and Cebu. In the early days, a story was told that a stranger reached the place in search of greener pasture. He approached a native and asked what the inhabitants do for a living. The native said that they farm and fish to live. The stranger’s interest in fishing prompted him to inquire where they fish, and the native replied and pointed to a place saying – “dinhi niini na dagat” (here in this sea). Since then, the place was called Dinagat. Little is written about the ancient history of Dinagat Islands. However, the 20th century witnessed the emergence of the islands in the map of the Philippines. Three major events captured national attention and changed the lives of Dinagatnons. These are: 1) the great cholera epidemic of early 1900’s, 2) the Battle of Surigao Strait, and 3) the influx of the member of Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) in the island. The spread of the great cholera epidemic from Manila to Dinagat Islands in July 1902 resulted to an octopus effect in the area threatening to dissipate Dinagat’s sparse population. This epidemic claimed 58 deaths in the towns of Dinagat, Unip, Sabanay, Libjo and Melgar alerting health authorities on end. Their epic quest to contain its spread was very well documented in Philippine medical journals.
The province was the site of the historic Battle of Surigao Strait during the Second World War. The Municipality of Loreto became the entry point of the American Liberation Forces on October 17, 1944. It was on this shore that the 6th Ranger Battalion of the 6th U.S. Army under Maj. Henry A. Mucci landed at Sitio Campintac of Barangay Panamaon, Loreto. It was during this landing that the American flag was first rehoisted on Philippine soil after the Philippine-American Forces were defeated at the start of World War II by the Japanese Forces. They named the place “Black Beach No. 2”. The brave stance of the combined Philippine-American Forces in Loreto helped opened the door of Philippine liberation from the claws of Imperial Japan that culminated in the withdrawal of the Japanese Forces from the Philippine soil.
In 1965, Ruben Edera Ecleo Sr. founded the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association Inc. (PBMA Inc.) at Sitio Puyange Barangay Matingbe of Dinagat Municipality. PBMA is a non-sectarian brotherhood association with a mission to help those who are in need, especially those sick people through divine healing without asking anything in return. The charismatic leadership and power to heal the sick by Ruben Edera Ecleo,Sr. and his missioners spread like wild fires in many provinces of the country, attracting more people to join PBMA. In the later part of 1960s, members of the association began to settle in the islands that led to the increase in its population. Later, the Sitio Puyangi became Barangay San Jose of Dinagat where the main office of PBMA was located. The barangay was named in honor of Jose Ecleo who was its pioneer settler and father of the late founder of PBMA. Ruben Edera Ecleo, Sr. served as municipal mayor in the town of Dinagat for 20 years. During that time, great improvement was observed in Barangay San Jose and in other neighboring places through voluntary labor or “pahina” rendered by the members of the Association. Thus, in 1980, Barangay San Jose became the “Most Outstanding Barangay” in the Philippines. The establishment of a haven for the members of Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association in different barangays of Dinagat Municipality in 1970’s changed the local socio-political dynamics in Dinagat Islands. Their arrival suddenly highlighted the need of more social services in the area and the creation of San Jose Municipality which is now the center of trade in the island. The new province has seven (7) municipalities and forty-seven (47) islands & islets with Dinagat Island as the biggest and where all seats of municipal governments are now located. The Municipality of Dinagat is the oldest and the mother municipality of the province. The seven municipalities used to be part of the First District of the Province of Surigao del Norte until the province was created on October 2, 2006 through Republic Act No. 9355.