Visayas is one of the three island groups in the Philippines, along with Mindanao and Luzon. It consists of several islands, primarily surrounding the Visayan Sea. Its population are referred to as the Visayans.

The major islands of the Visays are Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar and Palawan. The region may also include the islands of Romblon and Masbate, whose population identify as Visayan.


The early people on the Visayas region were Austronesians and Negritos who migrated to the islands about 6,000 to 30,000 years ago. These early settlers were Animist tribal groups. In the 12th century, settlers from the collapsing empires of Srivijaya, Majapahit and Brunei, led by the chieftain Datu Puti and his tribes settled in the island of Panay and its surrounding islands. By the 14th century, Arab traders and their followers, venturing into the Malay Archipelago, converted some of these tribal groups into Muslims. These tribes practised a mixture of Islam and Animism beliefs. There is also some evidence of trade among other Asian people. The Visayans were thought to have kept close diplomatic relations with Malaysia and Indonesian kingdoms since the tribal groups of Cebu were able to converse with Enrique of Malacca using the Malay language when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521.

After the Magellan expedition, king Philip II of Spain sent Ruy López de Villalobos and Miguel López de Legazpi in 1543 and 1565 and claimed the islands for Spain. The Visayas region and many tribes began converting to Christianity and adopting western culture. By the 18th and 20th century, conflicts of colonization by various ethnic groups soon turned sour and revolutions such as those of Francisco Dagohoy began to emerge.

During the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine American War between 1896 to 1913, the island of Negros and other neighbouring islands initiated their revolution. After gaining Philippine independence from colonial rule, after World War II in 1946, the Visayas region established its community and re-formed its government, producing several notable presidents coming from the Visayas region.

In 2005, the island of Palawan was transferred to Region VI (Western Visayas) by Executive Order 429. Hence, Palawan is currently (as of May 2007) still part of Region IV-B.

Administrative divisions

Central Visayas
Eastern Visayas
Western Visayas

The major islands, from west to east: Palawan, Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar

Administratively, the Visayas is divided into 3 regions, namely Western Visayas, Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas. Each region is headed by a Regional Director which is elected from a pool of governors from the different provinces in each region.

However, it is made up of 16 provinces. The Visayas comprises 16 provinces, each headed by a Governor. A governor is elected by popular vote and can serve at the maximum of three terms of three years each. As for representation in the Philippine Congress, the Visayas is represented by 44 Congressmen elected the same way as the Governors.

Western Visayas (Region VI)

Western Visayas consists of the islands of Palawan, Panay and the western half of Negros. The regional center is Iloilo City. Its provinces are:

* Aklan
* Antique
* Capiz
* Guimaras
* Iloilo
* Negros Occidental
* Palawan

Central Visayas (Region VII)

Central Visayas includes the islands of Cebu and Bohol and the eastern half of Negros. The regional center is Cebu City. Its provinces are:

* Bohol
* Cebu
* Negros Oriental
* Siquijor

Eastern Visayas (Region VIII)

Eastern Visayas consists of the islands of Leyte and Samar. The regional center is Tacloban City. Its provinces are:

* Biliran
* Leyte
* Southern Leyte
* Eastern Samar
* Northern Samar
* Samar


There were historical documents written in 1907 by Visayan historian Pedro Alcántara Monteclaro in his book Maragtas, telling the story of the ten chiefs (Datus) who escaped from the tyranny of Datu Makatunaw from Borneo to the islands of Panay. The chiefs and followers were said to be the ancestors of the Visayan people.

The documents were accepted by Filipino historians and found their way into the history of the Philippines. As a result of the arrival of Bornean tribal groups in the Visayas, this event is celebrated in the festivals of the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan and Binirayan in San José, Antique.

Foreign historians such as William Scott conclusively proved the book to be a Visayan folk tradition. Panay boasts of the Hinilawod as its oldest and longest epic.


A contemporary theory based on a study of genetic markers in present day populations that Austronesian people from Taiwan populated the region of Luzon and headed south to the Visayas, Borneo, Indonesia, then to Pacific islands and to the east of the Indian Ocean. The study, though, may not explain interisland migrations, which are also possible, such as the Tagalog migration to Luzon.

According to Visayan folk traditions, the Visayas was populated by Malays migrating from Borneo to Mindanao to the Visayas, while other Malays crossed to Palawan through Sabah. Other Malays were suggested to have crossed from Samar island to the Bicol region in Luzon. The theory suggests those ancient tribal groups who passed through Palawan may have migrated to what is now the island of Luzon.

A supplementary theory was that at that period, the Malay people where moving north from Mindanao, to the Visayas and to Luzon. Various groups of Europeans and Chinese also integrated with the native population during that period.

Central Visayas

Central Visayas, designated as Region VII, is a region of the Philippines located in the central part of the Visayas island group. It consists of four provinces—Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor— and the highly urbanized cities of Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, and Mandaue City. The region is dominated by the native speakers of Cebuano. Cebu City is its regional center.

The land area of the region is 15,875 km². As of the 2007 census, it has a population of 6,398,628, making it the 5th most populous of the country's 17 regions.

Provinces and independent cities

The Central Visayas region is composed of 4 provinces and 3 independent cities:
Political map of Central Visayas
Province/City Capital Population
(2000) Area
(km²) Pop. density
(per km²)
Bohol Tagbilaran City 1,137,268 4,117.3 276.2
Cebu Cebu City 2,160,569 4,800.11 450.1
Negros Oriental Dumaguete City 1,126,061 5,402.3 208.4
Siquijor Siquijor 81,598 343.5 237.5
Cebu City¹ — 718,821 280.2 2,565.4
Lapu-Lapu City¹ — 217,019 64.22 3,379.3
Mandaue City¹ — 259,728 34.87 7,448

Although Cebu City, Mandaue City and Lapu-Lapu City are often grouped under the province of Cebu for statistical purposes by the National Statistics Office, as highly urbanized cities they are administratively independent from the province.

Component cities

* Bais City, Negros Oriental; * Bayawan City, Negros Oriental; * Canlaon City, Negros Oriental; * Danao City, Cebu; * Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental; * Tagbilaran City, Bohol; * Talisay City, Cebu; * Tanjay City, Negros Oriental; * Toledo City, Cebu


As of the 2007 census, Central Visayas had a population of 6,398,628, making it the 5th most populous of the country's 17 regions. The population density was 403.1 people per square kilometer (6,129.4/mi²). The census showed an average annual population growth rate of 1.59% from 2000 to 2007, significantly less than the national average of 2.04%.

Cebuano is the dominant language of the region. In Bohol, Cebuano is referred to as Boholano. In the Camotes Islands, which is part of Cebu, Cebuano language is spoken in the towns of Tudela, Pilar and San Francisco. Except the town of Poro, in which, Porohanon is spoken (a variation or mixture of Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) and Masbateño language).

By sea

The Port of Cebu is the region's main gateway. There are also ports in Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, Tagbilaran in Bohol and Larena in Siquijor. Inter-island shipping is served by numerous shipping lines, two of them fastcraft companies which serve all the provinces in the region.

By air

The Mactan-Cebu International Airport, located in Lapu-Lapu City, is the country's second busiest airport (after Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila) and the only airport in the Visayas serving international flights. It is an airline hub of Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, PAL Express, and Air Philippines, with flights to key cities throughout the country. It also serves international flights to other Asian destinations. Other airports in the region are Sibulan Airport, serving Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental with flights to Manila and Cebu, and Tagbilaran Airport, serving Tagbilaran City and Bohol with flights to Manila.

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