The earliest historical record of the City of San Pablo dates back to pre-Spanish times when four (4) big barrios bounded by Mt. Banahaw and Mt. Makiling composed Sampaloc.
In 1521, Sampaloc was changed to San Pablo De Los Montes, which became a parish in 1556 and then a municipality in 1647. In 1899, a Municipal Government was established with Inocente Martinez as Municipal President in 1902 when the Civil Government was granted independence from the Province of Laguna. On May 7, 1940, the charter bill sponsored by Congressman Tomas Dizon was approved. The bill became known as the City Charter of San Pablo or Commonwealth Act No. 520. The City was inaugurated on March 30, 1941 with Dr. Potenciano Malvar as the appointed City Mayor.
In ancient times, San Pablo was known as the village of Sampalok. It was an upland realm surrounded by mountain ranges and quiescent volcanic peaks. Belief was that mountain making movements or orogeny had thrust lower lying areas to uplands and low rolling plains after extensive volcanisms took place millions of years ago and where caesal piniaceus tamarind or sampalok trees grew in wild abundance. This upland realm became our hometown, San Pablo de los Montes.
Sampalok was a large and prospering village which had its own system of government and culture. Barangays already existed and each was headed by a chieftain who was also known as Gatpuno. Foremost among them were Gat Paguil, Gat Sungayan, Gat Salakab and Gat Pulintan. Cultural development was manifested in marriage patterns, religion and social groups.
Even crude written symbols of communications were used to record simple trades and forms of literature although oral handing of customs, beliefs, songs and practices was preferred. The natives had a glimpse of the outside world thru Chinese traders who were the first group to be in contact with as evidenced by ceramic pieces that were unearthed and carbon-dated.
In search of gold the first Spanish troops under Captain Juan de Salcedo reached the upland realm of Sampalok in 1571 and immediately announced governance in the name of the king of Spain. Administration of its affairs was turned over to the Augustinian missionaries who succeeded in converting most of the natives to Christianity.
Fiesta was introduced as part of religious rituals. Consequently, some barangay villages were renamed after saints as a reason for the festivity. Native chieftains were renamed cabesa de barangay and in 1647 Sampalok was renamed San Pablo de los Montes in honor of St. Paul the First Hermit and became an independent municipality with a gobernadorcillo or capitan as its head.
The subsequent defeat of the Spanish colonizers set the stage for another war – the Filipino-American war and the inevitable American occupation and establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. Although Manila was captured by the American troops on June 30, 1898 the first American cavalry arrived in San Pablo on January 14, 1900 after taking Santa Cruz and Calamba earlier and routed the local freedom fighters.
America’s pacification drive and grant of amnesty to freedom-fighters did much to quell animosity and distrust among the local citizenry and on January 24, 1901 U.S. military authorities appointed Don Pedro de Gorostiza as municipal president of San Pablo.
Civil government in the Philippines was inaugurated on July 4, 1901. It was ushered in locally by the elite of San Pablo which was composed of the influential, wealthy and closely related families who easily dominated the fledgling electoral process.
In the morning of December 25, 1941 Japanese fighter planes dropped bombs in the city and strafed people and edifices. They left behind a harrowing scene of ruins and death. On December 30, 1941 General Susuma Morioka arrived and took over San Pablo in the name of the invading Japanese Imperial Forces.
World War II brought extensive damage to the city in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. It brought out the worst and the best in men – from the dreaded notoriety of the local kempetai and makapili collaborators to the admirable heroism of the local guerillas and freedom fighters one of whom was Cipriano B. Colago who became the first elected City Mayor of San Pablo. Japanese occupation ended when the American troops marched into the city on April 4, 1945.