Camiling was originally a vast area of cogon growth interspersed with thick-forested area stretching as far as the Zambales mountain ranges. In the beginning, Aetas roamed freely in the wilderness of Camiling. They depended on fruit trees, hunting and fishing for subsistence. Deer and different kinds of birds inhabited the place. A wide river also cut peacefully through the terrain where fishes (dalag and anguilas) abounded.
The Spaniards must have settled first in the basically flat area interspersed with limited rolling hills. Whether it was initially the frontier settlement of the military or the mission house of the friars, it has yet to be ascertained. However, records show that the town called camiling evolved from two casas, later, visitas administered by the Dominicans.
The first, which existed juristically, was San Jose de Camiling. It was located in what is now part of Bautista, Pangasinan and at the time near a barrio called Binaca. The second, called San Miguel de Camiling, was founded on what is now part of Bayambang, Pangasinan, southwest of Paniqui. Unlike San Jose, which was only near Binaca, San Miguel included barrio Binaca itself.
San Jose de Camiling was a casa of the Dominicans in 1686. When Paniqui became a parish in 1718, San Jose de Camiling became a visita of Paniqui. In 1722, the visita was raised into a parish. However, in 1725, it reverted into a visita of Paniqui again for some unknown reason. One source says this earlier Spanish settlement disappeared because of the growing threats from the Aetas. Thus, San Jose de Camiling ceased to appear in the Actas of the Dominican provincial chapters from 1769 onwards. The name Camiling was mentioned again in 1834, referring to a visita of Bayambang founded by Father Juan Alvarez del Manzano, and later converted into a parish by Father Benito Foncuberta in 1841. Based on the ereccion de pueblo, it was in 1838 that Camiling got separated from Bayambang’s administrative authority and was transferred to Paniqui. By 1845, church records referred to it as San Miguel de Camiling, after its patron saint, St. Michael Archangel.
Apparently, this was the second settlement that was founded southwest of Paniqui and Bayambang, which included barrio Binaca. Accounts of Father Manzano reveal that along with inhabitants from Bayambang, families from Ilocos pioneered the inhabitants of San Miguel de Camiling. The Ilocanos (majority came from Sarrat) named the town after its own patron saint in Sarrat – San Miguel the Archangel or San Miguel for short.
It would seem, also, that some turmoil (could be a rebellion) forced the Ilocanos to migrate southward, to Central Luzon, in search of peace and verdant fields to cultivate. These groups of immigrants engaged in agriculture, but the place, especially Binaca, was utilized earlier for its abundant grazing lands, hence, the word binaca which comes from the Spanish vaca meaning “cow.” Before the Dominicans administered a church in the place, it was a grazing ground (corral de vacas).
From 1849, it was under Father Angel Gomez that the community underwent development. A church was built, a tribunal was erected, a four-hectare plaza was laid out, and schools were established. The streets were constructed to form a modern pueblo. By 1870, a cemetery was acquired and a permanent irrigation was built. Father Gomez also had a church constructed with a baroque façade and a Romanesque dome. All these structures mirrored a prosperous town, capable of independent existence. Thus, by 1880, Camiling de San Miguel formally seceded from the town of Paniqui which administered it politically until this year.
A visitor described the town’s church, convento, and dwelling house of the parish priest as the best in this wealthy and prosperous town. The town’s church was not only airy, comfortable and clean, but also the most artistic, being built in the Corinthian style. The convent with its primitive part was made entirely of stone; its middle portion is partly made of stones, bricks, and wood; and its third part, with its spaciousness, was elegant.
From a settlement of 700 souls in 1869, which were mostly farmers, the population of Camiling rose to 18,912 with five Españoles and the rest indigenous composed of Ilocanos, Pangasinenses, Pampangueños, and Tagalogs.
Today, according to the 2000 census, Camiling has a population of 71,598 people in 15,324 households. It is a 1st class municipality whose checkered history is colored with heritage and pride. Rebuilt in the 1880’s after a major earthquake, the century old Roman Catholic Church and Convent have been declared historical sites by the National Historical Commission in 1994. However, the Church was gutted by fire in 1997, That until today, its restoration has remained uncompleted.
Likewise, Camiling is also synonymous to Leonor Rivera who is Maria Clara, Jose Rizal’s fiancée in his novel Noli Me Tangere. Similarly, Camiling prides itself as the hometown of great men of valor and prominence, which include Carlos P. Romulo, former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and first Asian President of the United Nations General Assembly; Onofre D. Corpuz, former Minister of education, Culture and Sports, and UP President; Cesar A. Bengson, former Supreme Court Justice and Justice of the International Court in the United Nations; Alberto Romulo, former Senator of the Philippines, former Executive Secretary of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and currently, Secretary of foreign affairs, among others. Camiling’s past remains unforgotten and it is resurging as it was.