"Perhaps the idea for a name change has not gained much support because there havenít been any catchy names suggested."
The main argument in favor of changing our country’s name is that “Philippines” is a reminder of our colonial past, and altering it will further the decolonization process. Who needs to be reminded every day that as Filipinos, we literally call ourselves after Philip II, scion of our conquerors?
The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos proposed the name “Maharlika.” He claimed it meant “nobility?-—but this idea stems from a Spanish mistranslation perpetuated by historians Blair and Robertson in their book ‘The Philippine Islands 1493 to 1898.’ “Maharlika” actually means “vassal” to the ruling class (kadatuan).
“Since the Maharlika episode,” wrote Nathan Gilbert Quimpo in ‘Colonial Name, Colonial Mentality and Ethnocentrism’ (2003) “there have been several attempts to have the country´s name changed…Almost each time, the main argument presented for the name change was that Philippines is of colonial origin. The new proposals have all been shot down, and Philippines has prevailed.”
Quimpo related the arguments against a name change, ones that we are hearing again. He cited Remigio Agpalo who had said in 1980 that “Philippines” is “a symbol of a saga of nation-building, a struggle for freedom, a history written in the blood and sweat of Rizal, Bonifacio, and many other national heroes and in the sweat and tears of ordinary citizens.”
Some argued that many have fought and died for the “Philippines,” and others like columnist Ricardo Malay in 1996 opined that “There is no real stigma to the name Philippines any more than there is to America, named after the Italian Amerigo Vespucci.” This is the same argument raised last week by Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
In 2013, the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino passed a resolution changing “Pilipinas” to “Filipinas” as being more historically accurate. The idea was shot down by the public, who said the alteration of just one letter did not justify the immense cost of having stationery and signage changed.
As I wrote at the time, “But if we are going to change our country’s name, why stop with one letter and still perpetuate the memory of the colonizers, whose yoke our forebears threw off with blood, sword, and fire?”
“Philippines and Filipino are both tarnished terms,” wrote Quimpo. “There is more to their being colonial than historians and other social scientists have perceived or cared to admit.”
“They in fact represent what Frantz Fanon referred to as the internalization or ‘epidermalization’ of inferiority among peoples subjected to colonization or prolonged oppression. Moreover, in different stages of the country´s history—and not just during the Spanish period—‘Philippines’ and ‘Filipino’ have been associated with racial, class, ethnic/national and religious discrimination.”
To illustrate, “filipina” is used by Japanese and some other nationalities to refer to domestic helpers, the price we pay for exporting workers abroad. “Filipinos” are the brand name of a snack sold in Spain, Portugal, and other European countries. They are white cookies covered with milk or dark chocolate. Cookies that are white inside and dark outside well describe the colonial mentality many of us are afflicted with.
Politicians from both the administration and opposition have suggested a name change. President Rodrigo Duterte recently floated “Maharlika,” but for him it is not a matter of urgency. Of “Philippines,” he was quoted as saying “Pero okay na yan. Balang araw palitan natin.”
Two years ago, the opposition’s Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano filed House Bill No. 5867, proposing the creation of a commission to rename the country.
“If we want to be truly independent,” he said, “then we should throw away the bonds of colonialism by establishing our own national identity. For our country to move forward, we should identify a name for our country that genuinely reflects our national aspirations, a name that signifies our values and self-determination.”
This was the direction taken by some former colonies that adopted names of indigenous or un-colonial derivation: Burkina Faso, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, Vanuatu, and Zimbabwe.
Perhaps the idea for a name change has not gained much support because there haven’t been any catchy names suggested. “Maharlika” is tainted. According to Quimpo, “Among the alternative names submitted to the Constitutional Commission of 1986 and to the Philippine Congress were Rizal, the name of the country´s national hero; Bayani, an indigenous Tagalog term which means “hero”; and Luzviminda, short for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, the names—of pre-Hispanic origins—of the three main island groups of the Philippine archipelago.”
As I wrote in 2013, “It seems our ideas of nationhood, of selfhood, are still fluid and we are as far as ever from coming up with an indigenous name, much less reaching a consensus on one.”
A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but not a country. Find me on FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO