Name Change for the Philippines

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When I visited Manila in January 2006, a city councilor I knew excitedly informed me that his council had just voted to change the name of the Philippines. What? The country would no longer be named after a ruthless Spanish despot? We would finally be rid of this last vestige of colonialism? Hallelujah!

Breathlessly, I asked my friend, Councilor Cassie Sison, to tell me the name that the City Council of Manila had proposed.

“The Philippine Islands,” he replied.

After I recovered from my disappointment and picked up my jaw from the floor, I heard Cassie explain that Manila Mayor Lito Atienza believed that the country would draw more tourists if a more exotic name could replace the staid “Republic of the Philippines.” The proposed name, Cassie said, would conjure dreamy images of palm trees, cool breezes and sandy beaches.

While the country’s name change would be at or near the bottom of the nation’s immediate priorities, it should not be ignored because there is no other country in the world that is named after a mass murderer.

If Ceylon could be changed to Sri Lanka, Mongolia to Ulan Bator, Siam to Thailand, Leningrad to St. Petersburg, Peking to Beijing, why can’t the Philippines change its name?

When Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” the islands on March 16, 1521, he named it the Archipelago de San Lazaro. We would have been called Lazaroans, if Magellan had survived the Battle of Mactan against Lapu-Lapu on April 27, 1521.

Three unsuccessful Spanish expeditions followed Magellan, and all failed to reach San Lazaro. The fourth expedition, led by Capt. Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, reached Sarangani Island off the eastern coast of Mindanao on February 2, 1543. He renamed the islands Felipinas, after Felipe II, the son of Spanish King Carlos V and crown prince of Spain.

Villalobos left Las Islas Felipinas after eight months and sailed to the Moluccas, where he died. The Felipinas islands would not become a colony of the Spanish empire until 1572

By then, the crown prince had become King Felipe II and ruled Spain from 1556 to 1598. He would also rule the Netherlands and Portugal (starting in 1581), as well as the kingdoms of Milan, Naples and Sicily. In his time, Felipe II was the most powerful monarch in the world, and it was said that the sun did not set on his empire.

When he became master of the Netherlands, Felipe II reconstituted the Edict of 1550 that prohibited the printing, copying, keeping, buying or giving of any book written by Luther, Calvin or other “heretics” condemned by the Holy Church or the breaking or defacing of any image of the Holy Virgin or any Vatican-canonized saints. The penalty for those who disobeyed the Edict would be death by the sword for men and burning at the stake for women. Informers against suspects were entitled upon conviction to half the property of the accused.

Before burning his opponents at the stake, this Catholic King insisted on performing an Auto-da-Fe, a religious ceremony that accompanied the sentencing of heretics by the Inquisition. Among the victims of Felipe’s inquisition were more than 10,000 Lutherans and more than 80,000 Andalucian Moriscos, Spanish Moors who had converted to Catholicism but had also violated Felipe’s edict prohibiting the speaking of the Arabic language or retaining of any of their ethnic culture.

While he was still crown prince, Felipe II married his first cousin, Princess Maria of Portugal, who provided him with a son, Don Carlos of Spain (1545-1568). Following Maria’s death in 1546, he married Catholic Queen Mary I of England in 1554 to cement an alliance with England.

After Queen Mary died in 1558, Felipe wanted to marry her successor, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, but the plan failed. He blamed his son, Don Carlos, for the failure of the planned marriage and had him imprisoned, where he later died.

Felipe then married his son’s fiancée, Princess Elisabeth of Valois, daughter of Henri II of France. Elisabeth provided him with two daughters. She later gave birth to a son but died a few hours after his birth on the same day. Felipe married Anne, daughter of the Emperor Maximilian II, and provided him with an heir, Felipe III.

While he was engaged in wars with the Dutch, Felipe II summoned the largest Spanish fleet (Armada) ever assembled – more than 100 ships with more than 30,000 men – to invade England in 1588. The pretext was Queen Elizabeth’s execution of Mary, the Catholic Queen of Scots. But English guile and the “Protestant Wind” thwarted Felipe’s ambitions and destroyed the Spanish fleet.

When Felipe died in 1598, Spain was bankrupt and in decline as a European power.

What does it mean then to be named after Felipe, to be called Felipinos (later changed to Filipinos), to be “like Felipe” or to be intolerant of other people and other religions?

Changing the name would end all the confusion about the spelling of the country (Philippines) or the people (Philippinos).

When Andres Bonifacio formed the Katipunan revolutionary organization against Spain in 1896, he refused to use the term Filipinas, preferring Tagalog and Katagalugan for the country.

Others objected on the grounds that Pilipinas sounded too much like Alipinas (land of slaves). Some have proposed Kapatiran (brotherhood) or Katipunan. Others have suggested Luzviminda, a reference to the country’s three major group of islands.

In the late 1970s, the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who should have been named after Felipe the despot) seriously attempted to change the name of the country to Maharlika, the “warrior-noble” in pre-colonial Felipinas who, like the Samurai class of Japan, rendered military service to his feudal lord. But his proposal went nowhere.

If countries like Bolivia can be named after its liberators, why can’t the Pilippinos be named after Rizal? We would all be Rizalians.

My personal preference would be to call the country Bayanihan, and we would all be bayanis (heroes), bound together in the “Bayanihan” spirit of working for the common good.

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