What’s in a name?

"Sadly, thinking has gone out of fashion among our present politicians."


There is a current controversy about changing the name of the country from Philippines to Maharlika. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte suggested it in a recent public speech. He said the late President Ferdinand Marcos, who first raised the issue, was right. The President said the word Maharlika was a Malay word meaning royalty.

On this score, some Filipino historians pointed out that the President was wrong to say it was a Malay word. Philologists pointed out that “maharlika” was actually derived from India.

Changing a country’s name is not as simple as it seems. First of all, it is like switching our form of government from the presidential and bicameral Congress to federalism/paliamentary system. The sea change is going to be very costly. Our money from the coins to the peso bills will have to be demonitized, discarded and replaced with new ones bearing the maharlika name. Ditto the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land. All references to the Philippines will have to be amended to Maharlika.

Maybe President Marcos foresaw the myriad problems that could arise from changing the country’s name which was why he abandoned the idea. While Marcos was a man who thought things through, sadly, thinking has gone out of fashion among out present politicians.

Marcos’ first name was apparently taken after the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan who discovered the Philippines in 1521. To change the name of the Philippines after King Philip II would have required him to change also his first name. Other Filipinos baptized by Spanish missionary priests would also start a beeline to the courts to have their names changed.

The Spanish friars who probably ran out of Spanish names baptized Filipinos with the same names. Hence there are many Juan de la Cruzes, Jose Santoses and even Del Rosarios.

So, what’s in a name? A lot – once is born and baptized with it. We are stuck with our names.

An ambassador from one of those former Soviet satellites once asked me why Filipinos did not change the name of the Philippines. He said this connoted a slavic subservience to the King of Spain. As with diplomatic events, conversations like these were best ignored. A smile from me was the best repartee I could give the ambassador to show my disdain for his ignorance of history and culture.

This is diplomacy, where silence does not mean acceptance nor agreement with another diplomat’s mindless view.

However, when I saw this particular envoy again at another gathering, I took the offensive and remarked: “Excellency, why don’t you ask the American ambassador why the US continues to use America after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who discovered America?”

I noticed a smirk instead of a smile from him.

For all its current state of affairs, the United States of America has shown its resilience and greatness as a people to be a superpower. Being named after a colonizer has nothing to do with the making of a nation.

But more than a name change of the Philippines, what matters more is a change in our attitude and the acceptance of a culture of corruption that had been pervasive since our independence on July 4, 1946. All right, June 12, 1898.

On May 13 this year, Filipinos vote for another set of officials in the mid-term elections. Will they elect men and women as senators, representatives, governor and mayors who have proven track records of competence and with the people’s interest at heart? Or will it be the same scalawags whose only qualifications are their popularity and money? Several names of this ilk come to mind but we won’t name them lest we are subjected to a libel suit.

So let the people decide. Whom a voter chooses defines that voter more than it does the candidate. Do they want meaningful change, or are they easily swayed to vote for candidates who can entertain them by the usual song-and-dance repertoire?

This is why those debates and interviews of candidates covered live on television are good—they give voters a window into the candidates’ platform of government. Voters will be able to distinguish candidates who talk nonsene from those who have a vision of how to serve the people.

Unfortunately, this benighted land does not have voters with the prescience and intelligence to elect the right people to lead them.

Topics: Alejandro del Rosario , Philippines , Maharlika. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte , President Ferdinand Marcos
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