‘From Philippines to Maharlika? Referendum needed’

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
�From Philippines to Maharlika? Referendum needed�
In a speech delivered in Maguindanao last Monday, Duterte said former president Ferdinand Marcos was right in calling for a change in the country’s name to Maharlika, noting that the name “Philippines” has colonial origins.

MANILA, Philippines — Changing the Philippines’ name would require a new law and the public’s approval in a referendum, Malacañang said yesterday after President Duterte revived a proposal to rename the Philippines “Maharlika.”

In a speech delivered in Maguindanao last Monday, Duterte said former president Ferdinand Marcos was right in calling for a change in the country’s name to Maharlika, noting that the name “Philippines” has colonial origins. 

He said Spanish colonizers had named the country after King Philip II who also financed Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition to the Philippines. 

“Actually, Marcos was right. During the time of Marcos, he wanted it changed. Maharlika. The Republic of Maharlika because Maharlika is a Malay word and it means serenity,” Duterte said. 

The President lamented the proposal was overshadowed by allegations that Marcos was a dictator. 

“Pero OK na yan. Balang araw palitan natin (But that’s OK. One day, let’s change it),” he added. 

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said congressional action is needed to change the country’s name.

“The Constitution provides that Congress may enact a law that can change the name of the country and submit it to the people for a referendum,” he said at a press briefing yesterday. “Let’s see how it evolves. He is expressing an idea again as usual.”

Article XVI, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution states that Congress may, by law, adopt a new name for the country, a national anthem, or a national seal, “which shall all be truly reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history and traditions of the people.”

If done, it will only become effective after its ratification by the people in a national referendum.

Proposals to change the name of the Philippines have been around since the 1970s. According to an article posted on the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ website, former senator Eddie Ilarde filed a bill seeking to change the country’s name to Maharlika in 1978.

The article quoted Ilarde as saying that Maharlika is the Filipinos’ “ancient heritage,” long before the arrival of Western colonizers. “Maha” is Sanskrit for noble or great while “likha” means create, thus, Maharlika means “nobly created,” according to the article. 

But some scholars are opposed to the name change, saying it would disregard the Filipinos’ historical roots and national identity. While those who support the name change claimed “Maharlika” connotes royalty, some critics said the term literally means “big phallus.” It is also the name of the guerilla force Marcos claimed to have led during World War II, which The New York Times disputed in a report published on Jan. 23, 1986.

For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Duterte’s idea “sounds good.”

“Without the politics involved, Maharlika sounds good to me as well. I may have to agree with President Duterte on the possibility to change our country’s name,” he said, noting that the word Philippines will always remind Filipinos of King Philip II of Spain, which colonized for the country for three centuries. 

“While the colonization brought out the best in our ancestors and taught us their valiance and heroism, those 300 years also influenced our culture and attitude as a people and which we cannot claim as originally our own,” Lacson added.

For Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on Mission chair, the name Maharlika is better suited for a highway and not as a replacement name for the country.  

“It is distasteful for Duterte to change the name of country, especially at this time when we are remembering history. Not even the dictator (former President Ferdinand) Marcos succeeded to call our country Maharlika. Let this name be used for the highway connecting our Islands!” he said.

He added that he is also opposed to the idea of changing the name of the country because “Philippines” is connected to the arrival of Christianity to the country and that Duterte broached the idea at a time when the Catholic Church is preparing to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in 2021.

Human rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno said changing the name of the country should be set aside and the present administration should prioritize providing food, jobs and justice for the people.  – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan

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