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What happened to Us?

Posted by Maharlika on June 24, 2009 , under , , , , , , | comments (0)

I remember when I was very young and growing up in the Philippines, People Power is all the rage!

As Bob Simon said in the live CBS news hour ,

We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight they are teaching the world.

But what happened to us after that momentous event? The country even spiralling downwards and most of the new Generation of Pinoys don't even recognize the following song. full of love and hope for the future:

Twenty-three years later our beloved country has sunk even further, our politicians we elected managed to survived politically even without doing anything that's beneficial to thier constituents. We are as divided now as when the Spaniards first came to our shores. What happened to our Unity embodied in this song?

Do we really need another Revolution?

Who are the Filipinos?

Posted by Maharlika on , under , , , , , , , , , | comments (0)

Presented at the 10th Annual Fil-Am GALA, Embassy Suites Hotel, Columbia SC.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all to our 10th Anniversary GALA and hope you all enjoy yourselves at our annual function. I was born in Manila of a British father and a French mother. My first 2 1/2 years were spent in the Philippines and I don't remember a thing, though my first contact was with my mother, it was my Filipina YAYA, or nanny, INDAY, who looked after me for the first 2 1/2 years of my life.

Children in Muntinlupa, a suburb of Manila by Alan Geoghegan

Soon afterwards, my family moved to New York where my father would work for the United Nations and only in 1989 would I reconnected to the place of my birth. Fresh out of college, I headed to the Philippines sent by the WAO, or World Association for Orphans. As I began a 2 month video documentation on street children, I did not know that it was Marc Loinaz, a Filipino inventor from New Jersey, who first made the one-chip video camera. (link)

Filipinos are spread all over the world and I often ask myself, what is the essential character of being Filipino?

At the root of Philippine culture is the MALAY spirit, said to have come from the south of continental Asia. The Malay share a brownish skin with slanting eyes, similar to the Thai, or Vietnamese. The Malay began as a nomad moving down to the Malay Peninsula, down to the South Pacific, and eventually to the Philippines.

Free Baguong to the one who rows the most.

What is incredible is that these voyages were not made by ship, but on quite small rowboats. During the time of the earliest settlers, Religion was in the hands of the WOMEN and the basic belief was that everything in this world - a tree, river, roof, a season, had it's own ANITO , or SPIRIT. In this period, the rulers were called DATUS and BARANGAY or "community" culture respected other people's property, the more you had , the more likely you could become a DATU. (Roces)

Many existing health beliefs and practices in the Philippines are rooted back in the pre-colonial period are still practiced today, belief in nature spirits or DWENDE, supreme deities, such as DWATA and an ability to repel the naughty spirits, or MOMOH with ANTING ANTING, or talismans.

Soon after MAGELLAN landed in CEBU in 1521 and claimed it for Spain, MIGUEL LOPEZ DE LEGASPI named the country after the Prince and later King of Spain, Philip II . Today, there is a small grass-roots movement in the Philippines whose members want the countries' name changed to MAHARLIKA: Maharlika is a Filipino term which means "NOBLE" and "MA" is an ancient word for "truth", or "light of truth".

The church (right)was built by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Fr. Andres Urdaneta on the site where the image of Santo Niño was found in Cebu in 1565.

Spanish rule lasted for over 300 years in the Philippines during which time the Church maintained strict control over a HACIENDA system of landlords and peasants.

Basilica Minor Del Santo Nino

Spanish church tower in Vigan
by Alan Geoghegan

With over 7000 islands, containing numerous ethnic groups speaking a reported 110-168 different dialects, the Philippine Islands would not be easy to control: although Spain had domination over the Philippine economy, they would also not have complete control over it's people.

From 1588 to the 1890's ,The Philippines was hit by countless earthquakes, a cholera epidemic killing thousands, hundreds of typhoons, thousands of of fires such as the Chinese Ghetto or PARIAH in Intramuros which burned down 6 times in between 1588 and 1642 . During this world-wind of change, The University of Santo Tomas was founded in Manila in 1611 and is older than Harvard University (1636) by 25 years. (Joaquin)

The Philippines was repetitively invaded by the British, the Dutch, the Japanese and Chinese, by both pirates and wealth-seekers who all wanted control over the spice trade centered in the Moluccas.

The Chinese already had thousands of years of dealing with the Philippines: the Spanish imposed strict taxes for Chinese doing business, though if they converted to Christianity , they were exempt from paying taxes for 10 years and could marry a Christian Filipina. This could explain some of the CHINITO or Chinese look of some Filipinos today. (Joaquin)

The Filipino character is a little bit of all these cultures mixed together: "Filipinos are Malay or BAYANIHAN in family, Spanish in love, Chinese in business, and American in ambition."

Due to the Philippines long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life in a way that seems more LATIN than Asian, and a common trait that distinguishes them all is FILIPINO HOSPITALITY.

Girl, Quezon City by Alan Geoghegan

It is interesting to note that last names were adopted by people in the Philippines only in 1849, by a decree issued by Spanish Governor NARCISO CLAVIERA, who observed that Filipinos had no surnames. (Joaquin) Still, who are the Filipinos? I have described these historical facts, because in essence, history shaped and moulded the Filipinos as they are now. I am amazed that a people who have undergone so much change have still managed to prosper and spread around the world.

Before I traveled to the Philippines last January to document the T'BOLI tribe in Southern Mindanao, I referred to my project as a documentary study on a Vanishing Tribe. I was so impressed by what I saw preserved in their art forms and customs, I decided a different title would be more appropriate, possibly "The T'BOLI Super Women of Asia."

Filipinos are masters of celebration, music and art , presentation and imitation: If you visit Manila today and spend a few evenings in the music clubs and you will find the most perfect carbon copy of Country music, American Blues, Bluegrass, even Disco, complete with dyed hair and all the right attitudes and clothes.

Squatter family, Quezon City by Alan Geoghegan

Still, the most powerful music in the Philippines are Tagalog and English Love songs: ask any Filipina at your table what type of movie she likes, she will probably say ROMANTIC STORY. It's almost as if, the accommodation other cultures for so long have left the Filipino continually ready to adapt to ANY change, YET still, there is that longing search for an identity. Maybe it is the Malay spirit, always on the move, maybe it's the recognition that throughout all this time, the Philippines rarely invaded any foreign country: with a perennial supply of fish and a virgin forest which used to cover 90% of the Philippine Islands, the country never needed to, they were already living in a paradise.

Yet the romantic restlessness continued: JOSE RIZAL ventured out of the Philippines, mastered over 20 foreign languages, published books and poetry, lived abroad and serves as a national hero for many Filipinos, who seem to be able to assimilate just about anywhere, blending easily into the landscape, from Dubai to Alaska (hopefully not) to South Carolina.

Despite the multiplicity of languages, the country has one of the highest literacy rates, (90% of the population 10 years or older are literate), and the Philippines has the third largest number of English speakers in the world, 34 million people for 1993 estimates, not too far behind Great Britain with 56 million.

People are often struck with meeting Filipinos; they are always well groomed, impeccably dressed and clean, and they smile ALL THE TIME: they smile while commuting, they smile at work, they smile in smog-infested traffic, even in an argument, or overthrowing their own President, they SMILE! The Filipino "YES" puzzles most westerners. A yes means just that, though it can also mean "maybe" ,"I don't know", or, "If it will please you", OR "I hope I have said it enough for you to understand that I mean NO!" . (Grace Roces)

GRACE ROCES explains it in a perfect way: "A Filipino does not like to openly agree or disappoint, The Filipino anticipates and gives the expected answer. Hence, a question by a person seeking a direct answer concerning, for example, the quantity of a payment for services rendered will answer with a smile and say, It's up to You." (meaning, you decide!)

"A foreigner who makes an effort to learn, or understand Filipino culture is very appreciated, especially when it comes to food." Filipinos have a particular love for a SALTY PASTE made of TINY SHRIMPS called BAGUONG, and a common indoctrination into the culture, is usually to eat the incubated duck egg called BALUT. By making you to eat the BALUT, Filipinos promise you that it works just like VIAGRA, as long as it is mixed with 2 or 3 SAN MIGUEL BEERS. There is also a fish of a pungent odor called DAING, (also called smelly fish) I think they named it correctly, because when you smell it, you feel like Dying! Buang!

"It is not necessary to pretend to like these foods, it is enough to be familiar with them and in true Filipino fashion, SMILE GENTLY when declining." (Roces) Once somebody took the liberty of placing some BAGUONG under a piece of fresh mango and I ate it: It nearly killed me and I NEARLY KILLED THEM.

Filipinos love to celebrate. During All Souls Day in 1995, I visited the Island of Cebu, this is known as Halloween in the US. During this holiday, which lasts about a week, people from all over the country head back to their province of origin and pay respect to their ancestors by visiting and spending time at their gravestones. They do not leave a flower, say a prayer then disappear: they often stay there ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT, or even all week, with families taking turns honoring their dead.

You will find young and old, drinking TANDUAY RUM, making CHEEZ MEEZ, or chatting, lighting candles and singing songs. Sometimes a family can be seen scrubbing their ancestors bones with AJAX, or even roasting a WHOLE PIG, adding to the FIESTA atmosphere. The feeling is celebratory, rather than sad, as daparted souls would appreciate.

In a personal way, the Philippine people represent to me a surviving and intuitive people, capable of adapting to and rising above almost any situation: the Filipino spirit has not only endured this age, it has done so while paying due respect to the ancestors who have passed on, while devoting themselves day in and day out to their own families, who are often far away, with a deep faith in GOD.

In a world of steep international competition and materialistic tendenciew, Filipinos continue to adapt to where they can be of best service, often allusive to the great rat race of competition, always Filipino, joyous and caring, sometimes humanitarian and protective, in a world of "takers" where a pure heart and a genuine smile can go a long way.

They do this with MA, "truthfulness" and with grace, "HARLIKA", with a sense of Bayanihan community cooperation. Positive ethical values are deep-rooted in Filipino traditions and family life, as is a deep trust in the creator above.

Though this is only a part of the story: there are still challenges that the country must face in the future to be able to regenerate, but I will not go there now, because tonight, we are here to enjoy ourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, guests, thank you for listening, I hope you enjoy your dinner, but please, don't put any BAGUONG on my plate.

Salamat & Mabuhay!

Alan Geoghegan

Comments? Click Alan's name to e-mail him.

Maharlika and the ancient class system

Posted by Maharlika on , under , , , , , , , , , | comments (0)

We don’t hear the word
Maharlika very much anymore. Its origin goes all the way back to the ancient language of India called Sanskrit, from the word, maharddhika, meaning, "a man of wealth, knowledge or ability." Today it is generally accepted to mean "nobility or aristocracy." The venerable Tagalog dictionary of Leo James English gives us this example: Ang mga harì at prinsipe ay kabilang sa mga maharlikâ. [Kings and princes belong to the nobility.]

That’s the modern definition, but back in the days when there really was a maharlika class in the Philippines, it was actually a lower class of nobility that served thedatus, or chiefs, in times of war. The maharlikas belonged to the “kings and princes” and not the other way around.

Marcos’ maharlika

MaharlikaWe can thank former dictator Ferdinand Marcos for our misunderstanding of this word today. “Maharlika culture” was his propaganda tool for promoting nationalism during the days of the “New Society.” The word became very fashionable and was used in naming streets, buildings, banquet halls, villages and cultural groups. Marcos named a highway, a broadcast company and the reception area of Malacañang Palace, Maharlika. He even toyed with the idea of renaming the whole country as Maharlika.

Marcos’ fascination with the term apparently began in World War II when he claimed to have commanded a guerrilla force of over 8000 men that he called theMaharlika unit. His claims were proved false in 1985.

It’s ironic that Marcos’ first use of the word maharlika was quite appropriate because he only used it to name a group of soldiers (albeit fictitious soldiers) rather than an entire aristocracy or country.

The maharlikas were just one rank in the ancient class system of the Philippines, which was a little more convoluted than our western idea of aristocrats and commoners.

The ancient class system

Maginoo – During the pre-colonial era, the maginoo class was the top of Filipino society. Men and women of this class were generally referred to with the respectful title of Ginoo. Individually, the terms, Gat, meaning Lord, or Dayang, meaning Lady, preceded names as in, Gat Buka (now a town in Bulakan) and Dayang Angkatan who was mentioned in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription.

A panginoon was an especially wealthy maginoo who owned much property and valuable land. A panginoon was addressed with the shortened honorific, poon, which could be translated into English as milord or milady. Aba poon meant, “Greetings, milord/milady” and Oo, poon meant, “Yes, sir/ma’am.” Poon survives to this day as the term of respect, po.

A datu, or chief, was a maginoo who had followers and who ruled beyond his immediate household, over whole communities. A datu with power over a large area held the title Lakan or Rajah, a Hindu word brought from Malaysia. When the Spaniards arrived in the Manila area in 1570, there was a Banaw Lakan Dula in Tondo and an Ache Rajah (Ladyang) Matanda in Manila.

TimawaThe timawa class were free commoners who could own their own land and who did not have to pay a regular tribute to a maginoo, though they would, from time to time, be obliged to work on a datu’s land and help in community projects and events. They were free to change their allegiance to another datu if they married into another community or if they decided to move.

Maharlika – Members of the warrior class known as maharlika had the same rights and responsibilities as the timawa, but in times of war they were bound to serve their datu in battle. They had to arm themselves at their own expense, but they did get to keep the loot they won – or stole, depending on which side of the transaction you want to look at. Although they were partly related to the nobility, the maharlikas were technically less free than the timawas because they could not leave a datu’s service without first hosting a large public feast and paying the datu between 6 and 18 pesos in gold – a large sum in those days.

Alipin – Today, the word alipin means slave and that’s how the Spaniards translated it, too, but the alipins were not really slaves in the western sense of the word. They were not bought and sold in markets with chains around their necks. A better description would be to call them debtors. They could be born alipins, inheriting their parents’ debt, and their obligations could be transferred from one master to another. However, it was also possible for them to buy their own freedom. A person in extreme poverty might even want to become an alipin voluntarily – preferably to relatives who saw this as a form of assistance rather than punishment.

There were two kinds of alipins:

Aliping namamahay – or a house-holding alipin, could hardly be called a slave at all. He was more like what we call a serf in English. A namamahay was usually analipin who had received a piece of land from his maginoo master. In return, he was required to hand over a portion of what the land produced as a tribute and to occasionally work on his master’s land.

Alipin sa gigilidThe people near the bottom of society were known by the scornful term, alipin sa gigilid. In pre-colonial times the gilid was the area behind and below the house where the toilet was located. These alipins were single men and women who worked in their master’s homes, tending the gilid, among other chores. They were completely dependent for food and shelter, but if they could make some money on the side, they were allowed to keep some of it, and if they managed to save enough, they could buy their way up to namamahay or even timawa status. If a man wanted to get married, his master would usually set him up as an aliping namamahay with his own home and a patch of land, though this was rarely done for women.

The people who bore the greatest stigma in society were the alipins who were indebted to other alipins. A sa gigilid of an aliping namamahay was called a bulisik, which meant vile and contemptible. Even lower was the bulislis who was a sa gigilid indebted to another sa gigilid. The vulgar name meant that these alipins were so vulnerable that it was like their genitals were exposed. In modern terms we might say they “had their pants down,” though bulislis really means, “lifted skirt.”

The only people lower than the bulislis were slaves who were brought from other communities or who were captured in war. They were considered non-persons until they were accepted into the community. Once accepted, they had the same rights as other alipins.

Visit Sarisari etc. for more about Filipino history and language.


Posted by Maharlika on , under , , , , , , , , , , | comments (0)

Reader response to my column about a name change for the Philippines was phenomenal. From Mindanao, Kauban M. wrote that Moros prefer Maharlika, as it is the name suited to our culture and character. A local reader, Joseph Vizcarra, also liked Maharlika because it pays honor to the advanced indigenous civilization we had before the coming of the Spaniards. It also betrays our Hindu roots as well as blood links with the rest of the Austronesian family. On top of this we would all be called Maharlikans!

Many readers pointed out that our Moro brothers and sisters in Mindanao and Sulu despise the names Philippines and Filipinos because of their colonial stigma. Alunan C. Glang asserted that only those who were subjugated by Spain and who bowed to the authority of King Felipe II should be called Filipinos. Since the Moros were never Spanish subjects, they were never Filipinos. In fact, for 350 years, generations of Moros had spilled blood precisely to avoid becoming Filipinos. Those unable to resist becoming Filipinos were regularly subjected to “Moro Moro” plays that depicted the Spaniards as the heroes and the Moros as the dastardly villains.

While the Spaniards named their farthest-flung colony Filipinas, they did not call its inhabitants Filipinos. They were Indios, as all natives of Spanish colonies were called. In Las Islas Filipinas, those who were full-blooded Spaniards from Spain were called peninsulares. Those with even a drop of native or non-Spanish blood were contemptuously referred to as insulares or Filipinos. Filipino was a pejorative then and even now, a Filipina in England and other countries is a domestic.

By the 18th century, a new Ilustrado class emerged, an aggregation of upper class Indios and lower class Insulares, propelled by Indio intermarriage with the Chinese. (The Spaniards decreed that no Chinese man could leave Parian, the Chinese community just outside Intramuros, unless he was married to an indio woman.) The first documented use of the term Filipino in reference to Indio was in a poem written by an 18-year-old boy named Jose Rizal. In his 1879 poem, A la Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth), Rizal challenged the Filipino Indio youth to be the hope of the motherland. Even though they were not Insulares, Rizal and his classmates at the Ateneo still considered themselves Filipinos, what historian Ambeth Ocamporeferred to as “little brown Spaniards.”

When Rizal went to Spain to study in 1881, he exhorted his fellow Ilustrados to take pride in being an Indio. In fact, he called his group “Indios Bravos.” Eventually, the Ilustrados in Spain would agree that Filipino should mean all people born in the islands, not just the Insulares.

This position was not universally accepted. Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the Katipunan, called the people “tagalog” and referred to the country as Katagalugan. The Katipunan’s Cartilla, written and published in 1896, expressly stated that “The word tagalog means all those born in this archipelago; therefore, though visayan, ilocano, pampango, etc., they are all tagalogs.”

As Dr. Nathan Quimpo points out, the Philippine Revolution of 1896 was a misnomer, as it really was the Katagalugan Revolution. It became the Philippine Revolution only in 1897 when Emilio Aguinaldo, the former gobernadorcillo (mayor) of Kawit, ousted Bonifacio from the helm of the revolutionary movement and had him executed. Aguinaldo, who had continued to use Filipinas, dropped Katagalugan.

At the Malolos Congress in October of 1898, Aguinaldo sought to establish a federation with the Moro sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu, an explicit recognition that they were not part of the nation that was being forged in Malolos.

After the U.S. “annexed” the Philippines and captured Aguinaldo, members of the Katipunan loyal to Bonifacio established the Tagalog Republic in 1902 with Macario Sakay as president. This republic would last until 1906 when Sakay was captured by U.S. troops and hanged as a bandit.

While in exile in Japan in 1913, Katipunan General Artemio Ricarte proposed that the Philippines be renamed Rizaline Islands and Filipinos, Rizalines. Ricarte called for the overthrow of the “foreign government” and drafted a constitution for the revolutionary government of the Rizaline Republic. Ricarte returned to the Philippines with the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942, but he could not change the name of the puppet republic.

There would be no serious effort to change the name of the country until a new constitution was drafted and ratified in 1971. Article XVI, Section 2 of the new constitution states that “The Congress, may by law, adopt a new name for the country of which shall be truly reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history, and traditions of the people.”

After Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he convened an Interim Batasang Pambansa to replace the Congress that he had abolished by presidential decree. One of the representatives appointed by Marcos was Eddie Ilarde, a popular TV-radio personality from the ’60s and ’70s, who sponsored a parliamentary bill on August 14, 1978, seeking to change the name of the Philippines to Maharlika.

Unfortunately for Ilarde, Maharlika was inexorably linked to Marcos who claimed that it was the name of the guerilla unit he formed and led in World War II. It turned out to be a hoax along with his claim that he was the most decorated soldier of WWII.

(Before his claim was exposed, Marcos’ cronies had produced a Hollywood movie entitled Maharlika about his alleged war exploits. A Hollywood starlet named Dovie Beams played an American nurse who became the love interest of the fictional guerilla Marcos. What was supposed to only be in reel became real when Lovey Dovie became Marcos’ mistress.)

The term “Filipino nationalism” is a contradiction. To be a nationalist is to be anti-colonial as nationalism, declared Sen. Claro M. Recto, is the natural antagonist of colonialism. To be a Filipino is to be a subject of King Felipe II. To be a nationalist is to refuse to be a colonial subject. So how can one be a “Filipino nationalist”?

Whether it is Maharlika, Katagalugan or Bayanihan, the time has come to discard the name Philippines or Filipinas.

Send comments to or log on to or write to Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127, or call (415) 334-7800.