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June 24, 2009 , Posted by Maharlika at 2:03 PM

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.

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