Duterte’s wild proposal: Changing the name of the Philippines

Photo via abs-cbn.com

By Patrick Winn/pri.org – The Philippines was named after a pasty guy from Spain who never actually set foot in the Philippines.

King Philip II, ruler of the Spanish Empire for much of the 1500s, also regarded the archipelago’s inhabitants as inferior. He’d prefer to die 100 times, he said, than become the “ruler of heretics.”

So he sent an army of conquistadors and friars to conquer and convert the islands’ varied peoples, seafaring merchants and hunter-gatherers alike.

The empire’s goal was to smush all of them together under a common identity: Filipinos, subjects of King Philip II (known in Spanish as King Felipe II).

This “origin story” is being revived by Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines and no stranger to startling proposals. His latest: correcting historical wrongs by scrubbing King Philip II from the country’s name.

“It’s named the Philippines,” he told a crowd last week, “because it was discovered by Magellan using money from King Philip. That’s why, when that stupid explorer came, he named it the Philippines.”

Duterte’s timeline is off — Magellan died three decades before Philip II became king — but his proposal is provocative nonetheless.

It might be ignored as a strange aside from a leader who thrives on shock value. But his administration has since laid out a process for the Philippines’ Congress to potentially push ahead with the idea and, ultimately, submit it to a nationwide vote.

Duterte already has a preferred new name: The Republic of Maharlika.

“Because Maharlika is a Malay word,” Duterte said. “And it means more of a concept of serenity and peace.”

Maharlika is a very old word, derived from Sanskrit and used in the Malay language, which was widespread in the Southeast Asian tropics long before Europeans showed up. But Duterte appears to have seized on an erroneous translation. And he’s hardly the first.

Changing the country’s name to Republic of Maharlika was also favored by Ferdinand Marcos, the US-backed dictator whose iron rule in the 1970s and ’80s still looms large in the national consciousness.

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