In Brief

Philippines president backs plan to change country’s name

Rodrigo Duterte says current name is a legacy of Spanish colonisers

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has called for the island nation to be renamed to shed its colonial heritage.

Speaking at a ceremony in the province of Maguindanao yesterday, Duterte said that the country should ditch the name “Philippines”, which was given by 16th century Spanish explorers in honour of King Philip II, in favour of an indigenous term.

“One day, we will change it,” he said, according to reports in the Philippine Star.

Duterte suggested the country should become Maharlika, the term for the warrior class who held an honoured status in the archipelago’s indigenous Tagalog society prior to Spanish colonisation.

According to an article posted on the National Historical Commission of the Philippines' website, the word derives from a Sanskrit root meaning “nobly created” - although this etymology is disputed.

However, the leader of the Senate, Tito Sotto, “seemed cool to Duterte’s idea” which he said would “entail rewriting the Constitution identifying the Philippines as the country’s name”, the South China Morning Post reports.

The idea of renaming the islands Maharlika was first proposed during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, the military dictator who ruled the country from 1965 to 1986, as a way to encourage nationalist sentiment.

“Marcos was right,” Duterte told the audience, and “lamented that the proposal was overshadowed by allegations that Marcos was a dictator”, says the Star.

Filipino news website Interaksyon says that the idea was actually the brainchild of then-senator Eddie Ilarde, who proposed the name change in 1978.

However, “a hall in the presidential palace, the government-owned broadcast network and the present Pan-Philippine Highway” were all christened “Maharlika” by Marcos, the site adds. 

Marcos also used the term Maharlika “in faking his military records”, ABS-CBN reports. He claimed to have spent the Second World War commanding a group of guerillas known as the Maharlika Unit, but US army investigators finally concluded the unit was “a fictitious creation”.

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