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Filipinas, Pilipinas, What’s In A Name?

Truth to tell, I like Filipinas. There’s elegance to it, not to mention nostalgia.


But I’ve never used it to refer to my country. I’d hear it in old, rare, trilingual Filipino movies, in which the characters would speak in Filipino, American English, and a smattering of Spanish. I was born way too late for the old world that to me holds such boundless charm.


I have only occasionally referred to my country in Filipino. I always call it the Philippines, never forgetting the article “the” because there are only a few countries that come with the article—the Cayman Islands, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom…


Although to some authoritative guidebooks, such as the Times Comprehensive Atlas or even the CIA World Factbook, only two countries in the world officially come with the article—The Bahamas and the Gambia, I believe it makes sense that there’s an article in the Netherlands, whose name is derived from the phrase “the low countries.” It seems wrong to say “I’m vacationing in Maldives,” a group of islands, so the Maldives sounds more like it. Congo used to be the Congo, though not so much anymore, because, like the Gambia, it was named after a river, the Congo, which along with other rivers like the Thames, the Danube, the Seine, the Yangtze, the Pasig River comes with the definite article. The UK and the US also come with “the” because they are compound names with an adjective modifier. As for the Philippines, it’s also an archipelago of 7,641 islands, so the article is logical, not to mention meaningful, but also because, when you think about it, just as the Spanish expedition of 1521 found us, we continue to be a geographical area of diverse, sometimes disparate cultures, except now we are tenuously held together by a government too central for its own good.


LA SOLIDARIDAD Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Mariano Ponce


But Filipinas, ah, without the definite article, sounds like a gentle wind, or a tender sensation on your ear when someone whispers to it. Yet it would also sound so bold and brave, like a prized jewel in danger of being lost, when issued forth from the lips of gallant men like our heroes Marcelo H. del Pilar and Jose Rizal—“Las Islas Filipinas!” There’s a feminine ring to Filipinas, which articulates the matriarchal nature of our people as well as our hospitable, caring, nurturing, open disposition.


Filipinas sounds like a gentle wind, or a tender sensation on your ear when someone whispers to it. Yet it would also sound so bold and brave, like a prized jewel in danger of being lost, when issued forth from the lips of gallant men like our heroes Marcelo H. del Pilar and Jose Rizal


Alas, even if it had been our name for more than three centuries, even after World War II, Filipinas has been replaced by Pilipinas, which was only first introduced in the late 1900s, based on Rizal’s essay “On the New Orthography of the Tagalog Language” and the Abakada of the Tagalogs. Filipinas or Pilipinas, the name is as colonial as our name in English, the Philippines, with which the Americans rechristened us using the English translation of the name Felipe or Philip or, to be precise, Felipe de Asturias or Philip from the Asturias, later Philip II of Spain, after whom Ruy López de Villalobos named our islands in 1543. There is no denying anyway that our colonial past is part of who we are today. No new name can—or should—rewrite hundreds upon hundreds of years of history, of which more than three quarters unfolded under some colonial rule. In fact, in a global map of literal translations of country names put together in 2018 by Credit Card Compare in Australia, where Spain translates to “the Land of the Many Rabbits,” Brazil to “Red Like an Ember,” Nigeria to “River of Rivers,” and China to “Center Kingdom,” the Philippines is literally translated as “the Land of Prince Philip of Asturias.”


Yes, that’s how we got our name. We might compare it—but no, no, we are not Spain’s bastard any more than the US is our big brother, not anymore, I hope—to a name given by a long absent, neglectful, abusive, or hated parent, but it still is our name, Filipinas for much of our history, now Pilipinas, according to the 1987 Constitution, and it will cost us a lot of money and time and resources to change it or to change it back.


While I have no objection that, reflecting the inclusion of the letter F in the Philippine alphabet, the proposed return to Filipinas, called for long ago and officially in 2013, when National Artist for Literature and former chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Virgilio Almario Jr. or Rio Alma was commissioner at Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), was two-pronged in acknowledging both the history and modernization of the country, I just don’t know enough people who—nor have I heard of anybody in the past decade or so—call our country Filipinas anymore, except in the KWF and NCAA circles and when the mood is either poetic or nostalgic. But then I am a Manilenyo. I live among the Tagalogs, on whose native tongue the “F” sound originally does not exist, so I wonder if I could say the same were I Chavacano or if I lived in Ifugao or in southern Philippines.


So yes, my country is the Philippines, Las Islas Filipinas of old—Pilipinas in Filipino (or Tagalog), Filipijnen in Dutch, Filippinerne in Danish, Filippiinit in Finnish, Philippinen in German, Fülöp-szigetek in Hungarian, Filippine in Italian, Filippinerna in Swedish, Filipiny in Polish, and of course Filipinas to the Iberians, both the Spanish and the Portuguese. Lots of Fs, if you notice.


I do not agree with current KWF commissioner Arthur Casanova that this whole hullabaloo about Filipinas is like a broken record we are sick of hearing again and again. As I understand it, the KWF under the leadership of Rio Alma was clear about not imposing the word, although it was just as clear in its aim—the word is aim—to legitimize it as a proposal to the Filipino people. Language is dynamic, and place names, being a key component of language, carry a lot of weight. They speak volumes about where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.


Granted that, like many nations, such as Myanmar or Swaziland or Thailand or Sri Lanka, we are entitled to a name change if it should suit us, I believe we have not had enough of our history. I believe we have yet to lay it down like cards on the table so we can say, once and for all, “This is good to highlight, this is good to keep a little low key, this is us, this isn’t us, this serves us still, this only holds us back,” so we can at last move forward, aware of the role of identity in identifying our goals and reaching them.


So yes, if I hear anybody say Filipinas, it will make me think. It will bring me back, with hope, to a place I’ve never been in our storied past that has yet to be told completely, no holds barred.


Source: Manila Bulleting by AA Patawaran

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