Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Filipinos in the UAE opposed to Philippines name change bid

Residents fear the Philippines' global standing could be damaged if President Rodrigo Duterte goes forward with a proposal to rename the nation

Filipinos living in the UAE fear their country could be "forgotten" if Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte presses ahead with plans to change the nation's name.

Mr Duterte this week proposed the Philippines be renamed Maharlika to help it shed its colonial past, reviving a call made by previous leader Ferdinand Marcos decades earlier.

Marcos wanted to call the country Maharlika, a warrior noble class ranked between the commoners and the ruling Maginoo in pre-colonial Tagalog society.

A 1978 parliamentary bill proposed the name change but it was never approved.

The Philippines was a Spanish colony for 350 years and was named after King Philip II.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Duterte, who frequently causes controversy and last November announced plans to create a "death squad" targeting suspected communist rebels, said “someday, let’s change it”.

“Marcos was right. He wanted to change it to Maharlika because that’s a Malay word.”

Many of the UAE's sizeable Filipino population, however, believe making such a move could have had a detrimental affect on the country.

Jonathan Davidson Lanuza, a waiter at Café Blanc in Abu Dhabi, is one of many resisting the national rebrand.

“I like the name of the Philippines. I am proud of my country,” he said.

“And that’s what the country has been called for a long time. There is no need to change it.”

Others had never heard of Maharlika, let alone the plan to change the country’s name to it.

Jeanna Javier, 24, does not believe the Philippines would benefit from a new name. Photo by Gillian Duncan
Jeanna Javier, 24, does not believe the Philippines would benefit from a new name. Photo by Gillian Duncan

“I don’t know where they got the name Maharlika from,” said Jeanna Javier, 24, who works in Waitrose in Eastern Mangroves, Abu Dhabi.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me. And I don’t think it is a good idea to change the name. People know the Philippines as the Philippines.”

Raquel Garcia, 39, a manager at The Nail Spa, said she was worried that tourism may even suffer if the country’s name is changed.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to change the name. It’s a nice name and we have had it for a long time,” she said.

“If they changed the name people might not visit our country. They won’t know the new name.”

Julina Cabrera, 23, fears her country could be "forgotten" if its name is changed. Photo by Gillian Duncan
Julina Cabrera, 23, fears her country could be "forgotten" if its name is changed. Photo by Gillian Duncan

Julina Cabrera, 23, who works at the Johnny Rockets restaurant, likes the name of the Philippines, despite its colonial associations.

“If the name is changed people may forget about us. We are a known country,” she said.

And while she does not support the plan to change it, she does support some of Mr Duterte’s other policies.

“I wasn’t there when he was elected because I have been here for four years. Some of the things he’s done are good, like how he wants to eliminate drugs.”

Ella Leonor, 35, said President Duterte has the country's best interests at heart. Photo by Gillian Duncan
Ella Leonor, 35, said President Duterte has the country's best interests at heart. Photo by Gillian Duncan

Ella Leonor, 35, a receptionist, also supports the president and would back his plan as he “knows what is the best” for the country.

“I don’t mind, if he changes it or not, it is is okay with me. I like him. He’s very brave to face the problems in the Philippines, like drugs.

He’s not afraid of anyone. And he doesn’t think about only himself, but the people around him,” said Ms Leonor.

“Whether he changes the name or not, I will still support him.”

At this stage, Mr Duterte has no formal plans to change the country’s name, his spokesman said on Monday.

Mr Duterte’s idea would mean rewriting the constitution and would require public approval in a referendum.

What's in a name

If the Philippines does change its name, it will be by no means the first country to do so.

The small African country formerly known as Swaziland is now the Kingdom of eSwatini, making the change in part to escape its colonial past.

The king of Swaziland, who also often complained that people outside of Africa confused his country with Switzerland, announced the move last year. The new name means ‘the people of Swatini’.

Some countries have changed their name more than once. Cambodia has gone by several titles, often introduced after regime changes by new ruling parties, including the Khmer Republic and Democratic Kampuchea.

Name changes have been necessary when two new nations have been formed out of one. Czechoslovakia, for example, gave way to the Czech Republic and Slovakia after a peaceful dissolution in 1993.

Many cities have also adopted new titles over the years. Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam was once known as Saigon, Istanbul was Constantinople and even New York in America was indeed so good that it was named twice, as it was referred to as New Amsterdam in the 17th century.

A whole host of Indian cities have been renamed, including Bombay to Mumbai, as part of efforts to distance the country from its period under British rule.

Updated: February 13, 2019 03:38 PM

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