Philippines President Duterte Toys with Renaming Country

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte voiced support for changing his country’s name during a speech he gave in the province of Maguindanao on Monday. The country’s current name, derived from King Philip II of Spain, is regarded as a colonial vestige. Philip II financed Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition in 1521 that resulted in Spain’s claiming of the islands and their subsequent colonial subjugation for more than 300 years.

The new name that Duterte endorses is ‘Maharlika,’ a Malay word that means ‘nobly created’ and, according to Duterte, encapsulates “a concept of serenity and peace.” The idea of renaming the Philippines as Maharlika was first proposed in 1978 and was backed by late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during his rule – but was never adopted.

In 2017, Representative Gary Alejano of Magdalo Party-List filed a bill calling for the establishment of a commission to study the possibility of changing the country’s name as a means of breaking from the colonial past and creating a “truly independent . . . national identity.”

Salvador Panelo, spokesman for the President, back-pedaled on Tuesday during a press briefing, claiming that what Duterte said was more like ‘floating an idea’ in his usual bombastic style. He also added that although it is unclear at this point whether the administration will formally issue an order to push forward the name change, officials are already studying the legalities.

The adoption of a new country name, according to the Constitution of the Philippines, would require the Congress to enact a new law, which will only become effective after obtaining the public’s approval in a national referendum. Critics of the idea, including the Senate President Vicente Sotto III, said that renaming the Philippines would lead to “too many implications” and undermine the country’s international recognition as the Philippines.