Reply to Stephen Colbert: Time to expunge ‘the White Man’s burden’

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YEN MAKABENTA

YEN MAKABENTA

First read
American TV host and humorist Stephen Colbert poked fun at the Obama- Duterte controversy in his program The Late Show, and at President Obama’s dust-up with President Duterte.

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Colbert said in his opening monologue: “He (Obama) was supposed to meet today with Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines. Hopefully to get to the bottom of why Philippines is spelled with a PH but Filipino is spelled with an F. That is PH-ed up in my opinion.”

Truth be told, the orthographic difference between “Philippines” and “Filipino” is mainly the doing of America and Americans. They “PH-ed up” our name and history.

When US Commodore George Dewey and his naval fleet sailed into Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, and subsequently destroyed the Spanish fleet, he entered a country that was collectively known as “Las Islas Filipinas” (the Philippine Islands in English), whose inhabitants were called “Filipinos.”

Why not revert to “Filipinas”?
It was only after the United States annexed the archipelago in December 1898, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Spain, and after the Americans commenced civil government on the islands and launched its policy of Americanization, that the country came to be known as “the Philippines.”

For most of the years of American colonial government, US governor-generals, starting with William Howard Taft, always referred to the country as the Philippine Islands. It was journalistic usage, dating back to the years of the Philippine-American war, that made the term “Philippines” more popular.

The last and eleventh American governor-general Frank Murphy spoke of the Philippine Islands in his inaugural address on June 15, 1933. Similarly, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in appointing Murphy to the post, sent a message of greeting to “the people of the Philippine Islands.”

The Americanized name gave rise to the use of the adjective “Philippine” to describe matters of geography and culture. “Filipino,” on the other hand, remained as the name for citizens and inhabitants of the country.

As a writer, I have found it awkward that we have two adjectives and epithets, “Philippine” and “Filipino,” to describe people and things germane and unique to our country. When should we use either one and for what? Why not just one epithet to describe the whole hog? – in the same that way that France has French, Spain, Spanish, Italy, Italian, and so on.

The awkwardness was magnified by the fact that in our former national language, we had the term “Pilipino” as the epithet to use for all things Filipino.

When the Filipino alphabet was formally expanded to 28 letters, to include the letters C, F, J, Q, V, X and Z, I suggested to the writer and national artist Virgilio Almario, that now that we have the letter F, it is time that we Filipinos should revert to the name “Filipinas,” in lieu of “Pilipinas,” as the name of our country. This would neatly cohere with “Filipino.”

A few years ago, Rio Almario and top officials of the National Language Commission passed a formal resolution calling for a name switch. This ignited a full-scale controversy, bigger than the photo-bomber that forced them to quiet down.

But I retain the fond hope that with the quincentennial of the country dawning on 2021, we will revert to “Filipinas” and thence be known as “Republic of Filipinas.” I shall go to bat on this subject in a future column.

With a decisive leader like President Rodrigo Duterte, once unimaginable changes are possible now.

The white man’s burden
Speaking of American insolence, I believe it is also timely and imperative for our people and government to address the issue of Filipinos being forever marked as “the white man’s burden.”

“The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands” (1899), by Rudyard Kipling, is a poem about the Philippine–American War (1899–1902).

Kipling wrote, “The White Man’s Burden” to address the American colonization of the Philippine Islands.

In the poem, Kipling exhorts the American people to embark upon the enterprise of empire. American imperialists understood the phrase, “The white man’s burden,” to justify imperialism as a noble enterprise of civilization, conceptually related to the American philosophy of Manifest Destiny.

The White Man’s Burden” was first published in the Feb. 10, 1899 edition of the New York Sun, a McLure’s newspaper.

On Feb. 11 1899, the US Congress ratified the “Treaty of Peace between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain,” which established American jurisdiction over the Philippine Islands

The racist vision of imperialism
The imperialist interpretation of “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) proposes that the white man has a moral obligation to rule the non-white peoples of the Earth.

Although imperialist beliefs were common currency in the culture of that time, there were opponents to Kipling’s poetic misrepresentation of imperial conquest and colonization, notably the writer Mark Twain and the philosopher William James. The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, a fierce opponent of imperialism, offered to pay the US government the sum of $20 million (the amount that was to be paid to Spain under the Paris Treaty), just to set the islands and the Filipinos free.

Mark Twain was scathing in his criticism: “We have rushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and liberty.”

America’s forgotten war
The imperial adventure was not as easy as Kipling imagined. Filipinos resisted and fought the American forces. From February1999 to 2002, Filipinos and Americans fought the Philippine-American war, a fierce and bloody war, which led Americans to turn against the war at home. To some scholars it was the first Vietnam.

Fittingly, “the White Man’s burden” is remembered today in shame, and not with pride. While the Philippine- American War has become the forgotten war of America, it will always be for us our war of nationhood and independence

As a people, we do not locate our identity in the sorrows of the Philippine-American war. We do not glory in victimhood.

Thus, it is fitting that we should do all we can to expunge “the white Man’s burden” from our annals and our memory. Just as African-Americans have surmounted and transcended the horrors of slavery, so must we rise over this chapter in our history.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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14 Comments

  1. Dylan D Dipasupil on

    Before the colonizers, these islands were inhabited by peaceful people living in city states. They were practicing democratic socialist political economy and had secular faith. We had civil liberties, we had republican governments whose leaders where democratically selected… We do commerce among each other and with peoples in nearby lands.

    Well, we can expunge all ugly events in our recent written history and go back to that proud chapter of these islands. With proposals for systemic (political-economy) changes in our country, we can incorporate our dreams for our next generation and be collectively called Maharlika People’s Federal Socialist Democratic Republics.

  2. Why give so much credence to Spanish colonization and American imperialism?Those were the dark side of our history that made us like animals treated by Spanish as Muchacho Indio and un-civilized by the American. History must be reset to our original identity as Maharlika Malay race people of the Sultanate of Sulu Kingdom. What those colonizers have done is extremely violation of our sovereign rights as human.America had nothing to lecture since they are the violators of what they preach,this is they called democracy after killing people of sovereign countries.

  3. “Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”
    Rudyard Kipling

    “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”
    Rudyard Kipling

    “I have struck a city – a real city – and they call it Chicago… I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.”
    Rudyard Kipling

    “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
    Rudyard Kipling

  4. Filipinas is by Spain while Philippines is by Americans. Both have the taint of colonialism. Why not a name of our own? Malaya Islands or Pagasa Islands? Or Mabuhay Islands?

  5. Take a long hard look at the picture in the front page and take note of this: do you realize that the Yellows, the American-led West, the Catholic Church, Makati Business Club, NPA, MILF and now the Drug Traffickers are all, in one way or another, supportive of each other? DAHIL ISANG TROPA LANG SILANG LAHAT ! “The difficulty in fighting evil lies in its inherent ability to make itself look good.”

  6. I support your stand, Yen Makabenta, to drop “Philippines” and use “Filipinas”. The former is the Americanized word for the latter. We were not named “Las Islas de Philippines” by our first colonialists – the Spaniards. And our name was lifted from King Felipe II of Spain, not King “Philippe”. Let us hear the others in the ASEAN: “Peoples Republic of Laos”, “Republic Of Myanmar”, “Republik di Indonesia” – all names the original names. We shouldbe called “Republic of the Filipinas” – as you put it. HOw can we start this name-changing? I will join you and the movement. Noel

    • vagoneto rieles on

      I am all for ‘Filipinas’ and ‘Filipino’; although I think that the ‘F’ had to be reconsidered for a ‘P’ to accommodate some regions in the ‘Filipine Republic’ that tend to favor a ‘P’ over an ‘F’ and vice-versa…an ‘F’ for a ‘P’. Actually, the same confusion is observed in certain, other regions…in this case, the ‘I’ for an ‘E’. We might have to wait for the ‘language police on this one’. What seems to be more urgent is the quaint, if casual, propensity to shorten ‘Pilipinas’ to just ‘Pinas’. It doesn’t sound just awkward, but rather flat-out disrespectful of the country.

  7. Well, we do not even know when to celebrate our Independence Day. First we had it on July 4 then Pres Macapagal changed it to June 12 when on that date in 1898 Aguinaldo raised the Philippine flag in Kawit, Cavite. On that date the Spanish colonial government was still intact. Winagayway rin ni Misuari ang MNLF flag during the Zamboanga Siege bakit hindi naging independent ang mga Moro?

  8. America’s forgotten war is often understood among American veterans as the Korean war. By dating the Fil-Am war as February 1999-2002, you effectively (albeit subconsciously) erased that long-forgotten war as you eloquently argue for its obliteration from the white man’s burden’s collective memory. After all, I think, Kipling might have directed his poem to urge the colored “white man’s burden” to carry on the heavy lifting of the brown “white man’s burden”. My personal experience may understandably influence my view. As a toddler in 1945, my vivid memory of the first American is a black face smiling at me and lifting me up.

    The “imperial” genes are also embedded in the Yellow man. I wonder how much the yellow man regards the brown man as a burden to be carried along the yellow silk road? Imperial Japan already tried to carry the brown. The brown kicked against the goad. Imperial China’s turn was started in the time of the yellow ribbons; they seemed to have been the ones kicking against the goad so far …until now…hopefully the kicking will soon stop. It is high time for the left and right to meet at the center: “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life. Is bound in shallows and in miseries.” The character’s name in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” is Brutus. Something truly “brutal” is going on in Filipinas.

  9. Silverio Cabellon Jr on

    Two current issues insists on the rule of law. One is the People’s Republic of China needed adherence to the Arbitral Ruling as a matter of international law. The other is the insistence on the rule of law as stipulated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution as to the right to life. Filipinos must be consistent in following the rule of law.

  10. “We should do all we can to expunge “the white Man’s burden” from our annals and our memory”… And what can we do? Exactly nothing. It’s like if you hate white people, just as an example, and you want to expurge from your DNA the trace of your ancestor named Joe. You can’t. It’s already there. The white man burden as a concept is stupid, unfair and colonialist. But worked pretty well for more than 50 years, plus the other 333 years off white-but-jus-a-bit-more-tanned burden. I’m sorry, in spite our president, we are not going back to the trees.

  11. 1. Your computer got the century wrong. It was 1899 until 1902.

    2. Your country has been independent since July 4, 1946 and can change your name to whatever you like. I would point out that Filipinos and Filipinas are just other European Imperialist names.