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.
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.