THE Kingdom of Siam became Thailand in 1939 to celebrate the coming together of the Tai people. Thailand appropriately means Land of Tais. As Siam it was a land of warring lords and cities. The change in name(form) signified the advent of the new reality (substance) of a united country.
Thailand, however, was never colonized by a foreign power. Thus, Swaziland’s case is more analogous to us. It changed its name to the Kingdom of (the) eSwatini (people) incidentally to stop being confused with Switzerland but principally “to shed vestiges of its colonial past.”
Myanmar went about it backwards. It was Burma as a democracy. After quelling a people’s revolt that killed thousands in 1989, the ruling military junta changed its name to Myanmar. It could switch back to Burma if freedom-loving people succeeded in restoring their democracy. In any case, the junta changed the name (form) to reflect the new reality (substance) of military rule.
If my memory serves me right, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos had wanted to change our country’s name to Maharlika, Tagalog for noble. If he had succeeded we would have become, in a most ironic way, the country of Maharlika (a land of nobles) when in fact we were virtual slaves to a ruthless dictator.
If changing to Maharlika was improper and ironic then, it is still improper and ironic now. Our enslavement to a post-colonial ruling elite might have peaked during Martial Law. It might also have ebbed, at least on the surface, after Edsa. But we have always been the land of peoples that have been and still are the footstools of business, political, and religious lords or nobles. If we changed now to a name that reflects our present reality, we should call the Philippines Alipin or country of the enslaved.
That will never happen because our rulers today will always deny they are enslaving us. But we should not allow them to rename our country Maharlika either because we still have not “shed vestiges of our colonial past.” We still live by the attitudes, values and ways of our former Spanish colonial masters, a culture which today enables their successor political dynasties to treat us as feudal serfs with impunity.
We have no new identity to celebrate with a new name. We are still a country divided into a privileged ruling class and a ruled people that are marginalized and effectively excluded from meaningful and substantial participation in the country’s governance and economy.
Form should reflect substance which is what matters. Otherwise, form becomes a lie, a hypocrisy. Our new name (form), therefore, should come only when there is the new reality to celebrate of a truly free people in a genuinely (not sham) democratic republic.