Rodrigo Duterte wants to rename the Philippines 'Maharlika'

President raises changing the nation’s name to move away from the country’s colonial past

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has proposed changing his country’s name to Maharlika in an effort to move past its colonial history.

Mr Duterte’s call echoes a push by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to call the country Maharlika, which means nobility in English.

“Someday, let’s change it,” Mr Duterte said on Monday after distributing land titles in the Muslim-majority province of Maguindanao. “Marcos was right. He wanted to change it to Maharlika because that’s a Malay word.”

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

After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American war in 1898, the Philippines became a US territory until it became independent in 1946.

In pre-colonial Tagalog society, the Maharlika was a warrior noble class ranked between the commoners and the ruling Maginoo.

Former strongman Marcos popularised the term in the modern era, conflating it with royalty.

Marcos claimed to have commanded a group of guerrillas called the Maharlika Unit during the Second World War. His proposed name change to Maharlika aimed to promote nationalism after he placed the Philippines under military rule.

A 1978 parliamentary bill proposed the name change but it was never enacted. The proposed change subsequently lost popularity owing to its association with Marcos’s corrupt and dictatorial rule.

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

“He is expressing an idea again as usual,” said Salvador Panelo, adding that the president liked the sound of the name Maharlika.

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

The name change came during a period of heightened interest in Mr Duterte’s health. On Sunday he appeared in an online broadcast to dispel ­rumours that he was dead.

“For those who believe in the news that I passed away, then I request of you, please pray for the eternal repose of my soul,” Mr Duterte, 73, said in a Facebook Live post on Sunday through the account of his common-law wife, Honeylet Avancena.

Ms Avancena posted the video of the leader at a table, as the two of them discussed a newspaper article while he ate some snacks.

The rare social media appearance outside his official functions came after he skipped an event on Friday because he was not feeling well.

The president’s health has been the subject of public interest after he underwent medical tests in October.

He had previously said he would step down if a serious illness was diagnosed, but expressed reservations about being replaced by Vice President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition.

“The assumption, of course, is that he is still capable of doing his job,” Ramon Casiple, executive director at the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said of Mr Duterte.

The president remains in robust health, Mr Panelo said late on Sunday, blaming “fake news” disseminated by opponents for the rumours.