My head started spinning with the ruckus over the Komisyon ng Wikang Pilipino’s resolution to bury “Philippines” as a vestige of U.S. colonialism and to change “Pilipinas” to “Filipinas.” That’s supposedly in order to accurately reflect our country’s history and development as a nation. But the proposed name, “Filipinas,” is also a product of colonialism—Spain’s. I got so terribly confused.
Fortunately, I ran into Sabel. You remember Sabel, don’t you? As in “Noong unang panahon, bata pa si Sabel”? Well, turns out she’s still alive, although already way of a certain age. I asked her what she thought about changing “Pilipinas” to “Filipinas,” knowing she’s been around from the very beginning of our nation.
“Mapapagkuwartahan ba ‘yan?” was her shocking retort. Not that she wanted money; she merely explained that changing a name must be for some good, practical reason, not just because it is there.
“Will it improve the economy? Will it make our children more intelligent? Will it make us love the country more? Will it make us more modern? Why do we need to change it at all?”
I said some well-meaning people might want our name to engender love of country, the way Burma went back to Myanmar. I suppose they also wanted our name to be precise.
“Listen, hijo, I’ve seen it all. Well-meaning Tagalog purists in the past also coined new terms like ‘salumpuwit’ for chair, ‘salipawpaw’ for airplane, ‘talahulugan’ for dictionary and ‘salumpo’ for wheelchair.”
And yes, I know, these neologisms didn’t catch on. But I told Sabel, you can’t fault the innovators for being nationalistic and for wanting to keep its national language pristine.
“But there are good historical reasons why we keep adopting foreign words and using them as our own,” Sabel argued.
“When the world crashed in on our shores we were relatively dispersed settlements of people who had come from somewhere else. So, it was very practical not only to trade for goods made in more developed economies, but to also adopt their names. There was no need to dream up new Austronesian terms for pancit, salawal, sapatos, kabayo, etc. we just Filipinized the spellings. Very practical of us.”
I understood where her line of argument was going. Spain, before it became a dying colonial power, of course brought a lot of things we didn’t originally produce and didn’t have native names for. It was very practical of our ancestors.
Likewise, when the Americans brought not only new, modern stuff, but also the dominant language of the Industrial Revolution and modern science. Who wouldn’t have wanted that? It was quite practical to just learn the whole language.
That’s how come English replaced Spanish as the preferred tongue of our intelligentsia in a single generation. That’s how come our languages and dialects for the most part don’t have native scientific or industrial terms. We didn’t organically have the sciences or the industries.
But Sabel had a suggestion of her own: “Change the Philippines’ name to a nickname.”
Take her, she said. She was named after Queen Ysabel of Spain, or Isabella the Catholic, but old folks shortened it to Sabel, to say it faster and say it with endearment.
We love using diminutives for those reasons. We shorten Roberto to Berto, Renato to Ato or Ren, Nenita to Nene or Nita. We even shorten nicknames to nicknicknames—‘Day for Inday, ‘Toy for Totoy and, get this, some of the late NVM Gonzales’ friends even called him “NV’” (talk about practicality and endearment).
“I suggest we change Pilipinas, not to ‘Filipinas’ but to ‘Pinas,’” Sabel exclaimed. “It avoids all the P and F controversy, it’s short and practical, and that’s how many Filipinos, including OFWs and expatriates, refer to their country anyway—in a loving sort of manner: ‘I’m visiting Pinas’; ‘When were you last in Pinas?’ And in a weirdly tender way, they sometimes call it Naspi.”
Wow. That would certainly engender love of country. Besides, with our country called the Republic of Pinas, its citizens would be known, with all due respect, as Pinoys or Pinays.
I can see headlines in the future reading, “Pinas Navy Destroys Chinese Fleet near Ayungin ”; “Soaring Pinas Growth Rate Erases Poverty”; “No Pinoys Hurt in Justin Bieber Tantrum.” Brilliant!
But I told her I had only one objection.
“And what’s that, anac?”
I said Pinas was too feminine. Our country’s name should be masculine to reflect the stronger and more dominant sex; you know, to give the impression of formidable strength.
“Nacu naman, Mr. Rene Ciria-Cruz, your way of thinking is so old-fashioned. Panahon pa ni Mahoma ‘yan!”
She did introduce me later to Mahoma. I didn’t realize he was still alive too, working as a morality consultant to the Catholic bishops and Sen. Tito Sotto.