Sub­stance not form

Sun.Star Pampanga - - TOPSTORIES! -

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 re­publ i c.

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