Historian: ‘Maharlika’ does not mean ‘noble’

Dr. Rolando Borrinaga, a historian from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Photo from Twitter/CNN Philippines)

A Filipino historian on Wednesday, February 13, said that the understanding of “Maharlika” as nobility is a common misconception due to mistranslated historical texts. This was after President Rodrigo Duterte proposed the idea of replacing the name of the Philippines with this term.

“Actually, tama si Marcos. Panahon ni Marcos, tama talaga si Marcos. Gusto niya palitan [ng] Maharlika, the Republic of Maharlika because Maharlika is a Malay word and it means more of a concept of serenity and peace (Actually, Marcos is right. This was during the time of Marcos, he is really right. He wanted to change the name to Maharlika, the Republic of Maharlika because Maharlika is a Malay word and it means more of a concept of serenity and peace),” said Duterte in front of an audience of mostly Muslim Filipinos in Maguindanao.

But according to Dr. Rolando Borrinaga, a historian from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, “Maharlika” actually means “free man.”

He told radio DZMM that the members of the maharlika do not participate in politics, unlike the datu class of rulers.

He also added that maharlikas are different from the Visayas’ timawa,  or free people.

The Philippines was named after Spain’s King Philip II in the 16th century when the country was still colonized by the Spanish. Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, a Spanish explorer, coined the name “Las Islas Filipinas” for the archipelago.

In 1978, then-Batasang Pambansa member Eddie Ilarde proposed the Philippines’ name be changed to Maharlika through Parliamentary Bill 195.  U.S. Army investigators said the term was also used by former president Ferdinand Marcos when he faked his military records during the World War II.

At that time, the late dictator claimed to have commanded a group of guerrillas known as the “Maharlika Unit.”  However,  a 1986 New York Times report revealed that Marcos’ petition requesting recognition of the unit between 1945 and 1948 were denied. The U.S. Army rejected Marcos’ requests, calling his claims “distorted, exaggerated, fraudulent, contradictory and absurd.”

It was concluded by army investigators that Maharlika was a fictitious creation and that ‘’no such unit ever existed’’ as a guerrilla organization during the war.”

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, for his part, clarified that Duterte would not actively push Congress to change the name.

“It’s not the style of the president,” he said. “He floats [the] idea and someone gets it.” 

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