The Americanization of "Las Islas Filipinas"

Sunday September 11, 2016 ()

Las Islas Filipinas

When US Commodore George Dewey and his naval fleet sailed into Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, and subsequently destroyed the Spanish fleet, he entered a country that was collectively known as "Las Islas Filipinas" (the Philippine Islands in English), whose inhabitants were called "Filipinos".

It was only after the United States annexed the archipelago in December 1898, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Spain, and after the Americans commenced civil government on the islands and launched its policy of Americanization, that the country came to be known as "the Philippines".

The Americanization of "Las Islas Filipinas"

For most of the years of American colonial government, US governor-generals, starting with William Howard Taft, always referred to the country as the Philippine Islands. It was journalistic usage, dating back to the years of the Philippine-American war, that made the term "Philippines" more popular.

The last and eleventh American governor-general Frank Murphy spoke of the Philippine Islands in his inaugural address on June 15, 1933. Similarly, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in appointing Murphy to the post, sent a message of greeting to "the people of the Philippine Islands".

The Americanized name gave rise to the use of the adjective "Philippine" to describe matters of geography and culture. "Filipino", on the other hand, remained as the name for citizens and inhabitants of the country.

It is awkward that we have two adjectives and epithets, "Philippine" and "Filipino," to describe people and things germane and unique to our country. When should we use either one and for what? Why not just one epithet to describe the whole hog? – in the same that way that France has French, Spain, Spanish, Italy, Italian, and so on.

The awkwardness was magnified by the fact that in our former national language, we had the term "Pilipino" as the epithet to use for all things Filipino. Our national language was only changed to "Filipino" in the late 1980s and later our alphabet was expanded to 28 letters to include the letters C, F, J, Q, V, X and Z.

National artist Virgilio Almario, in his article in 1992, calling for a switch from "Pilipinas" or "The Philippines" to "Filipinas", said that the existence of 3 names for the country is a symptom of national confusion.

In 2013, Almario and top officials of the National Language Commission passed a formal resolution calling for the name switch. This ignited a full-scale controversy which forced them to quiet down.


  1. Reply to Stephen Colbert: Time to expunge "the White Man's burden" by Yen Makabenta, Manila Times, September 10, 2016
  2. End of "Philippines?" A call to use only Filipinas for the country, Carmela G. Lapeña, GMA News, July 2, 2013


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