Changing names | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Changing names

/ 02:02 AM November 12, 2014

Heritage is something we inherit from the past. The word is used rather often these days to refer to old buildings and structures that are being torn down to make way for new structures and developments. There is no argument about the importance of preserving heritage, but we need some kind of clear classification. This is the rationale for the declaration of sites and structures as “historical” by the National Historical Commission and “cultural” by the National Museum.

“Historical” means that the site or structure is connected with a historical event or person—for example, the birthplace of Rizal or the site of the Battle of Pinaglabanan. “Cultural” means that the site or structure is preserved for its unique artistic character—for example, prewar buildings designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro in downtown Manila or even the iconic Cultural Center of the Philippines designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin. The campaign to preserve the view of the Rizal Monument should extend to protecting other views like Taal Lake, the Baguio zigzag road or the rice terraces in Banaue.


Often overlooked in heritage protection are the names of our cities, towns and streets. These are so named to help us remember the past, and as things we inherited from the past, these should be considered heritage at risk. When Calle Real (Royal Road) in Intramuros was changed to Gen. Antonio Luna, it seemed acceptable because one sign of our wretched colonial past was replaced with the name of one of our heroes. When Avenida Rizal became Rizal Avenue, we threw away Spanish and embraced English, so I’m waiting for Virgilio Almario and the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino to change this yet again to the appropriate name in our national language. “Daang Rizal,” anyone?

It was acceptable to rename Azcarraga as C.M. Recto. It was acceptable to change Plaza Lawton to Liwasang Bonifacio. But how can one justify changing Aduana in Intramuros to Andres Soriano? Aduana referred to the old customs house and is a historical and heritage name. One could say it is sanctified by usage, so we ask ourselves: Does Soriano have the same significance or resonance? Nueva in Binondo referred to a “new” street a long time ago; it seemed generic enough and was recently changed to Yuchengco. While Yuchengco was a person of note, are his contributions to history as significant as Roman Ongpin, whose name replaced Sacristia?


I used to think that the renaming of streets and towns was a postwar undertaking. As a free and independent nation, the Philippines expressed nationalism in the revision of place names. I didn’t know that this goes back to the time of the Philippine Revolution of 1896. In the compilation of documents, “Emilio Aguinaldo and the Revolution of 1896,” the Jesuit fathers Pedro de Achutegui and Miguel Bernad reproduced a document dated Nov. 30, 1896, by Mabangis on changing the name of Mapalad to Alapaap. This was the third change since the original Spanish name Mendez Nuñez:

“In recognition of the dedication to duty of our Colonel in the Army, Mr. Marcelino Aure Alapaap, all the ministers and Councilors, at my request have deemed it proper that his title of Alapaap be given to the town ‘GM’ as its new day from this day onwards. Your Honors are hereby informed so that what is stated in this order may take effect.”

Achutegui and Bernad summarized all the changes from the documents they used. Naturally, the revolutionists trained their guns on the Spanish place names: Perez Dasmariñas, the name of a 16th-century Spanish governor-general, was changed to Magpuri; Amadeo, the name of a Spanish king, was changed to Mapagibig; and, as shown in the documented quote, Mendez Nuñez was first changed to Mapalad and later to Alapaap.

What I find surprising is that they also changed the indigenous place names. Talisay in Batangas became Taliba. In Cavite, Bacoor became Gargano; Imus became Haligue; and Silang was reformatted into Sumilang. To Pinoys, Kawit was “Cavite el Viejo” (Old Cavite) to the Spaniards, so the revolutionists renamed it into Magdalo in honor of the town’s patron saint Mary Magdalene and the faction of the Katipunan we associate with Aguinaldo. Today we have Talisay, Bacoor, Imus and Silang back because the Revolution and our short-lived independence was replaced by the US Occupation, when Filipinas became “P.I.,” not the curse phrase but “Philippine Islands.”

In Artemio Ricarte’s memoirs there is a list of place names in the area controlled by the rival Magdiwang faction: Noveleta was Magdiwang; San Francisco de Malabon was Mapagtiis; Rosario was Salinas; Santa Cruz de Malabon was Panguagui; Naic was Maguagui; Maragondon was Magtagumpay; Ternate was Katuata and later Molukas; Indang was Walangtinag; and Alfonso was Nahapay kay Alfonso. Reading about the changes in place names in Cavite during the Revolution made me realize that history is indeed written by the victors, and what we remember and forget is not just a function of history but of politics as well.

Wasn’t Clark Air Base renamed Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in 2003, and restored in 2012 to Clark International Airport, with a Diosdado Macapagal Passenger Terminal? Will Clark see another name change when we change presidents in 2016?

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TAGS: “Daang Rizal”, Aduana, Andres Luna de San Pedro, Andres Soriano, artemio ricarte, Avenida Rizal, Azcarraga, Bacoor, Baguio zigzag road, Banaue, Batangas, Battle of Pinaglabanan, Binondo, C.M. Recto, Calle Real, Cavite, Clark International Airport, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Gen. Antonio Luna, Heritage, Imus, Intramuros, Kawit, Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, Leandro V. Locsin, liwasang bonifacio, Magdalo, Miguel Bernad, National Artist for Architecture, national historical commission, national language, National Museum, Pedro de Achutegui, Philippine Heritage, Philippine history, plaza lawton, rice terraces, Rizal Avenue, Rizal Monument, Roman Ongpin, Royal Road, Silang, Spaniards, Taal Lake, Talisay, Virgilio Almario, Yuchengco
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