In Filipino Librarian: The Philippines, Von Totanes asks why we refer to the country as The Philippines and not simply, Philippines.
As a child, I once heard a speech of my grandfather in which he said, “The Philippines are your country and the only country God has given you,” and I asked my dad if this was simply a case of bad English. He said no, members of the older generation used the plural because in those days, the country was viewed as a collection of islands: our official name under the Americans was The Philippine Islands.
Starting where the revolutionaries of 1896-1898 had left off, the framers of the 1935 Constitution aimed to create a unitary state, one which emphasized the wholeness of the Philippines as a country, instead of the collection of islands referred to by the Americans. To be sure, the Americans themselves began the process of changing the reference to the Philippines from The Philippine Islands to The Philippines, specifically in the Philippine Autonomy Act or Jones Law, which served as the Organic Act or Constitution of the Philippines from 1916-1935:
(from the Jones Law):
WHEREAS it was never the intention of the people of the United States in the incipiency of the war with Spain to make it a war of conquest or for territorial aggrandizement; and
WHEREAS it is, as it has always been, the purpose of the people of the United States to withdraw their sovereignty over the Philippine Islands and to recognize their independence as soon as a stable government can be established therein; and
WHEREAS for the speedy accomplishment of such purpose it is desirable to place in the hands of the people of the Philippines as large a control of their domestic affairs as can be given them without, in the meantime, impairing the exercise of the rights of sovereignty by the people of the United States, in order that, by the use and exercise of popular franchise and governmental powers, they may be the better prepared to fully assume the responsibilities and enjoy all the privileges of complete independence: Therefore
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the provisions of this Act and the name “The Philippines” as used in this Act shall apply to and include the Philippine Islands ceded to the United States Government by the treaty of peace concluded between the United States and Spain on the eleventh day of April, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine, the boundaries of which are set forth in Article III of said treaty, together with those islands embraced in the treaty between Spain and the United States concluded at Washington on the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred.
Thus, what was used for convenience by the Americans was, for the framers of the 1935 charter, a conscious adoption of a new name, with very definite ideas about what the new reference implied:
ARTICLE XVIII The Commonwealth and the Republic
Section. 1. The government established by this Constitution shall be known as the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Upon the final and complete withdrawal of the sovereignty of the United States and the proclamation of Philippine independence, the Commonwealth of the Philippines shall thenceforth be known as the Republic of the Philippines.
In a sense, this was a reversion to “La Republica Filipina” although because of the change in dominant official languages from Spanish to English, the sense is still different. Under the First Republic, we were “The Philippine Republic,” which is more in keeping with the sense of the Malolos Constitution that the Philippines comprised the political union of The Filipinos:
Article 1. The political association of all Filipinos constitutes a nation, whose state shall be known as the Philippine Republic.
This is an important distinction first pointed out to me by a French historian. According to him, you have to contrast the Malolos definition of the Philippines with that contained in the 1935 and subsequent Constitutions:
1935 Constitution: ARTICLE I The National Territory
Section 1. The Philippines comprises all the territory ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on the tenth day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, the limits which are set forth in Article III of said treaty, together with all the islands embraced in the treaty concluded at Washington between the United States and Spain on the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred, and the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain on the second day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty, and all territory over which the present Government of the Philippine Islands exercises jurisdiction.
1973 Constitution: ARTICLE I The National Territory
Section 1. The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic or legal title, including the territorial sea, the air space, the subsoil, the sea-bed, the insular shelves, and the submarine areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, irrespective of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.
The present Constitution:
The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.
All of the above, 1935 to the present, according to the French historian, are profoundly Anglo-Saxon definitions of nationhood, defining a country according to boundaries and soil. The Malolos Constitution, on the other hand, basically defines national identity and nationhood by blood, which he says is very German and even very French. So it was that, for example, one of the first reforms prior to the extreme phase of the French revolution was to change Louis XVI’s title to King of the French from King of France. The former was leader of a collective union, the latter, sovereign of a personally-owned fiefdom. This is why, also, Louis-Philippe was named King of the French, and Napoleon III, Emperor of the French; to this day, the sovereign of Belgium is King of the Belgians.
So when the framers of the 1935 Constitution in a sense, named their country, a chance Filipinos hadn’t had since 1898, they decided to view their country in the singular and not the plural: my guess is that an attempt would have been made to drop “The” even later on. In 1940, the Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth was briefly changed, the scroll underneath, for one, which had said “Commonwealth of the Philippines,” changed to simply, “Philippines.” Unfortunately the design (very similar to today’s national coat of arms) was unpopular at the time, and the old Commonwealth arms swiftly restored.
You may wonder why, in Constitutional Conventions, there are Committees on Style. Lawyers who require precision of language know the importance of style, and the ability of the framers of Constitutions to be arbiters of proper (or authorized) usage is clearly shown in the decision to refer to the Philippines in the singular instead of the old plural:
ARTICLE II Declaration of Principles
Section 1. The Philippines, is a republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.
Anyway, that is why we say “The Philippines is…” and not, “The Philippines are…”, the continuation of “the” simply being to keep the language mellifluous: simply “Philippines” would be too abrupt in spoken and written English.