“GRP” to “GPH”: Why?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/21 Jan) – “Change” was President Benigno Aquino III’s battle-cry when he ran for election last year. Indeed, he has already made some notable changes. In fact, his attempt to change some protocols and the Malaysian third-person facilitator in the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front delayed the resumption of the talks – and he had to relent.

On October 28, 2010, the Philippine Information Agency released this report: “DFA Shifts to ISO initials ‘ph’ and ‘phl’” – a report that was published by other print and on-line publications that day and the succeeding two or three days. The initial “GRP” will no longer be used. The report of ABS-CBN News read, “DFA junks ‘RP’, adopts ‘PH” or “PHL”.

On November 16, 2010, the Philippine Consulate in New York released to the press, “Philippines ADOPTS ISO 3166-1, from RP to PH”.

Last January 3, the Philippine Star and other major newspapers and on-line publications published the December 9, 2010 Administrative Order No. 5, directing “all offices, agencies and other instrumentalities of the Philippine Government to adopt and use, as soon as practicable, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) two-letter code PH or three-letter code PHL in reference to the Philippines”.

In all these reports, the reason for the change was – stated in the Philippine Star report, citing President Aquino – “The continued use of RP, which stands for Republic of the Philippines, to refer to the Philippines ‘is not in accordance with the ISO 3166-1, leading to ambiguity and confusion’ and that ‘such ambiguity and confusion when referring to the Philippines by the use of initials can be avoided by following the codes assigned to the Philippines by ISO’.”


This raises some questions:

1.    What is ISO?
2.    What are ISO codes and standardization for?
3.    According to what ISO is and what its codes and standardization are for, is AO 5 on the on the use of “PH” or “PHL” in place of “RP” perfectly correct – and necessary?

We have downloaded from the Internet The ISO Story, The ISO System, ISO Members, ISO 3166-1 decoding table and The ISO Cafe for initial references – and more later – for the discussion of these questions.

Question No. 1

In October 1946, delegates from 25 countries organized the International Organization for Standardization; it officially began operation on February 23, 1947. Between 1994 and 2003, the membership had grown from 100 to 147 countries and geographical areas, the full membership, from 76 to 96. The growth from 2003 may be seen in: ISO Members lists 163; Table 3 of ISO 3166-1 decoding table lists 254. The three categories of membership are: full or member body, subscriber member, and correspondent member. The Philippines is a full member. Each member has Code Initial – for the Philippines, “PH” or “PHL” [Earlier, it was “PHI”].

“ISO”, the name of the Organization in short, was derived from the Greek word “isos”, meaning “equal”. In itself, ISO can be called a code name – the name for whatever language. Its choice was a compromise between English and French – in English, “IOS”; in French, “OIN”, for Organisation international de normalization. Note though that ISO is also the acronym or initials of International Standardization Organization.

Question No. 2

The scope of ISO’s work: [Between 1947 and the present day,] ISO has more than 18,000 International Standards and other types of normative documents in its current portfolio. ISO’s work programme ranges from standard for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering, manufacturing and distribution, to transport devices, information and communication technologies, and to standards for good management practice for services.

Market-driven: ISO only develops standards for which there is a market requirement. The work is mainly carried by experts from the industrial, technical and business sectors which have asked for the standards, and which subsequently put them to use.

Consensus: ISO standards are based on international consensus among the experts in the field. Consensus, like technology, evolves and ISO takes account both of evolving technology and of evolving interests by requiring a periodic review of its standards at least every five years to decide whether they should be maintained, updated or withdrawn. In this way, ISO standards retain their position as the state of the art.

Globally relevant: ISO standards are technical agreements which provide the framework for compatible technology worldwide. They are designated to be globally relevant – useful everywhere in the world.

Examples of the benefits standard provide: Standardization of screw threads helps to keep chairs, children’s bicycles and aircraft together and solves the repair and maintenance problems caused by a lack of standardization that were once a major headache for manufacturers and product users.

Standards establishing an international consensus on terminology make technology transfer easier and safer. They are important stage in the advancement of new technologies and dissemination of innovation.

Without standardized dimensions of freight containers, international trade would be slower and more expensive.

Without standardization of telephone and banking cards, life would be more complicated.

A lack of standardization may even affect the quality of life itself: for the disabled, for example, when they are barred access to consumer products, public transport and building because the dimensions of wheel-chairs and entrances are not standardized.

Standardized symbols provide danger warnings and information across linguistic frontiers.

Consensus on grades of various materials gives a common reference for suppliers and clients in business dealings.

Agreement on a sufficient number of variations of a product to meet most current applications allows economies of scale with cost benefits for both producers and consumers. An example is the standardization of paper sizes.

Standardization of performance of safety requirements of diverse equipment makes sure that users’ needs are met while allowing individual manufacturers the freedom to design their own solution on how to meet those needs.

Standardized computer protocols allow products from different vendors to “talk” to each other.

Standardized documents speed up the transit of goods, or identity sensitive or dangerous cargoes that may be handled by people speaking different languages.

Standardization of connections and interfaces of all types ensures the compatibility of equipment of diverse origins and the interoperability of different technologies.

Agreement on test methods allows meaningful comparisons of products, or plays an important part in controlling pollution – whether by noise, vibration or emissions.

Safety standards for machinery protect people at work, at play, at sea … and at the dentist’s.

Without the international agreement contained in ISO standards on metric quantities and units, shopping and trade would be haphazard, science would be unscientific and technological development would be handicapped.

For more examples of the many areas of life and work where ISO standards provide technical, economic and social benefits, visit The ISO Café. [In our visit, we counted 51 such “areas of life and work”– ppd.]

Generic: The vast majority of ISO standards are highly specific to a particular product material or process. However, ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environment) are “generic management system standards”. “Generic” means that the same standard can be applied to any organization, large or small, whatever its product or service, in any sector of activity, and whether it is a business enterprise, a public administration, or a government department.

Question No. 3

From the above [Benefits of standard in Question No. 2 are verbatim reprint from ISO System], as well as in the rest of our references on hand, it is clear that ISO standards, activities, functions and concerns have nothing to do with the political, legal, and governmental functions of countries in their political capacity – whether internal or external affairs. That puts a big question mark on AO No. 5.

When President Aquino resolves in his AO No. 5, “I … do hereby direct all offices, agencies and other instrumentalities of the Philippine Government to adopt and use, as soon as practicable, the ISO two-letter code PH or three letter code PHL in referring to the Philippines,” what does he mean?

Unless there is a subsequent clarification, he means that “PH” or “PHL” should be used, not “RP”, when referring to the Philippines by initials in intra- and inter-communication of offices, in their official documents like ordinances, laws, memorandums, orders, etc. Media have followed the AO. It implies that “Philippines”, no longer “Republic of the Philippines”, should be used to be consistent with “PH” or “PHL”.

This is giving ISO precedence over our Constitution, officially, “Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines” – consistent with Article II, Section 1 declaring that “The Philippines is … a republican State…”. Congress uses “Republic of the Philippines” in its letter head and the laws it passes are “Republic Acts”. In his AO No. 5, Aquino used “… the seal of the Republic of the Philippines”.

Does AO No. 5 mean that our laws will now be known as “PHA”, no longer “RA” and the seal of the Philippines will now be “PH Seal” or “PHL Seal” in short, instead of “RP Seal”?


Is AO No. 5 consistent with what ISO intends its standards and codes in general and ISO 3166-1 in particular are to be used?

ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 or alpha 3 – depending on which is more practicable – is used by the users of ISO standards to identify by name the country associated with the use of the standards. In tennis tournaments, for example, the country of a player is identified by the use of ISO 3166-1 alpha 3 – hence, a player from Australia has “AUS” after his or her name in the score box; from Austria, “AUT”, etc. Philippine passports are marked “PHL”; and so are shipments to the Philippines. But in many other standards, ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 is used as seen in ISO 3166-1 decoding table.

Why codes and standards are necessary is well explained above in Question No. 2. “AUS” and “AUT” distinguish the Australian and the Austrian from each other without writing the full names of the two countries – their first five letters being the same. Using “RP” on shipments to the Philippines can be confusing since there are other countries with “RP” as initials. The same applies to standards and codes in currencies. “PHP” distinguishes the Philippine peso from the peso of Mexico and other South American countries. “US Dollar” is distinct from the dollars of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, Australia, etc.

AO No. 5 is unrelated to the use or application of ISO standards and codes. It is intended to avoid the perceived “confusion” that “the continued use of RP” would create in the government. Unlike in ISO System, AO No. 5 does not tell when “PH” and “PHL” would be applicable.

President Aquino or his executive secretary should explain how “the continued use of RP” can cause confusion in the office records or communication of Congress, Malacañang, the Supreme Court, the different Executive Departments, and the local governments down to the barangays. How could the use of “RP” confuse students of Philippine History? Mere assertion confuses.

Peace Negotiations

In the on-going negotiation of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the “Peace Talks” will no longer be “GRP-MILF” in short, but “GPH-MILF”. The same will happen in the negotiation of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway.

MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, in a press statement, said: “We will formally ask [the Government Panel to state] that these initials [GPH] replace GRP. This is for the record, so that all documents that bear GRP binds GPH” – adding that the records of the 14-year old peace negotiations between the government and the MILF refer to the “Government of the Philippines” as “GRP”. The same is true with the negotiations of the government and the Moro National Liberation Front dating back to 1976 in Tripoli (MindaNews, January 18, 2011).

How can “GRP” cause confusion in the Government-MILF talks? On the contrary, the MILF will ask the Government Panel for a formal statement on record to avoid any confusion from the change of “GRP” to “GPH” after the 14 years “GRP” has been in the records.

It appears AO No. 5 was issued without doing an exhaustive study of the ISO System.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)