Thursday, September 20, 2018
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Looking Back

History, politics, currency

Managing inevitable change is a challenge that isn’t helped when some of our lawmakers presume to air their well-meaning two cents’ worth. We saw this when the New Generation Currency (NGC) banknotes were issued some years ago.

One nationalistic lawmaker wanted the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to explain why a “foreigner” we all know as Douglas MacArthur was on the P50 bill. At the sunset of the Japanese occupation, Sergio Osmeña, president of the Commonwealth government-in-exile, waded in Leyte with MacArthur who made true on his “I-shall-return” promise. In an earlier banknote series, nationalists howled over the Stars and Stripes on the P100 bill until BSP clarified that the vignette depicted July 4, 1946, when the American flag was lowered and the Philippine flag raised to signify that the United States had finally recognized the independence of the Philippines that it stole from us in 1898.

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Then there was the issue of the present P100 bill being of a similar hue to the P1,000 bill causing confusion in daily transactions. While the BSP has acted on this by changing the hue of the P100 bill, I couldn’t understand why the public a lawmaker was trying to protect couldn’t make the effort of looking closely at the bills at point of exchange. Even an illiterate or a child can surely distinguish between the three faces of Josefa Llanes Escoda, Vicente Lim, and Jose Abad Santos on the P1,000 bill compared with the lone pasty face of Manuel Roxas on the P100 bill.

Last December, the BSP rolled out NGC coins that feature three 19th-century heroes, once familiar fixtures on the previous series of bills until they were demoted, so to speak, into coins. This is a welcome move because with the exception of the three World War II figures on the P1,000 bill and Cory Aquino on the P500 bill, the rest of the faces from the P20 to P500 bills are eminent politicians. BSP has elevated Apolinario Mabini (P10 coin), Andres Bonifacio (P5 coin) and Jose Rizal (P1 coin) above the rest of the national heroes in our history and made a historiographical statement by removing the controversial Emilio Aguinaldo from the P5 coin.

This is not the first time the BSP has made a strong historiographical and political statement in our money. In 2002, the BSP added a new denomination to the existing currency with the P200 bill that featured events in the 2001 Edsa Revolution that swept then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the presidency. Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo’s father, was chosen as the portrait on the face of the banknote leading critics to ask why he was chosen over other former presidents: Laurel, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Marcos and Ramos, who were denied similar prominence.

More controversial was the reverse side of the bill that depicted Arroyo taking her oath at the Edsa Shrine. One of the requirements to be considered for inclusion in our currency is that the person should be dead. Maybe someone wanted her dead then, but a precedent was made by Ferdinand Marcos whose profile appeared on the P5 coin. Then there were Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, both very much alive and kicking, when they appeared in the commemorative P2,000 bill that achieved a Guinness World Record as the largest banknote when it was issued in 1998. If you look closely at this bill, even “Da King” Fernando Poe Jr. made a cameo appearance alongside his friend Erap. When the NGC currency was issued in 2010, the P200 bill was redesigned to delete Arroyo and replace her, of all things, with a tarsier!

Our banknotes and coins can be read not just for the history and culture in them, but also as a reflection of the political climate when these were in use. The first of the NGC coins to be released was the P5 coin with the portrait of Andres Bonifacio etched by a laser onto nickel-plated steel. It is a beautiful and sturdy coin that, according to some, will cause confusion again because it is similar to the P1 coin in use, which is scheduled for demonetization when the new one is out. Even a child can tell the difference between the face of Bonifacio on the P5 coin and Rizal on the P1 coin but that is the least of our worries because some people might not agree with the importance the BSP has placed on the three national heroes chosen over the others.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Looking Back, New Generation Currency, Philippine currency
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