History at your fingertips | Inquirer Opinion

History at your fingertips

Have you ever taken the time to examine closely even for just a few minutes, the monetary instruments that we use for making purchases and payments? If you do, you will discover bits and pieces of our nation’s history and get to know animals and fish that are found in our forests and waters.

Let us start with the orange-colored P20 bill, the smallest denomination of the paper currency that we use.

On the front surface, from left to right, you will find the words “Filipino as the National Language 1935” underneath a picture of people debating the issue. The 1935 Constitution, establishing the Commonwealth of the Philippines, provided that the National Assembly shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages. It also created the Institute of National Language and gave it the job of studying and providing a basis for choosing a national language. The Institute although led by a Waray-Visayan, recommended Tagalog to be the basis and the National Assembly followed through and approved Tagalog as the national language.


The next picture to the right is that of Manuel L. Quezon. Born in Baler, Aurora province, Quezon served as aide-de-camp to Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War. In 1935, he was elected president of the Philippine Commonwealth, defeating two main rivals, Emilio Aguinaldo and Gregorio Aglipay. He served as President until his death in August 1944 in the United States.


The third image is that of Malacañan Palace, official residence of the President of the Philippines. Since 1863, the palace was home to 18 Spanish governors general and 14 American, military and civil governors general, until Quezon became President of the country.

On the reverse side of the P20 bill, you will find a map of the country and to the right is a picture of the Banaue rice terraces, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site. Built more than 2,000 years ago, in the province of Ifugao, the terraces have been described as “a living cultural landscape of unparalleled beauty.”

Right in the middle is the figure of an Asian Palm Civet, a nocturnal mammal that is almost like a cat, found in tropical forests. You may have heard of civet coffee, the Indonesian variety that is rated as one of the most expensive in the world. The coffee bean eaten by the civets, forms part of their droppings that eventually end up in your cup of coffee.

The pink-colored P50 bill has on the front surface a picture of the First National Assembly 1907. Actually, this body is more accurately known as the First Philippine Assembly that served as the Lower House of the Philippine Legislature from 1907 to 1916. The Upper House was the Philippine Commission whose members were appointed by the US president. The Assembly was inaugurated in October 1907 with Sergio Osmeña as the Speaker, Manuel Quezon as the majority leader and Vicente Singson as the minority leader.

To the right of the Assembly is a picture of Sergio Osmeña, a Cebuano whose long rivalry with friend and classmate Manuel Quezon, often resulted in clashes between the two. In 1935, Quezon was elected President with Sergio Osmeña as Vice President. Osmeña served as President from 1944 to 1946.

The third picture shows the Leyte Landing, October 1944. Gen. Douglas MacArthur is wading ashore with others in a triumphant return to the Philippines. While ranking US Navy officials preferred to bypass the Philippines and instead head for Formosa, MacArthur insisted on making good his “I shall return” pledge.


The reverse side of the P50 bill has a picture of Taal Lake, a freshwater lake in the province of Batangas. While the lake holds freshwater, the water in the volcano crater is saltwater. The white fish in the center is called “maliputo,” a freshwater fish found only in Taal Lake and considered one of the delicacies of the province.

The light blue-colored P1,000 bill carries the pictures of three of our greatest World War II martyrs.

Josefa Llanes Escoda was born in Dingras, Ilocos Norte. An advocate of women’s suffrage, she founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. During World War II she and her husband Antonio Escoda were engaged in secretly supplying medicine, food and clothing to Filipino and American prisoners of war. After her arrest she was imprisoned in Fort Santiago and later executed.

Vicente Lim was the first Filipino graduate of West Point where he was known as “the cannibal” because of his dark skin. During the Bataan campaign, he commanded the 41st Infantry Division. After the surrender, he continued working with the guerrillas but was later captured and executed.

Jose Abad Santos was actually the acting President of the Philippines when Japanese units arrested him. His refusal to serve in the puppet government being organized by the Japanese led to his execution.

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TAGS: Philippine history, Ramon Farolan, Reveille

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