(Recollections of my personal story behindbthe redesigning of the Philippine bank notes and coins)
In mid 1981, during a break in-between the afternoon classes I was teaching at the UP College of Fine Arts, I got one of those very rare phone calls from outside which I never expected would pave the way to a most important assignment in my life as an artist.
A certain Lino Buena (his true identity is witheld to protect his name and reputation) of a design house I no longer remember the name was on the other end and had offered me to be part of his team in the designing a new series of Philippine bank notes and coins for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. For a while I was dumbfounded and flattered with what I heard. With so many good artists and designers around, this guy took pains in tracking me down and offered me to help design our money for the central bank. How could I say no to a job like this. This was an honor and privilege for me to do something big and significant for my country and be part of its numismatic history.
Upon hearing my interest in the project, Mr. Buena told me he was coming down to UP immediately so we can talk about it further. Soon enough, we were face to face in the faculty room which was practically vacant but for a couple of colleagues who just came in and out. As we were discussing, I asked him how did he decide to get me when he never knew me at all. He said he saw my pencil portrait sketch of the tycoon Don Andres Soriano in a San Miguel Corporation annual report cover and decided by then that it was I whom he needed for the money designing project. It was not difficult for us to agree since I just could not get a chance like this to pass me by. I did not even remember if we ever discussed the price for my services due to my restrained excitement. To me then, all that mattered was to be part of this grand assignment.
Soon I found myself in his design studio and working with his artists initially. My first assignment was the new 500-peso design with the Marcos portrait on it and with the supplementary ideas based on the BSP specifications. Not long after, I found it more and more difficult to adjust my time between my teachings and working for him in his Makati office. So he allowed me to do the job at home in my free time, communicating with him over the phone and I just went to his office to submit my works. I looked for an appropriate Marcos portrait reference, something casual and pleasant looking, not the formal and stern dictator he sometimes was. I did not like his usual and familiar portraits, I wanted something different. Then I saw a picture of him in a magazine in one of his out-of-town trips, smiling and good-looking, cheerful and very casual, and I thought that was it. On the reverse, I did the new Batasang Pambansa and the Filipino family and a group of professionals as alternates. The rest were done by his artists. In no time at all, he was ready to submit our initial designs for the Marcos 500 to the central bank. With this, also started his problems with the numismatic committee. Apparently, he disagreed with the payment procedures and terms of the central bank. Unable to reach to an agreement with them, soon after, he found himself being terminated to do the project. And with this, I thought all my hopes to design the money were also dashed.
Hardly a week passed when I got a call, this time, from the BSP itself inviting me to see them for the possibility of carrying on the job originally assigned with Mr. Buena. I readily met with Mrs. Gaudencia Santiago and Mr. Cesar Lomotan of the Numismatic committee in their new and impressive Quezon City building which I found out later houses the money printing & minting facilities of the BSP. As expected, I accepted the job but they suggested that I form a team of at least 3 to help me since it involves a complete redesigning of our money from one centavo to the new one thousand peso bill. I was so excited and was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the assignment. On my way home I was thinking on whom to be part of my 3-man team. Many of my artist friends’ names passed through my mind until finally I decided on calling Angel Cacnio, a fellow magazine illustrator, a historical painter and a prize winner in an earlier money designing contest, and Rafael Asuncion, a painter and my former boss as former Creative Director of J. Walter Thompson Co. when I was still a student trainee in advertising. Both readily accepted the job which to all of us was not only exciting and challenging but momentous as well.
The three of us soon went back to the central bank to discuss the mechanics and agree on the price, finally signed the contract and got all the materials and specifications to start on the project. Since the Marcos 500 peso note had been designed, approved and apparently been finally settled with Mr. Buena, all we had to do now are the coins from 1 centavo to the new 2 peso decagonal coin plus the bank notes from 5 pesos to the new 1000 pesos. We agreed to submit our own individual designs for both 2 sides of every coin and divided the paper bill assignments with Angel doing the P20 and P100, Mang Paeng, the P10 and P50 and me, the P5 and P1000. All of us started the groundworks, did our own researches and headed to our drawing tables to work on our design studies.
We started with the coins called the Flora and Fauna series. The old blue Rizal 2-peso bill was being replaced by the first and only decagonal coin ever produced in this country. Initially, Rizal remained in the 2-peso denomination but the committee subsequently decided to replaced him with Andres Bonifacio, who was first on the 1-peso, was also displaced by Aguinaldo on the 5-peso bill. Rizal was now on the one peso obverse and the tamaraw on the reverse. The 50-centavo had Marcelo del Pilar and the Philippine eagle, on the 25-centavo were Juan Luna and a Philippine butterfly, Balagtas and the smallest Philippine fish were on the 10-centavo, Tandang Sora and the waling-waling orchid on the 5-centavo and on the 1-centavo was Lapulapu and a cone-shaped Philippine sea shell.
After we submitted a series of studies for both sides of the coins on several meetings that spanned for months of discussions, alterations, suggestions and revisions, the numismatic committee finally agreed to adopt the following final designs by the following artists:
2-piso (decagonal) –
Andres Bonfacio – Mananquil
Coconut Tree – Mananquil
1 piso –
Jose Rizal – Asuncion
Tamaraw – Mananquil
50 sentimo –
Marcelo del Pilar – Cacnio
Philippine Eagle – Asuncion
25 sentimo –
Juan Luna – Cacnio
Philippine Butterfly – Asuncion
10 sentimo –
Francisco Baltasar – Mananquil
Pygmy Goby – Mananquil
Melchora Aquino – Mananquil
Waling-waling – Cacnio
Lapulapu – Cacnio
Sea Shell – Asuncion
With the Aguinaldo 5-peso designing, I never realized that I would do the most extensive research. The two other artists had existing photographs as references for the portraits on the obverses and the pictures of the specified buildings and historical events needed for the reverse sides of their assigned denominations. With my assignment, I had to recreate the historic balcony scene when the first Philippine president, General Emilio Aguinaldo, declared Philippine independence in the afternoon of June 12, 1898. Unfortunately, there was no known photograph of this most important event and the general has long been gone for a first hand interview. I had to rely on a lot of readings on history books, articles and, other manuscripts, gather and reproduced important photos of military uniforms, weapons and costumes of the revolutionary era to be able to reconstruct a clearer mental image of the historic event.
Not contented with these, I decided to go to Kawit, Cavite and visited the Aguinaldo shrine to get the actual ‘feel’ of the event, get more data, took more pictures and saw for myself if there were other relevant items, relics and photographs I could possibly use. Luckily, there was this picture of the original mansion that showed how it looked during the revolution and a heavy radial-wheeled canon possibly used by Aguinaldo himself, which I also took pictures of.
I went next to Malolos, Bulacan to take pictures of the seat of the first Philippine republic and the Malolos Congress – the historic Barasoain church plus the historical marker on it and other items I can possibly used to compliment my design. With a compilation of historical materials and photographic references, I started the tedious but most challenging design of all the bank notes – the predominantly green Aguinaldo 5-peso bill. It took me 2 or 3 design studies of the bank note submitted to the Numismatic committee for comments and criticisms and before I finally got their approval to do the final artwork. The approved design showed, on the obverse side, mainly the Aguinaldo bust portrait in full military regalia. On the reverse side was the panoramic visual interpretation of the historic declaration of Philippine independence by the new president, Emilio Aguinaldo, as he waved the Philippine flag for the first time to the tune of the band playing the new “Hymno Nacional Filipina”. The whole town was in a very festive mood. (Years after, when the green 5-peso bill was phased out and replace by a coin, the declaration of Philippine independence tableau vivant originally used with it was adapted for the huge 1998 Philippine Centennial 100,000-peso commemorative bank note, which eventually became a Guinness book record holder as the biggest paper money in the world.
The 1000 pesos was just as exciting since this was the first thousand peso bill the Philippines would ever have to date. It also entailed some research but I just had to rely on my existing Philippine history books and only went to the National Library to get the additional data and pictures I did not have. The obverse showed two World War II heroes, Justice Jose Abad Santos and General Vicente Lim and a heroin, Josefa Llanes Escoda, the first time in Philippine numismatic history that a tri-hero was used on a bank note. On the reverse, showed the magnificent Banawe rice terraces, an ancient prayer house called Langgal, and the Manunggul, a burial jar by early Filipinos. I did 2 or 3 versions with different color schemes from brownish to neutrals to blue. Finally, they decided to choose the blue, since the blue 2 pesos was being phased out. So the color of lowest valued bank note this time became the color of the new 1000 pesos, the highest denomination of the New Design series.
Messrs. Asuncion and Cacnio also got their designs on their assigned denominations finally approved in time after passing the same meticulous dissections by the Lomotan group. We all feel relieved but proud and very much fulfilled. The 2-peso decagonal coin started circulating in October 1983 for the first time, followed by the new 1-peso coin in November. Not long after that, the complete 7-coin Flora and Fauna series were in everybody’s hands.
By late 1985 or early 1986, the Marcos 500-pesos became the first paper bill in the new series to be printed. I heard about two million of this bank notes were being prepared for circulation until the dictator president, again always confident of winning, called for a snap presidential elections at the height of his unpopularity, to prove his legitimacy. Being a candidate himself, the circulation of the new bank note was put on hold in deference to the law against electioneering.
The elections went on. Marcos was fitted against Cory Aquino, the wife of his murdered arch enemy, Ninoy. Marcos, claimed victory but the people refused to accept it and was ready to explode its wrath. By then, the Philippines was about to undergo a major upheaval in its unfolding history. The people’s fury had reached its boiling point. In February 1986, the historic People Power happened and stunned the world. After three long suspenseful days, the long 20-year Marcos reign finally ended when he was forcibly flown out of Malacanang to Hawaii. The new 500 pesos with the fallen dictator’s likeness on it never saw the light of day (This never circulated bank note could have been a most valued collectors’ item). The newly installed president, Cory Aquino, stopped it and ordered its redesigning to honor her slained husband. Again, I was called for the task but this time was unable to respond since I just left for Canada in October the year before. Cacnio and Asuncion were asked instead to do the job and subsequently Mang Paeng’s design was chosen and printed as the new P500 paper note now in circulation.
by Romeo Castillo MananQuil