“New Generation” Philippine Banknotes
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas
Studio 5 Designs, Inc. and Design Systemat
As far as state representations go, no other piece of visual culture is as ubiquitous yet precious—literally or symbolically—than our money. How many of us have toiled in unfulfilling careers, aspired to marry above our social class, been separated from family, fought, gone to war, even killed in the name of satisfying the very common desire to accumulate vast amounts of these vivid engravings? As much as they are intricate works of design, in a capitalist society like ours, these colorful slips of paper also make the world go ‘round.
Apparently, our world is changing, because under the new regime, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has now unveiled the newly-redesigned Philippine banknotes, which they rather uncreatively dubbed the “New Generation” currency. Quite appropriately enough, the name for this new batch of bills recalls the “Bagong Lipunan” label of the Marcos regime, which was a nice-sounding name for what proved to be a fascistic agenda, and ironic place names like New Manila or New York, which are in fact not very “new.” These very qualities define this newfangled batch of state propaganda which, despite its new improved packaging, actually adheres to a well-established local historical tradition consistent with its predecessors.
A History of Moneymaking
Each of the previous generations of money, whether consciously or not, captured the zeitgeist of its era. In the 1950s for example, the country was fresh out of the Japanese occupation which spurred underground resistance even from both the ruling Filipino elite and American colonizers. From the state’s surge of post-war revolutionary spirit emerged the English Series, which gave prominence to revolutionary figures like Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, the Gomburza, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto, Antonio Luna and Melchora Aquino, and once-subversive artifacts like the La Solidaridad and the Kartilya ng Katipunan. Resistance was a collective experience of all classes under a common enemy, and thus was open to commemoration (read: institutionalization) by the government.
In the late 1960s, the Marcos regime created the Pilipino Series, focusing less on revolutionary heroes and more on former presidents. Unlike the English Series which featured a mix of historical scenes, artifacts and buildings, almost all of the bills in this new set featured structures. The Barasoain Church, the Malacañan Palace, the old Legislative and Bangko Sentral buildings—the prominence of architectural façades on the currency reflected the Marcos regime’s own edifice complex.
From the 70s to the new millennium, Philippine currency underwent two more major redesigns, yet there was no significant change in terms of imagery. The faces and buildings remained largely the same—communicating, perhaps, the lack of genuine change in terms of both politics and economy. If there was any significant change in terms of money, it was devaluation. First, of course, was the devaluation of revolutionary heroes, who were relegated to lower and lower denominations. Ramon Villegas, in historicizing the New Generation bills, points out rather bluntly:
From the ’70s to the ’90s, the lower denominations of paper bills which featured the revolutionary founders of the nation—Rizal, Bonifacio, Jacinto, Mabini—were eliminated. Their demotion to coins is symbolic of the diminution of their radical ideas by the country’s elite.
Indeed, the Gomburza martyrs, the Propagandists and Katipuneros all but vanished from our banknotes. The last two standing, Mabini and Bonifacio, were both squeezed into the brown 10-peso bill—a spot which they briefly shared before being further demoted into sharing an even tinier space on the current 10-peso coin.
Which brings us to the second form of devaluation: the actual decrease in the peso’s value. Indeed, the exchange rate has dropped significantly from 1945 (PhP2 = US$1) to today (~PhP45 = US$1). The devaluation trend began with Diosdado Macapagal’s decontrol policy in the 1960s, which ushered in “free trade” and IMF-World Bank control on our economy. Devaluation again rose to prominence with the Asian financial crisis of 1997, causing the phaseout of smaller coin denominations and their corresponding revolutionary figures (remember Tandang Sora and Lapu-Lapu?), and the subsequent conversion of smaller bills (like Emilio Aguinaldo and Mabini/Bonifacio) into mere barya.
With every phaseout, new figures are ushered in. The major trend for the past few decades: out with the radicals, in with the state ideologues. Marcos started the tradition of putting presidents onto our bills; after the downfall of his regime, Cory Aquino made grand but ultimately cosmetic changes, retaining the same faces and institutions in both our numismatic and political-economic scenes. If any, she ushered in a new trend: that of the current ruler honoring their deceased kapamilyas in currency. She started with Ninoy on the PhP500 bill, Gloria Arroyo followed with her dad Diosdado Macapagal on the PhP200 (and herself on the reverse, go figure), and today we come full circle, with Noynoy placing Cory alongside Ninoy on the new PhP500, yellower than ever.
For decades, these bills have illustrated the continuity of presidents and the elite families to which they belong. Our money thus commemorates and represents the history of bureaucrat capitalism in the Philippines—a history of colonialism, elite rule, the concentration of political power on the moneyed few, and, judging from what has been gradually excluded from our banknotes, a long and continuous history of disenfranchisement.
Innovation and Ideology
With the introduction of new imagery, the New Generation bills extend this historical thread and mark a turning point in our currency—and our history. The new design veers away from the Marcosian edifice-complex template and introduces major changes, especially on the reverse side of the bill. According to the BSP, the new bills “honor Filipinos who played significant roles at various moments of our nation’s history as well as the world heritage sites and iconic natural wonders we are proud of as Filipinos.” These two main threads—state memory and tourism—are manifested clearly in the new design, which neatly compartmentalizes both concepts in each of the bill’s two sides. According to an Inquirer article, two local design studios helped create the new bills: Studio 5 developed the obverse face of the notes, while Design Systemat designed the “tourism” side on the reverse.
The new design features on the reverse a host of top Philippine tourist spots: the Banaue Rice Terraces, Taal Lake, Mount Mayon, the Chocolate Hills, the St. Paul Underground River and the Tubbataha Reefs. Alongside these tourist spots are unique fauna and textile weaves from various parts of the country, and a Philippine map.
To make room for all this tourism material, much of the edifices and other “historical” content were moved to the front, with a few new additions. The colors and faces on the bills were retained, but updated with younger, more photographic likenesses. Other historical scenes more or less corresponding to the face’s era were added, to wit:
- PhP20: Manuel L. Quezon, the declaration of Filipino as the national language, and the Palace;
- PhP50: Sergio S. Osmeña and the first National Assembly, as well as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Leyte landing;
- PhP100: Manuel Roxas, the old BSP building, and the 1946 inauguration of the Philippine Republic;
- PhP500: Cory and Ninoy Aquino, EDSA 1986 and the latest Ninoy monument in Makati;
- PhP1,000: War heroes Jose Abad Santos, Vicente Lim and Josefa Llanes Escoda; the Medal of Honor awarded to them, and the 1998 Philippine Centennial celebration.
The only historically-odd bill is the PhP200 bill which features Diosdado Macapagal, EDSA 2001 where his daughter Gloria rose to power, the Aguinaldo Shrine and Barasoain Church. The BSP cites Macapagal’s moving the Independence Day celebration from July 4 to June 12 as the reason why the Kawit shrine and Barasoain church are included, but it really just seems like an awkward amalgamation of the other old green bill, the PhP5 Aguinaldo; the phased-out PhP10 Mabini (no sign of Bonifacio anywhere though) and Gloria’s not-so-subtle electioneering in the 2002 PhP200 bill.
Another major innovation in the New Generation currency is the addition of a phrase on the bill’s front: “Pinagpala ang Bayan na ang Diyos ay ang Panginoon.” This marks the resurgence of an open unity between church and state, except this time, the church/state is “benevolent” and Filipino, and not the violent colonial one of before. We have entered the age of social democrats who are charitable yet conservative, who denounce heartless capitalism (as shown by the proliferation of “corporate social responsibility” programs) but also vehemently oppose the “godless” socialist/communist alternative. There is the fervent belief that they can transform the state into a kinder, more just and compassionate entity, which explains the need to bring “God” back into political-economic life by propagating slogans like this one. Of course, the new motto completely evokes the oft-quoted biblical phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (Matthew 5:3)” which basically glorifies poverty as a virtue, reminiscent of how the colonial church/state justified enforced poverty and forcible usurpation of wealth and lands centuries ago.
Lessons from the New Generation
“History is the memory of states,” says Henry Kissinger. “To be sure, states tend to be forgetful. It is not often that nations learn from the past, even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it.” Not only are the New Generation bills a prime example of state memory, they are also prime examples of its selective commemoration and ideological slant—and perhaps, indicative of the future that the current regime is charting for the nation.
The New Generation bills are being heavily criticized for their lack of formal polish. Major errors were pointed out, like the exclusion of Batanes and other significant inaccuracies, the wrong format of scientific names, and the incorrect coloration of the featured wildlife. Aside from these blunders in geography and taxonomy, I am personally surprised by the almost nonexistent presence of Mindanao, represented only by a band based on textile patterns on the reverse of the PhP500 and PhP1,000 bills. The new illustrations, based on newly-acquired historical photographs and landscape and wildlife images by top Philippine photographers, did not translate well into engravings. (Compare, for example, the Banaue Rice Terraces on the old PhP1,000 and new PhP20 bills.) Design-wise, there is not much of a grid at work. Instead there is some sort of horror vacui governing the design, resulting in a slightly haphazard collage look.
But beyond these controversial errors, there is a more systemic and objectionable logic to be detected, one that is not merely a result of weak design, scientific ignorance, repulsive typography or poor image selection. What is more telling, for example, is that Andres Bonifacio and other revolutionaries have been erased from our bills, but Gen. Douglas MacArthur is now on the face of the PhP50 note. Or that the language of the bills has changed from the pure Filipino of the previous series to a new Tagalog-English mix, signaling a new, foreign-oriented audience. (The irony is that the PhP20 bill now honors “Filipino as the National Language 1935” beside Quezon and displays alibata characters as an object of national pride.) From just showcasing memorable landscapes as they are (ie “Hagdan-hagdang Palayan ng Banawe” on the old PhP100 bill), the new bills now have a more conscious marketing framework, proudly displaying “UNESCO World Heritage Site” in a font size even larger than Quezon’s name on the obverse, alongside the new Anglophone “Banaue Rice Terraces.” Many people note that the New Generation bills look like Euros, and even the new BSP logo, with its blue field and yellow stars in semicircular figuration, is reminiscent of the European Union logo.
Clearly, there is a new mindset at work: one which seeks validation from the West and literally cashes in on the Philippines’ natural beauty and resources to draw in more of the English-speaking world, whether as tourists or as investors. The design, weaknesses and all, accurately inscribes and promotes the neoliberal ideology and oligarchic rule that defines the Philippine state. The New Generation bills are patently neocolonial currency, glorifying our bureaucrat capitalist history on one side and extending its legacy on the other. #
The BSP’s video presentation on the New Generation banknotes. It explains the history of Philippine money, the process in which money is made, and some notes on the new designs.
A news report explains the new bills’ security features and innovations. About the new tagline on the obverse, BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Gunigundo says: “This is a very generic statement that God is in control… as a nation we submit ourselves before God.”
Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Graphic design. Tags: 1896 revolution, Aisan financial crisis, Andres Bonifacio, Bagong Lipunan, Banaue Rice Terraces, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, banknotes, Benigno Aquino III, bureaucrat capitalism, capital, capitalism, colonialism, cory aquino, currency, Design Systemat, EDSA 1986, EDSA 2001, Ferdinand Marcos, Filipino revolutionaries, Henry Kissinger, history, Katipunan, Malacañan, money, neoliberalism, New Generation currency, ninoy aquino, noynoy aquino, numismatics, oligarchy, P-Noy, Philippine banknotes, philippine daily inquirer, Philippine Peso, philippines, piso, Studio 5, tourism, tourist spots, typography, UNESCO World Heritage Site, visual arts, visual culture.