Designs on money

Until recently, I had not bothered to scrutinize the newly-circulated 5 peso coin; it feels much lighter and is smaller than the old one, and could very well be mistaken for a 1 peso coin.

When I received an email from reader Arturo Boquer, I hastened to take a closer look because he said: “Since you research on history & Filipiniana, I seek your comment regarding the new 5 peso coin. I just received the coin as change from a purchase I made the other day. The obverse side shows Andres Bonifacio and the currency amount. The reverse side shows the new seal of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and a plant identified as TAYABAK. I have seen this plant occasionally but am not familiar with its name although I do know of the name TAYABAS which is the old name of the Quezon province, and also the name of a town there. Is this a misspelling or is it really Tayabak with a K? Also, what happens to Emilio Aguinaldo who was on the old coin?Thank you for your time and more power to you.”

I have yet to find out what happened to Emilio Aguinaldo, I ‘m afraid I cannot answer Mr. Boquer’s question. Interestingly, people have pointed out errors in the newly printed paper bills; once the color of a native parrot was wrong, and only last month a lot of bills turned out to be blurred due to a printing error. However, there are no mistakes on the new 5 piso; tayabak is not Tayabas misspelled, it is the native name of the jade vine, which is found on the said coin. How odd to put such an intricate design on a small coin, but that is my personal opinion so the money designers should take no offense.

Economists and financial experts analyze how a lack or a surplus of money can affect our lives and the national treasury. More than the designs on our currency,the exchange value of this is primordial to economic and financial managers, traders and investors.

As early as January 1899, US President William McKinley was already putting together a group, which he later called the Philippine Commission. Its aim was to report on all matters regarding the Republic they were invading, in particular, the currency morass.Although Godhad told Pres. McKinley, in a dream, to “Christianize and civilize” the Filipinos, the Almighty said nothing about the money situation.

The Commission was instructed to immediately make an in-depth study of monetary changes that had to be made.At the end of Spanish colonial rule, there was a veritable Babel of currencies in the Philippines, even coins from Spain’s ex-colonies in Latin America were accepted as legal tender, along with the official Mexican silver peso. The latter had to be replaced with a dollar of the same weight, but with a new symbol to distinguish it from the US dollar sign.

A currency designer (is that what they are called?) suggested that the capital letter P be used to denote Philippine money. Peso which starts with a P means weight in Spanish, Peso is also the name of Spanish currency; platawhich means silver (pilak to us) starts with a P; Philippines which is derived from the Latin Philippinensis also starts with a P. On the practical side, all typewriters had the letter P.

American Judge Charles E. Magoon, who was then the acting chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, sent a telegram to Governor William H. Taft in Manila expressing his support for the letter “P.” He proposed that it should be in capitalized Roman font, with two parallel lines “passing through and extending slightly beyond loop at right angle to shaft or stem…” Judge Magoon’s unique design was approved and by virtue of Executive Order No. 66, the US colonial government stipulated that the Roman character P with the two lines be used, “…by all officials as the designation of the new Philippine peso to differentiate it from the $ mark for United States currency and the pesos of Spain…” That was how the P with the 2 horizontal bars became our peso sign.

As early as 1903, when the Filipino-American War was still raging, the Congress of the United States of America passed the Coinage Act “to put some logic” in the currency situation. A Filipino sculptor, Melecio Figueroa, was hired to design the first American “territorial coin.” He drew the mighty American eagle with wings outstretched on the reverse side, with the words, “United States of America” and the date, 1903. On the obverse side, he placed a young lady standing tall, holding a hammer-like instrument resting on an anvil. That first “territorial coin” was exactly the size of a Mexican silver dollar.

According to coin collectors, Mr. Figueroa must have been a doting father for he used his own daughter as a model for the mallet-wielding lady, even if she was only ten years old then. I wonder why he did not ask his wife instead of imagining how his pre-teener would look like as an adult. Mr. Figueroa also designed the one-centavo and half-centavo coins — a man, also with a hammer and anvil, but seated in front of a majestic Mayon Volcano. Eventually, the half-centavo coin was pejoratively called “kusing” and perceived to be of no value; eventually, it was withdrawn from circulation.

When I met former Central Bank Governor Amando Tetangco he told me that coins should be used and kept in circulation, not stored in piggy banks or made into fashion accessories. I have religiously followed his dictum, whenever I accumulate loose change; I arrange them on strips of duct tape according to denomination and use these to pay parking fees.