Datu Lapu-Lapu, native chieftain and warrior of the Island of Mactan, is said to be the first Filipino who defended our nation against Spanish colonizers. To honor the guy’s heroism, his mug was engraved on the most basic unit of Philippine currency, the one centavo coin.
But when the coin was eventually removed from circulation, Lapu-Lapu’s image and contribution eventually faded out of our collective consciousness—at least, according to an observation from our President, Rodrigo Duterte. He once told National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chairperson Dr. Rene Escalante that to people in Metro Manila, Lapu-Lapu is now more popular as a fish one cooks for escabeche, hinting on the need to elevate the late chieftain’s place in history from local hero to national hero.
This year happens to be the most opportune time for Escalante to act on the president’s suggestion. We are commemorating the Quincentennial (500th) anniversary of the Victory of Mactan in April, and no other hero is fit to be the star of the celebrations.
“Si Lapu-Lapu talaga ang sumisimbolo sa period na ito,” says Dr. Escalante, who also sits as the executive director of the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC). “Hindi naging mahirap ang pagpili ng bayani na kakatawan sa okasyong ito kasi sya ang chieftain na itinukoy ng kasaysayan na namuno ng labanang ito.”
Duterte seems to have special regard for the Mactan chieftain. A year after he assumed office in Malacañang, he declared every April 27 Lapu-Lapu Day—a special working public holiday for the country and a special non-working holiday for the people of Lapu-Lapu City. In 2018, on National Heroes Day, he lamented the fact that Lapu-lapu had become a footnote, a mere vignette of life, “when he was the first Filipino to kill a foreigner who invaded our country.”
Escalante says Lapu-Lapu also represents how the Philippines values its independence. “Hindi sya pumayag noong 1521 na tayo ay masakop ng mga Kastila, isang bagay na na kapupulutan natin ng aral hanggang sa panahong ito.”
The Quincentennial committee had three proposals to put Lapu-Lapu back in the national consciousness. First was to rename the Mactan International Airport as Lapu-Lapu International Airport. Congresswoman of the lone district of Lapu-Lapu City, Rep. Paz Radaza, filed a bill for this and it’s already with the House Committee on Transportation.
The second proposal was to put up a museum dedicated to the Mactan hero and those who fought the battle with him. Due to the pandemic, however, the funds had to be given back and reallocated for the Bayanihan Act. The NQC, meanwhile, proposed it again for approval this year.
Proposal three was to put the Cebuano chieftain back in the Philippine currency. The NQC had initially proposed for Lapu-Lapu to be on a P2,000 bill, but the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) decided the man deserves to be in a bigger denomination. The BSP also gave the NQC and NHCP the creative leeway to incorporate whatever visuals they saw fit for the 5,000 peso bill.
The portrait used of the young Lapu-Lapu, like all of our images of the Mactan hero, is an artist’s rendition. The image on the new bill was rendered by Bulacan-based artist Carlo Caacbay. The tattoos on the chieftain’s body, says Dr. Escalante, was based on the Boxer Codex, a manuscript written in 1590 containing artistic illustrations of various ethnic groups in the Philippines and other parts of Asia. The garments were also researched from pre-colonial sources.
Also on the banknote’s obverse is the Karaoka, the large outrigger warships used by native Filipinos. The other side of the bill shows the Philippine eagle, or the Manaol, which “symbolizes clear vision, freedom, and strength; and which embodies the ancient Visayan belief that all living creatures originated from an eagle,” says the BSP.
Dr. Escalante says the BSP specifically required the inclusion of Philippine flora and fauna in the design. Hence the coconut tree, “which was the food the people of Samar provided Ferdinand Magellan and his crew.” Mount Apo also makes an appearance, a suggestion of Mindanao, “where the circumnavigators finally found directional clues to their intended destination of Maluku or the Spice Island,” BSP points out.
Although legal tender, the P5,000 banknote is not for circulation and will only be available for purchase by the public. Dr. Escalante says that from what he has heard, BSP will only produce 1000 pieces of the commemorative bill.