Thirty years ago, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) issued a new banknote—the 1000-peso bill. It would be the highest denomination in Philippine currency. The obverse view of the bill featured the portraits of World War II heroes Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, Girl Scouts of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda, and Armed Forces of the Philippines Brigadier General Vicente Lim.
As per the BSP website, the three patriots were “at the forefront of the resistance force against the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.” They were chosen to appear on the 1000 banknote to represent the different sectors of our society—Lim for the military, Escoda for women, and Santos for the Philippine government.
The faces of historic figures are placed in our money to pay tribute to and memorialize their heroic acts, and to remind us of their martyrdom, their selflessness, and their bravery. Three decades after honoring Abad Santos, Escoda and Lim with their mugs on the country’s highest denomination, the BSP has decided to replace the three heroes with the image of the Philippine Eagle.
When BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno unveiled the new design of the new 1000-peso bill Saturday, he offered a simple explanation for the exclusion of the three important personalities in the new banknote design. “The new series will focus on fauna and flora in the Philippines. Those with positive Filipino images like tamaraw, sampaguita, etc.” In other words, more changes are forthcoming.
A press release published on the BSP website states that the 1000 peso denomination was the first selected to undergo a redesign because there are more 1000 bills in circulation compared to other notes. BSP also said the denomination is the subject of the most number of counterfeiting attempts. This despite it having the highest number of security features, which supposedly should make it the most difficult banknote to forge.
BSP Statement on the 1000-Piso Polymer Banknote
In the same writeup, the BSP said countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have reported better performance of polymer banknotes compared to paper counterparts in terms of promoting public health and hygiene, enhanced security, durability and cost-effectiveness, and environmental sustainability.
These details do not, however, address the controversial questions being posed on this abrupt change—which sounds already official as the writeup also states that “the issuance of the new 1000-piso polymer banknote has already been approved by the Monetary Board and the Office of the President.”
The decision to remove the portraits of the Filipino patriots has received backlash, particularly from legislators and the descendants of the WWII heroes. Some netizens speculate this is leading up to the removal of the images of the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the late former President Corazon Aquino from the P500 bill.
In a statement, Senator Nancy Binay said “the BSP did not only erase our heroes in the P1,000 bill, it has also diminished Philippine history by focusing on plants and animals. It is as though our heroes literally lost face.” The senator said Santos, Lim and Escoda “have become the first casualties of retail revisionism and hero delegitimation,” adding that “BSP is slowly silencing memories of heroism and acts of patriotism.”
Bayan Muna Party List Rep. Carlo Zarate told Pasada sa Teleradyo Monday that while he did notice the glaring mistakes on the banknote—the wrong spelling of the eagle’s scientific name, the Latin terms that should have been in italics—the bigger blunder was removing the faces of the three heroes.
“Nakita natin kung paanong binura din sa kasaysayan natin ang kontribusyon ng ating mga bayani na ipinaglaban ang ating kalayaan at lumaban sila sa foreign aggression during the Second World War,” Zarate said. “Sina Jose Abad Santos, Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim at si Josefa Llanes Escoda na desaparecido hanggang ngayon. Pinaslang sila pero hindi naman nakita ng mga kaanak nila ang kanilang bangkay.”
Like Binay, the party list rep believes the decision of the BSP sends an alarming signal: that this is another attempt in revising history. “Nakakabahala. After ba nito, gusto rin ba nating burahin ang mukha ni Jose Rizal at Gat Andres Bonifacio?” said Zarate. Putting his words into action, the Bayan Muna Party List filed a resolution Tuesday urging the House to oppose the removal of the heroes in the country’s banknotes in lieu of flora and fauna.
Meanwhile, descendants of the P1000 bill heroes have expressed their opposition to BSP’s move.
In a Facebook post, Desiree Ann Cua Benipayo, vice president for research and education at the Philippine World War II Memorial Foundation and a descendant of Santos expressed her displeasure over BSP’s decision. “Love of country, self-sacrifice, and valor are but a few of the values that the Filipinos are reminded of every time they see the three World War II heroes on the 1k bill, something that the Philippine Eagle despite its majesty and splendor, cannot replace,” she wrote. “Most importantly, the 1k bill is the only paper bill featuring martyrs, not politicians. So it’s really sad to see them go. It’s very telling how this government treats our war heroes and martyrs.”
Benipayo has initiated a petition via Change.org for BSP to not remove our heroes from Philippine banknotes. She also offered a link to a YouTube video where she discussed in detail the contributions of the three heroes featured on the 1000 banknote.
Meanwhile, Jose Maria Bonifacio Escoda, a nephew of Josefa, told Rappler that “It’s like killing these three people again, and it’s more painful than what the Japanese did, because the ones that are redesigning the banknote are Filipinos.” The younger Escoda authored "Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila," a book which delves on the brutality of Japanese soldiers during World War II.