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How I “Made Money”
for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

My recollections of my personal story behind
the redesigning of the Philippine bank notes and coins

by Romeo Castillo MananQuil
as told to Isa I. Palanca
(published in Celebrate magazine, Fall 2008, Toronto, Canada)

In 1982, while I was teaching at the UP College of Fine Arts, I received a phone call that led to a most important assignment in my life as an artist. I was asked to be a part of the team redesigning bank notes and coins for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, after an official saw a pencil portrait sketch I have done of Don Andres Soriano in a San Miguel Corporation. It was not difficult at all to say yes to the task. I was eager to be part of the numismatic history of my country and have my art on any one of the new notes or coins

The design work was divided among the artists. With the new 500-peso bill, I was asked to do a portrait of then President Ferdinand Marcos. I decided to render a casual and relaxed portrait of Marcos on one side of the bill, while the other would feature an illustration of the Batasang Pambansa. However, after we had finished the first new design, the team that had originally been given the task was dissolved and I found myself having to form a new team. Though this momentarily stalled the project, it also gave mme the opportunity to handpick 2 artists who with me would make history. The new team was made up of myself, Angel Cacnio, a fellow magazine illustrator and painter and Rafael Asuncion, my former creative director at J. Walter Thompson Co. where I trained as a student in advertising.

We divided the assignment, sharing the design work for all the new coins and bills. My 500-peso Marcos bill was to be joined by my redesign of the 5-peso and 1000-peso bills, while Cacnio took the lead on the 20 and 100-peso bills as Asuncion worked on the 10 and 50-peso bills. Each artist submitted designs based on the guidelines provided to us by the BSP Numismatic Committee, who then approved which were to be used on the coins. My rendering of Andres Bonifacio and of a coconut tree were to appear on the 2-peso decagonal coin, while the 10-centavo coin would feature my renderings of the Pygmy Goby and Francisco Baltasar. My Tamaraw shared tne 1-peso coin with Asuncion’s Jose Rizal while my Melchora Aquino was featured opposite Cacnio’s Waling-waling on the 5-centavo coin. Cacnio shared the design on the 50-centavo with Asuncion, his Marcelo del Pilar featured with Asuncion’s Philippine Eagle and on the 25-centavo, Cacnio’s Juan Luna joined Asuncion’s Philippine Butterfly. They also split the design on the 1-centavo coin; Cacnio contributing Lapu-lapu and Asuncion the Sea Shell on the reverse side. The 2-peso decagonal was launced in October 1983 and soon after the complete Flora and Fauna coin series was in earnest circulation.

Besides the design of the 500-peso bill, I also had the task of creating the designs for the 5-peso and 1000-peso bills. The prospect of a 1000-peso bill was certainly exciting for the Bangko Sentral as this was the premiere release of this denomination. Those who remember the 5-peso bill may still be familiar with the illustration of the occasion of the June 12, 1898 declaration of Philippine Independence. The republic’s first president – Gen. Emilio Agiunaldo waved the new flag of the Philippines from the balcony of his residence in Kawit, Cavite. While no known photograph of the occasion exists, the illustration I rendered for the bank note is perhaps the most familiar depiction of that most historic event. I relied heavily on history books, unpublished manuscripts, photographs of the military uniforms and fashions of the era to reconstruct the event and produce that scene. Although the 5-peso Aguinaldo bill has since been phased out and replaced by a coin, the illustration was reproduced for a commemorative 100,000-peso bank note to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the declaration of independence in 1898. That bill has the distincton of holding the Guinness world record for largest paper bill for a time.

The 500-peso Marcos bill was slated for production in late 1985. However, when a snap election was scheduled. The circulation of the newly printed bills was put on hold in deference to the law against electioneering as Marcos, whose image appeared on the new bank note was the incumbent running against Corazon Aquino. My 500-peso Marcos bill was never circulated and with the events that proceeded: the snap elections, the disputed victory of Marcos, the success of People’s Power in February 1986 and the instatement of Aquino as President, it perhaps seemed fitting that any vestiges of the overthrown government were thrown off. President Corazon Aquino soon ordered the redesign of the bill to honour her husband, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino whose 1983 slaying became the catalyst for change and the new democracy’s rallying cry for the overthrow of Marcos. Though I was once again tasked with the redesign of the bill, my family’s move to Canda prevented me from taking on the assignment.

When I was asked to redesign the 1980’s series of Philippine bank notes and coins, I did not receive lucrative renumeration for the assignment. The value of the assignment lay more in the knowledge that my art would be accessible to virtually everyone in my home country who would use its currency. I feel honoured and privileged that Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike have seen my art and have been touched by my creative vision each time they look at one of my designs, an honour not many artists can claim. This is the real benefit, priceless and irreplaceable by no amount of money I will ever make in my lifetime.