Friday, January 1, 2010

The Devaluation of a Hero & Promotion of a Counter-Hero: Where's Bonifacio in the 5 Peso Coin?

by Jesusa Bernardo 

FROM being the face of the P5 coin to sharing half the theme of the P10 bill, the Philippine's other national hero, Andres Bonifacio y de Castro, has suffered a devaluation over the last few decades. Corollary to the Supremo's apparent (and unofficial) demotion is the promotion of his revolutionary nemesis, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. From having absolutely no presence in neither bills nor coins, the country's supposed First President responsible for the Proclamation of Philippine Independence and, as well, the killings of at least two nationalist heroes, displaced Bonifacio from the No.2 spot in Philippine money.

Supremo Andres Bonifacio

Gat Andres Bonifacio was the founder of the Kataastaasan Kagalang-galang na Katipunan nang manga Anak nang Bayan (KKK), a secret revolutionary society aimed at liberating the Philippines from the yoke of Spanish colonial rule. Open to prospective members from both the peasantry and middle class, it made use of Masonic rituals to give the society an atmosphere of sacred mystery.

First Philippine President?

The Supremo has also been referred to in history as the Philippine's First (Revolutionary) President.  While certain historians have tried to downplay or dispute his formation and leadership of the earliest national government by and of the Filipinos, there have been clear evidence that Andres Bonifacio was Filipinos' truly first President.

After the Katipuneros launched the uprising against the Spaniards,  hero set out to transform the secret national organization into an open and de facto revolutionary government. The founder of the Katipunan became the president and formed a cabinet composed of men he trusted, including Emilio Jacinto, Secretary of State; Teodoro Plata, War; Aguado del Rosario, Interior; Briccio Pantas, Justice; and Enrique Pacheco, as Secretary of Finance.

Surviving official letterhead communications dated 1897 point to Bonifacio's various designations that include being the "Supreme President, Government of the Revolution." Perhaps the most telling proofs come from non-partisan sources of his period.

Nineteenth century Spanish historian Jose M. del Castillo, in his 1897 work "El Katipunan" or "El Filibusterismo en Filipinas," describes the first national elections in the Philippines from which Bonifacio emerged as the President, and Plata, Jacinto, del Rosario, Pantas and Pacheco as cabinet officials. This is corroborated by the February 8, 1897 issue of the international publication "La Ilustracion Espanola y Americana" in its article about the Philippine revolution and which featured an engraved portrait of "Andres Bonifacio, Titulado 'Presidente' de la Republica Tagala," clad in a dark suit and white tie.

Noble Courage

At any rate, that Bonifacio is the "Father of Philippine Revolution" is undisputed, and his courage legendary. During World War II, his name even was even used by American propagandists to inspire anti-Japanese resistance. His persona was even adopted as a strong theme in the Hollywood World War II movie, "Back to Bataan," which starred John Wayne and Anthony Quinn.

History of Philippine Notes and Coins

The Philippine peso dates back to the Spanish colonial period with the royal decree confirming the creation of the first public bank, Banco Espanol-Filipino de Isabel II (later the Bank of the Philippine Islands) and giving the same the authority to print paper money. The first Philippine bank notes, collectively termed PF or peso fuertes or "strong pesos," were issued on May 1, 1852.

In the next few decades, PF paper money and, later, coins gradually replaced Mexican coins then in circulation. The original PF bank notes carried the portrait of Spain's Queen Isabella II, after whom the bank was named.

During the short-lived First Philippine (Revolutionary) Republic, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo issued new currency called Republic Filipina Moneda de un Peso as a way of asserting the country's independence. Printed were five-peso and one-peso bank notes and three variations of 2-centavo coins backed by the natural resources of the country.

Under the American Occupation, Bank of the Philippine Islands or BPI retained the right to issue bills and coins although no longer on a non-exclusive basis. Pegged to the gold exchange standard, the peso became known as "Philippine Currency" or "Peso Conant."

In World War II, the Japanese colonizers introduced currency known as "Southern Development Bank Notes" for Philippine use. Banks and local governments also issued their own crudely-made "guerrilla pesos" designed for redemption with silver pesos after the War. The Japanese-sponsored government of President Jose P. Laurel, however, prohibited the issuance and possession of guerilla currency.

In 1944, notes printed with "Victory" on the reverse side were printed at the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing. They were designed to be used upon the expected return of US Gen. MacArthur.

Central Bank of the Philippines

As the Allied Forces triumphed in World War II, the Philippines was granted independence from American colonial rule come 1946. On January 3, 1949, the Central Bank of the Philippines or Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) was created, empowering it with the exclusive authority and power to issue currency.

In 1949, the Central Bank first issued Victory notes, which were overprints of the pre-WW II-liberation notes. Its first official banknotes, though, were issued two years later and called the English series. Filipinization began with the Pilipino Series. Subsequent series replaced the previous: Ang Bagong Lipunan series (ABL); New Design; Flora and Fauna series; New Design series; BSP series.

English series - 1951; coins 1959
Pilipino series - 1967; coins 1967
Ang Bagong Lipunan series - 1973; coins 1975 (Flora & Fauna coins 1983)
New Design series - 1985; Flora & Fauna coins improved version 1992
BSP series - 1998

Andres Bonifacio Devaluation

Philippine banknotes and coins wholly featuring national figures, symbols, sites, and flora and fauna began with the creation of the Central Bank. With regards heroes and heroines, the rule, albeit unwritten, has mostly been that the historic figures appear on the front or obverse side in descending order of importance beginning with the lowest peso denomination. The rationale is that the greater the hero/heroine, the more his/her face should be /propagated in denominations with greater circulation, which are, of course, the lower-valued notes and coins.

This apparent trend began with the Pilipino series where Jose Rizal has for a long time been the face of the P1 bill, and continues up to the present (P1 coin). Thus, Rizal, the acknowledged official national hero, is currently on the obverse of the P1 coin while the largest banknote, the P1,000 bill, carries patriots Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, Gen. Vicente Lim and Josefa Llanes Escoda.

Bonifacio in Philippine Money

A rather recent and glaring deviation from this trend has victimized no less than Gat Andres Bonifacio, Also referred to as the "Great Plebeian," he happens to the Philippine's "other" national hero. According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts:

Aside from Rizal, the only other hero given an implied recognition as a national hero is Andres Bonifacio whose day of birth on November 30 [Bonifacio Day] has been made a national holiday.

P10 design, BSP series

In the latest P10 bill design, the BSP series (1995), Bonifacio was lumped with Apolinario Mabini. The leftward profile of Mabini is at the far right adjacent to the serial number of the face of the bill while that of Bonifacio is positioned right next to him.

At the back are found a close-up view of the Barasoain Church and a smaller image of the "Blood Compact of Katipuneros" with a dividing spherical broad (brush) stroke in between. The design of the bank note's obverse side is reflected in the cupro-nickel P10 coin with Bonifacio at the forefront and Mabini behind him.

The BSP series issued in 1995 represented a devaluation for Bonifacio because the Supremo was the face of the Philippine five-peso bill for nearly two decades (1967-1985) under the Pilipino and Ang Bagong Lipunan series.  He was consistently next in line to Rizal, featured in P1 bill (Pilipino series) and P2 bill (ABL series).

Even under the New Design series when the P2 and P1 paper money were demonetized, Bonifacio retained his importance: his image continued to be minted on the obverse of the P2 coin (under the improved Flora & Fauna round P2 coin design) while Rizal continued to be on the P1 coin.

 Mabini, also referred to as the "Sublime Paralytic," has consistently been on the P10 bill (and later, coin) beginning with the Pilipino series (1967). He is often considered as the "Brains of the Revolution," possibly for his role as the right-hand man of Aguinaldo and his role in effecting the revolutionary government. While Mabini is undoubtedly an illustrious hero and patriot, he doesn't have the national hero status of Bonifacio.

Bonifacio and Mabini Themes as Separate Historical Animals

Beyond representing a devaluation in terms of money-related "circulation"--so to speak--of the recognition of Bonifacio's heroism, the current BSP design of the P10 banknote/coin is historically incongruent. The themes of Bonifacio and Mabini are unmistakably separate periods of the Philippine Revolution for independence against colonial rule. The clear dividing line is the execution of Bonifacio upon Aguinaldo's order, and highlighted no less by the Philippine-American War which came much later.

Before the BSP series banknotes were first printed in 1998, only Mabini (front) and Barasoain church (back) occupied the P10 bill. The use of the Sublime Paralytic and the Barasoain Church, being one of the prime movers and the proclamation site, respectively, of the "Malolos Republic" (First Philippine Republic), has been a consistent design of the P10 bill under the Pilipino series, Ang Bagong Lipunan series, and New Design series (in the English series, the theme formed the design of the P1 bill).

It is not to be denied that Bonifacio and Mabini knew each other. Gregoria De Jesus, Bonifacio's widow, even recounted a talk between her late husband and Aguinaldo about Mabini. However, they are not officially associated as Mabini was not a part of Bonifacio's set of Katipunan officers; the "Sublime Paralytic" only became part of the power circle when he was summoned by Aguinaldo, who had by then already eliminated Bonifacio and taken over the leadership of the revolution.

It can be argued, of course, that Katipuneros' blood compact and, thus, the revolutionary movement, served as the foundation of the Malolos Congress and the First Philippine Republic. However, such an argument begs the unpalatable question: How did Mabini react and, later, morally justify Aguinaldo's coup against, and elimination of, Bonifacio?

Bonifacio & Jacinto?

If there is a hero that perhaps historically deserves to be joined with Bonifacio, it is Emilio Jacinto, the "Brains of Katipunan." Jacinto was Bonifacio's confidante and author of Katipunan's moral code, the Kartilya. His principled loyalty to Bonifacio extended even after the Supremo was deposed and murdered: he continued to fight the Spanish soldiers while refusing to join Aguinaldo's forces until his death in April 1899.

This theme actually had a precedent--under the English series design of the Philippine peso when Bonifacio and Jacinto were actually together on the face of the P50 (Mabini was in the P1 and Rizal on the P2). Jacinto is undoubtedly a patriotic hero with exemplary revolutionary morality, as reflected in the Kartilya. Bonifacio, the Philippines' other national hero, however, deserves no less a solo place in a bank note or coin right next to Rizal.

Aguinaldo's Symbolism & Appearance in Philippine Money

Gen. Aguinaldo only began his appearance in Philippine currency in the P5 bill under the New Design series during the mid-1980s. His solo profile was on the face of the banknote, while the "Declaration of Independence" in Kawit, Cavite was on the reverse side. The coin equivalent of this denomination also carried his profile. In the current BSP series, the P5 bill was demonetized but the coin continues to bear his profile.

It is perhaps understandable that the theme of Aguinaldo had to finally, if belatedly, make its appearance in Philippine money as it represents the country's assertion of independence from Spain. The image of the proclamation of Independence at Kawit represents a nullification of America's protracted claim that there was no Philippine-American War.

For a long time, the US justified its imperialistic turn-of-the-19th-century annexation of the Southeast Asian archipelago by claiming that the Philippines was no nation and was still a Spanish colony when it was 'ceded 'via the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Aguinaldo's presence in Philippine money can thus well symbolize the post-Bonifacio phase of the Revolution against Spain and the country's assertion of independence and first attempt at self-governance as a liberated nation.

Aguinaldo & Mabini Instead

If Mabini needs to be joined by another figure, it should be no other than the President he served, Gen. Aguinaldo. This is because their roles in Philippines history are actually inseparable.

Aguinaldo can well join Mabini in the face of the P10 bill, along with the images of Kawit's Independence Day side by side with Barasoain Church on the back side should give a faithful recounting of the events of 1898 and early 1899. Compared to today's anomalous P10 Bonifacio-and-Mabini design, such a theme of the continuum of the Declaration of Philippine Independence, and the subsequent Proclamation of the First Philippine Congress/Republic, which took place in Barasoain Church, would be much more historically real.

Bonifacio's Devaluation Came with Aguinaldo's Promotion?

It is worth noting that the apparent devaluation of Bonifacio in Philippine currency took place after the "EDSA I Revolution" and the ouster of Marcos. With all Apo Ferdie's human rights violation, and even having an Aguinaldo descendant as his Prime Minister (Cesar Virata), Bonifacio's place in Philippine money was well secure.

Aguinaldo began appearing in Philippine money at the twilight of Marcos' administration.  However, Marcos ensured Bonifacio's promotion closer to Rizal by having the Supremo assume face of the decagonal P2 coin with the 1983 release of the Flora and Fauna coins (apparently under the ABL series).

The point is: does Aguinaldo's promotion need to come at the expense of Bonifacio's demotion? From being the face of the P5 bill and later, the P2 coin, Bonifacio was relegated to splitting the P10 bill/coin with Mabini.

Aguinaldo and his Kawit theme were already accommodated in the P5 even with the seeming effect of relegating Mabini's position in the pantheon of Filipino heroes and patriots. Why should Bonifacio, a national hero, be effectively relegated by Aguinaldo's historical rehabilitation via Philippine money?

Aguinaldo's Rehabilitation

It should be emphasized that Aguinaldo was never on any Philippine money until the New Design series. Despite the fact that he took over the leadership of the Revolution after having Bonifacio killed, bringing  it to near success against Spanish forces, he was not deemed worthy enough to grace any bill or coin for over 80 years following the Malolos Republic or 20 years after his death (February 1964). His mid-1980s appearance in Philippine money seemed to signal the start of the rehabilitation of his stained name in Philippine history.

At least four reasons explain Aguinaldo's shady or suspect role in Philippine history.

1.    Top of the list is Aguinaldo's execution order on Bonifacio, not infrequently interpreted as murder within a planned coup.

    Bonifacio seems to have been tricked by the Magdiwang chapter of Cavite's KKK into joining the Tejeros Convention where he was elected Interior Secretary and Aguinaldo, the President.The Katipunan leader was sport enough to accept his lesser position but was enraged (or deliberately made enraged?) when Caviteno Daniel Tirona humiliated him by questioning  his qualifications and even suggesting some lawyer was better fit to handle the position he won. A shooting incident was avoided and Bonifacio left. When he and his brother were taking breakfast while on their way back, they were captured and later executed by Aguinaldo's men on May 10, 1897 in a mountain in Maragondon, Cavite.

2.    Just three months since the start of the Phil-Am War, Aguinaldo had another valiant revolutionary killed, Gen. Antonio Luna.

    The assassination of this very effective military strategist on June 1899 appears to confirm the theory that Aguinaldo had Bonifacio eliminated for no other reason than for him and his elitist group to take over the leadership of the Katipunan. According to Juan Nakpil:
     (D)riven by his patriotic fervor, he (General Antonio Luna) did not conceal his desire to be the head of the cabinet with the portfolio of war to prevent the autonomists or pacifists from controlling the government of the republic....  They slandered him of wishing to wrest the presidency from Emilio Aguinaldo, and for that purpose they invited him to enter the rattrap of Kabanatuan to enable the very ones whom he had disarmed for cowardice in different war actions to deal him the deathblow...  When General A. Luna was dastardly assassinated on the stairs of the Convent of Kabanatuan and already fallen on the ground, the mother of Emilio Aguinaldo looked out the window and asked: "Ano, humihinga pa ba?" (Is he still breathing?)

3.    Aguinaldo refused to fight his captors to death.

    On March 23, 1901, American soldiers posing as prisoners of the traitorous Macabebe scouts were led to the whereabouts of the President then on the run. Instead of choosing heroic death over capture as a way of sustaining the morale of his soldiers still valiantly fighting the new colonizing forces, Aguinaldo became a cooperative US Prisoner of War. Unsurprisingly, his capture led to a succession of surrender of a number of Filipino guerilla leaders. They include the man responsible for the death of US Gen. Henry Lawton, Gen. Licerio Geronimo (surrendered barely a week right after Aguinaldo's capture).

4.    Only nine days after American colonizers got him, Aguinaldo swore fealty to US flag.

    His easy capitulation to the American imperialists was supposedly made under plea that his life be spared. His allegiance to Uncle Sam also caused the Anti-Imperialist League to drop him as their 'poster boy' or rallying symbol for their opposition to the annexation of the Philippines. Aguinaldo's swift betrayal of the First Philippine Republic sharply contrasted with Mabini's adamant, repeated refusal to swear allegiance to America, earning the latter the punishment of exiled in captivity in Guam.

Aguinaldo's Possible Regret

In fairness to Gen. Aguinaldo, his controversial support of the Japanese forces during World War II has been interpreted by some as an expression of regret or dissatisfaction over America's annexation of the Philippines (which he, of course, did not fight to the end). Moreover, while on his deathbed, he supposedly expressed regret, if not apology, for what he did to Bonifacio. His dying confession or apology is not officially accepted or hardly mentioned but this piece of information was broached no less by certain history professors from the University of the Philippines.

The General's Less than a Hero

In promoting Aguinaldo via the combined familiarity and symbolism of Philippine money, real or more principled heroes like Bonifacio (and Mabini) have suffered undue demotion before the obtaining national consciousness. While Aguinaldo surely deserves some credit for being a revolutionary leader, his greed-for-power-driven murderous acts, colonial vacillation, and even gullibility that allowed the swift entry of American colonial forces in the islands, definitely makes him no bigger than the Supremo.

Fact is, Aguinaldo is barely considered a hero even today when the reality of the Kawit Independence and the Malolos Republic are a staple in Philippine history textbooks. In his later years, he seemed to have regretted his controversial revolutionary acts, which should merit for him kind understanding from students of history. However, the murders he authorized, if not actually planned, and his swift oath of fealty to the American flag following his capture have forever etched for him a place lower than that of genuine Filipino heroes.

Return Bonifacio to the (revived) P2, or P5 coin

It is historically and logically disconcerting to have the Bonifacio and Mabini themes together in one bill or coin. The incorporation of the disparate themes in the P10 bill/coin must have elicited bewilderment among the more astute students of history, which this author thinks she is one of. When the said banknote first appeared, I was in disbelief, yearning to ask what Mabini could have thought of the execution of Bonifacio in an apparent Aguinaldo coup d e tat mode.

It is even more disconcerting to promote Aguinaldo at the expense of national hero Bonifacio. To honor Aguinaldo more than the Supremo, or even over Mabini (or arguably, even over Jacinto and Gen. Luna) in the field of Philippine currency is to adulate vacillation/capitulation to foreign powers, murder and power grab (no wonder Gloria Arroyo's EDSA II coup d e tat over Joseph Estrada was tolerated?).

If the intention was not to demote Bonifacio while promoting Aguinaldo before the public consciousness, shouldn't the BSP have simply maintained the P2 coin? How difficult or problematic would having a P2 coin be anyhow, given that the almost valueless c5 and c10 coins, along with the P1 Rizal coin, have been kept? Question is, was the P2 demonetized so as to find an excuse to demote the Great Plebian, patriotic Father of the Philippine Revolution, in the consciousness of present-day Filipinos?

It would be a lame excuse for the BSP to claim that Bonifacio's devaluation into sharing the face of the P10 bill/coin was unintended and merely a result of the demonetization of the New Design P2 coins. Why demonetize the denomination in the first place (all previous series were demonetized in 1998)? If the government can continue to mint practically value-less (5 and (10 centavos coins that public utility drivers prefer not to accept, why not the P2 coins with the Supremo's face?

New Series - Hoping for Bonifacio's Restoration

There is no question that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has "the sole power and authority to issue currency, within the territory of the Philippines." However, under what direction or authority are the BSP officials rehabilitating Aguinaldo's image too much and/or demoting Bonifacio's place in history and national consciousness via circulating Philippine money?

The BSP is said to be preparing a new design series for release this year. The upcoming design is said to constitute a major overhaul of the country's banknotes and coins. Will Bonifacio be restored to his proper place in Philippine currency? I say let the public be consulted in the design process. Vox populi, vox Dei.


References & Images at: SOBRIETY for the PHILIPPINES