Knowing how difficult I was to do well in math from elementary school to college, my mother found it hard to believe that I once counseled the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Of all the government concerts I have held over the years, the most enjoyable and educational has been to serve as ex officio advisor to the BSP Numismatic Committee as Chairman of the National Historical Commission. I learned a lot from our meetings, especially the ones that ended on the next generation currency banknotes 2010. More than the history of the Philippines on banknotes, the technical presentations of various paper suppliers, d he ink, printing and security features have changed the way I view and handle banknotes today.
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I always ask the bank for new, fresh, clean notes. When available, I pick a batch with sequential numbers and tuck them neatly into my wallet, from lowest to highest denomination, with the portraits facing outward when I use them to pay. I smell the notes for the ink, I feel the engraving and raised printing with my fingertips, I examine the note for the security features, visible and invisible. I focus on the overlooked details that ensure the integrity of a banknote.
When I travel outside of Manila, I bring fresh, low face value bills to avoid change as the physical condition of frequently used bills deteriorates the further you get from Metro Manila. Like my mother, I have a separate wallet for marketing – the soiled, crumpled, even wet ones from the fish merchants. I have learned that banks are taking tired bills and coins out of circulation and replacing them with new ones. But in places where people do not use the banking system, the money continues to flow until it is truly unfit for use.
Vendors, bus drivers and jeepney drivers tell me they distinguish tickets by color or by portrait: P20 / orange / Manuel Quezon, P50 / red / Sergio Osmeña, P100 / purple / Manuel Roxas, P200 / green / Diosdado Macapagal, P500 / yellow / Ninoy and Cory Aquino, P1,000 / blue / Josefa Llanes Escoda, Jose Abad Santos, Vicente Lim. When some people complained that in the first version of the 2010 mint the P100 and P1000 looked so alike that they led to costly mistakes, I replied that the P100 only had one face on the bill. and P1000 had three.
Martial law babies like me remember a time when P1, P2, P5 and P10 were issued in the form of banknotes. These low denominations have since been replaced by coins for durability in frequent transactions, and as this column is written, the P20 note is on the verge of extinction. Last Monday, the BSP announced a limited trial of polymer plastic on the 1,000 P1 note. After visiting Singapore, Australia, Canada and Vietnam before the pandemic, I encountered these plastic notes and I can’t really like its “inauthentic” feel. That said, polymer banknotes are said to be more durable than paper, a feature that promises a reduction in global warming. Environmentalists argue that shredded paper notes in a landfill are better than plastic that is neither biodegradable nor suitable for combustion, but can’t they be recycled into plastic key chains, money clips or furniture? Then, in our pandemic sanitation madness, polymer banknotes guarantee easier cleaning than soiled paper.
Our banknote paper is a blend of 80 percent cotton and 20 percent abaca that allows it to be folded multiple times without breaking. BSP uses abaca to support farmers and even asks paper suppliers to prove that the abaca content is from accredited Filipino suppliers. In 2009, BSP postponed a trial of polymer banknotes, and I remember asking a supplier after a presentation, “Is it true that if I leave a polymer banknote on the dashboard of my car by on a hot day it will wrinkle? The supplier sheepishly replied that the heat will not change its shape, but that it might shrink to a degree too low to be noticed. Not sure if we are ready for the Polymer Notes, but it is worth a try.
Our money flows with confidence. The first banknotes promised to pay the bearer the face value of a gold or silver note, today’s banknotes simply promise to pay the bearer with more paper. If it isn’t a leap of faith, what more could you ask for in a world without cash? During the pandemic, many have shifted from exchanging physical money to credit cards, virtual wallets, GCash, online transfers and transactions. Money flows with confidence.