Commentary

The eagle has landed

A 'maya' or a 'pipit' might be more easily distinguishable to me

The older bill (above) featuring the country’s heroes and the newly issued bill (topmost)

The new thousand-peso bill has stirred up anxiety and indignation on issues both serious and ridiculous.

One sore point has to do with the impractical official warnings on how to handle the bill: no writing, no staining, no multiple folding, no crumpling. No wonder the first to protest were the wet-market vendors, who, perforce, operate in circumstances that make those no-nos simply unavoidable.

In the absence of more specific guidelines, I guess the bill’s acceptability depends on the level of risk one is prepared to take when one is handed it. I haven’t touched one myself, but, a thousand pesos being a thousand pesos to a spender of modest resource like me, I mean to handle the bill with the utmost care once it finally comes to hand—and probably pass it on as quickly as possible.

Another point of concern is the drawing of the head, supposedly, of the Philippine eagle printed on the bill. I say “supposedly” because it looks, from pictures I’ve seen of it, just like any eagle of any nationality. A maya or a pipit might be more easily distinguishable to me from sparrows and finches and other foreign passerines because I grew up around them. Not to mention, they are celebrated in song and verse and other expressions of our folk culture.

In my boyhood, I shed tears over the murder of some of them, by slingshot—they were pursued as juvenile game—but I also took consolation in their prolific breeding. At breakfast most mornings we still attract some of them to our porch ledge, chirping and tweeting over offered bread crumbs.

But a Philippine eagle? Does landing it on the thousand-peso bill, especially looking like any other eagle, help at all minimize its endangerment as a vanishing breed?

The issue is the dislodging, in the eagle’s favor, of three Filipino heroes 

But, again, the issue is far more serious than the artist’s indistinct rendition of it; the issue is the dislodging, in the eagle’s favor, of three Filipino heroes from their enshrinement in our biggest-denominated bill. Two of them—Jose Abad Santos and Vicente Lim—gave their lives, by execution, defending against Japanese invaders during World War II. The third, Josefa Llanes Escoda, founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and one of the earliest Filipino suffragettes, went underground with her husband, Antonio, during the war and smuggled medicine, food, clothes, and messages to Filipinos and Americans in concentration camps.

The bill began to be issued in the last previous regime, and that should give some idea why. Rodrigo Duterte, who, before becoming president, had been mayor of Davao City for more than two decades, hardly ever passed up an opportunity to promote his native Mindanao, and the eagle happens to roost mostly there. Actually, although fewer than 300 of them remain, some are also in Luzon and the Visayas, in the lowland forests, their natural habitat.

A comparable case of that kind of self-promotion had been the issuance, under the presidency of Gloria Arroyo, of the first P200 bill, which has on it the face of her father, Diosdado Macapagal, once president himself. With a hundred-peso and a five-hundred peso denomination already in circulation, the 200 has proved scarcely needed.

But Duterte’s betrayal of self-interest tended to cross into treachery. The bill features a five-petal flower that, contrary to insistent official claims, bears no resemblance whatsoever to our national flower, the sampaguita. In fact, it is identical with an emblem that appears on bills and coins, on stamps, and on other official Hong Kong paraphernalia. It’s an orchid, of apparently some significance.

At any rate, it is one of the two chief emblems on Hong Kong’s flag; the other is the ideological sea of red on which the flower floats, obviously intended to leave no doubt who now lords it over Hong Kong—the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, that’s who. The flag serves as a constant reminder of that, lest any delusions of self-rule continue to be inspired among Hong Kong citizens after the British left, in 1997.

Actually, the British left for a routine transactional reason: Their 99-year lease had ended and, therefore, they had to hand the territory back to its owner. But it is the Chinese emblems that have provoked patriotic protests, and that’s because of Duterte’s obsequiousness toward the Chinese, an attitude most flagrantly displayed when he ceded to them control over our strategic and resource-rich western sea.

With the Hong Kong flower and our prized eagle main-featured together on our own legal tender, the symbolism of a sell-out would seem complete.

About author

Articles

One of the country's foremost journalists, who now writes an Opinion column for Rappler, he continues to play tennis—and competes in singles and doubles, at times beating players many years his junior.

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