FIRING LINE: Is the Philippine Eagle a political animal?

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

The faces of historical figures appearing on banknotes adhere to a universal tradition as old as money itself. Erasing the image of any such person honored by a nation in its banknote would naturally draw controversy – not for mere sentimentality but for irreverence.

In most Filipino homes, no valuable painting deserves the spot on the wall reserved for papa and mama’s wedding portrait. It may not be a perfect analogy for the appreciation of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Still, those who value the images of World War II martyrs Jose Abad Santos, Vicente Lim, Josefa Llanes Escoda on the face of the P1,000 bill know what I mean.

Again, this issue is not about being sentimental but about being irreverent to the point that this generation may be desensitized and unattached to the value of our history. Our wartime heroes are not just being honored for patriotism. By their sacrifice, we have people who survived the war – the ones who bore our parents and grandparents.

Simply put, Santos, Lim, and Escoda died for the cause that every single one of us now may live in a free and independent society or, actually, even live at all. Lucky for us, their martyrdom did not come at the expense of killing their bloodline. And here are a few nuggets of historical wisdom and perspective we could draw from them about having the Philippine Eagle replace their forebears in the legal tender:

Lim’s great-grandson, Vicente Lim IV, posted: “I have nothing against our national bird and national flower. I am all for promoting awareness for such national treasures. However, placing these on the ₱1,000 bill comes at the cost of erasing one of the last few ubiquitous ways through which we remember and honor our storied past… I cannot deny that I feel a bit disappointed that the personalities that the BSP chose to replace first were the only set of martyrs that are currently on our paper bills.”

Escoda’s nephew Jose Maria Bonifacio Escoda said: “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.” He also begged the BSP to answer: “Was this pressure from the Japanese? They have been trying to remove that and erase their atrocities here.”

Abad Santos’s great-grandniece, Desiree Ann Cua Benipayo, posted: “Why not put the Philippine eagle at the back of the bill? This way, you teach our citizens patriotism and love for the environment.” And on BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno’s claim that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines approved the new design, she said: “I refuse to believe this as I would think the commission will be the first to react negatively to this abomination.”

And it turns out she was right! Diokno later acknowledged that the Monetary Board and Malacanang only signed off the redesign. But why lie through his teeth the first time? Rather too unusual, isn’t it? As a journalist, I’m trained to think that when something odd or unusual happens in the news, the question to be asked is, “Who benefits from it?”

We know the redesigned bill comes out in April 2022, a month before the May 2022 elections. We know the Philippine Eagle is an image associated with Davao City, it being the host of the Philippine Eagle Center and hometown of the Dutertes. Is it so far-fetched an idea that this is all just a political campaign to put the mark of the Duterte political family in the hand of every voting Filipino for subconscious messaging? Just asking.

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