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A Little Trivia About Two Cultures – Adapted vs Formed: Aguinaldo and the Error on the New Philippine ₱20 Bill

The obverse of the new ₱20 bill featuring Manuel L. Quezon and the Malacañang Palace. (source:Wikipedia)

The reverse of the new ₱20 bill featuring the musang and Banaue Rice Terraces with the erroneous attribute. (source:Wikipedia)

Filipino-Style Christmas

December 25 may have passed already, but Christmas in the Philippines doesn’t end until the Festival of the Three Kings, formally known in the Christian World as Epiphany. The period between the start of Misa de Gallo (Simbang Gabi) and the Day of Epiphany (Pista ng Tatlong Hari) is traditionally established as the days allowed for aguinaldo, an old tradition adapted by countries that were colonized and cultured by Spain. Aguinaldo is a holiday practice in which people sing Christmas carols to homes and the homeowners will give them gifts or money. Simply put, it’s like a musical trick-or-treat, sans the costume. (As a side note, it wasn’t named after the usual denomination given to aguinaldo-ers——₱5 bill and later coin that portrays Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo).

This holiday practice, I consider as the Philippines’ more elaborate and thoughtful version of USA’s card sending, is still thriving in the modern day Philippines, albeit some minor changes: giving gifts is almost rare, for money is more practical and useful; during Christmas Day, when amount of money given is expectedly higher, children pay a visit to their godparents and a simple mano is rewarded with money and/or gifts; also during Christmas Day until Epiphany, particularly in Quezon Province, other children, some with their parents, are welcomed to homes, too, but they’re no longer required to sing Christmas songs to earn their aguinaldo——a simple greeting of “Maligayang Pasko Po” (Merry Christmas) will suffice.


Christmas means new money

This culture of giving is one that maintains goodness in Filipinos. Money is never considered a favor, and the spirit of giving is willed not enforced.
Christmas period in the Philippines is a busy time for banks, when Filipinos afford themselves the luxuries and excesses the holiday brings. Aside from cash withdrawals, people generally go to banks to replace their old money for newly-printed ones; it is common courtesy to give new money for aguinaldo. This is practical because old and deteriorating money are easily collected, and since the year 2010 saw the release of the new series of Philippine Peso bills, its immediate widespread use is foreseeable.

I gave the new series of Peso bill for aguinaldo on Christmas Day. For the people who were given it, the new money was interesting as it is foreign-looking. I, on the other hand, have seen it before on information posters set up by the Central Bank of the Philippines in places of commerce; however, this was the first time I got to hold and really inspect it. I applaud the design because unlike the old series it preceded, it doesn’t look cheap. I also took notice that the portraits were changed so the people in it now look dignified and heroic, not sad and bored. And as a banner of national pride, the reverse of the new series features historical locations, cultural milestones, national symbols and other things unique to the Philippines. One specific bill caught my attention not because it is exceptionally pretty, but because it is erroneous.


So Quezon got a facelift (and other things that challenge familiarity)

The new ₱20 Bill, like the old one before it, features Manuel L. Quezon (the namesake of my province) on the obverse; but the new series included the Malacañang Palace, which used to be on the reverse, beside his portrait. The new reverse prominently features the animal musang (palm civet) and a picturesque landscape of the Banaue Rice Terraces. I’m not as familiar with musang as I do with maya bird and tamaraw, two animals proclaimed as national symbols; it wasn’t romantically discussed when I was still in school, nor it received special mention like other animals exclusive to few locations did, i.e. the tarsier; since I already dismissed the musang’s relevance, I got confused to find it being honored to represent Philippine money (but maybe times are changing now so that noble symbols are being discussed with reverence; I’ll ask an elementary student for confirmation). But I digress. The new ₱20 Bill, as mentioned, features also the Banaue Rice Terraces——claimed to be the 8th Wonder of the Natural World; nevertheless its natural beauty and grandeur is already dwindling due to modernity. The more troubling claim attached to Banaue Rice Terraces, and made official by the new ₱20, are the words “UNESCO World Heritage Site”.


Error notwithstanding, you won’t find the new money in the bargain bin (but you’ll find it reflects other things)

The designers and researchers behind the new ₱20 must have confused the famous Banaue Rice Terraces with the lesser known ones that were deem real heritage sites. According to the official inscription of UNESCO that listed the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras:

The five inscribed clusters are; (i) the Nagacadan terrace cluster in the municipality of Kiangan, a rice terrace cluster manifested in two distinct ascending rows of terraces bisected by a river; (ii) the Hungduan terrace cluster that uniquely emerges into a spider web; (iii) the central Mayoyao terrace cluster which is characterized by terraces interspersed with traditional farmers’ bale (houses) and alang (granaries); (iv) the Bangaan terrace cluster in the municipality of Banaue that backdrops a typical Ifugao traditional village; and (v) the Batad terrace cluster of the municipality of Banaue that is nestled in amphitheatre-like semi-circular terraces with a village at its base.

(Note: Batad and Bangaan are part of the Municipality of Banaue but do not belong to the Banaue Rice Terraces located near the Banaue town proper. All these terraces are collectively recognized as a National Cultural Treasure under the identifying name “Ifugao Rice Terraces” after the Ifugao Province where these are vastly located. [emphasis mine])


As long as it’s famous

Honest mistake, perhaps? But how careless can one be, to disregard proper attribution (and background research) to a Filipino landmark, when dealing with the country’s official currency——which in a way acts as a montage that provides a glimpse of the Philippine culture. Now every Filipino will learn that Banaue Rice Terraces is a UNESCO World Heritage, despite what it really is and isn’t. They will consider it as fact because the very source of information is an entity of national authority and not readily questionable. They will continue to believe it——even though the damage may get fixed, it will be fixed stealthily——because anything that may tarnish national pride remain unspoken.


The culture of the misinformed, the gullible, the confused

It is just one example of how we Filipinos have the trouble of properly attaching factual identities between the rightful ones and the the generally overrated. We give something (or someone) too much credit simply because it received promotion. We calculate a thing’s (or a person’s) significance based on what authority told us. Other times, a thing is spinned so much to the point of exaggeration so the actual meaning is overshadowed, and we buy it as the truth. Like how we didn’t acknowledge the yellow maya bird unique to Cebu as the real national animal——even after it got demoted to non-national status, we continued to believe that the famous and globally-widespread brown maya as the once harbinger that symbolizes our race (this is a fact that wasn’t publicized and I only discovered while researching for this post); like how we only became independent from Spain on June 12, 1898 because they sold us to USA——who turned country into US territory, so they didn’t treat us cruelly and in fact prepared us to be an independent nation—— hence the day we truly and strictly became independent of foreign power and influence was when the Americans left and recognized our independence on July 4, 1946; like how despite the evidence to the contrary, we merit Kris Aquino as a good actress based simply on how much her new horror flick is selling, but the one thing that makes her truly a star is how good she talks about her life, which is admittedly interesting, and her personality that can’t be eclipsed by her famous family but will this country of non-readers be fascinated when she’s not on TV?; like how we wet our pants for singing-and-dancing Koreans whose language we can’t understand, and then we dismiss talented Filipinos who can do the same but whose words and feelings and inspiration are raw and intelligible and purely pinoy, for their simple fault of not being chinito.

My point is this: how we deliberately mistake one thing for another, and how we form our beliefs from popular preference, is dangerously becoming identifiable to our Pinoy culture. It is a daily occurrence that we can’t help but get exposed to because: a)We’re being fed with information generated by the people with authority; b)The loudest voice controls the information; and c)We refuse to go over or beyond the actual information being fed to us that we no longer know any different. This doesn’t apply to every Filipino, however, but as a collective nation, it is the default description. One day (and honest to God I hope it won’t come) we will become the Republic of the Gullibles, irrespective of the valiant Filipinos who pioneered, innovated, and baptised the unique qualities of our culture. The manner to which the general public perceive things goes like this: the famous outweighs the factual (if everyone thinks it, then it is); what makes us proud is almost always linked to what makes us wrong (like why Independence Day should really be July 4); and finally, applying this last part to the topic of the new money——aesthetic ignores substance.


Let’s go back to aguinaldo

Going back to the topic of money, maybe the new ₱20 with its erroneous claim stops being a credible display of the culture we prized and exists just as what a piece of special paper with appointed amount should: a reflection of low value. But the ₱20 is not the only one with errors, as the other denominations apparently also have. Metaphorically speaking, if every Peso bill represents different cultures formed out of wrong habits, is that an indication how cheap our culture is getting——priced differently to cater to people who can afford it? The portraits of respected Filipinos, purely for decorations, only make those negative cultures official. As a manifestation of the future of the Philippines, Central Bank of the Philippines maybe did us a favor and gave us its ₱20 bucks worth.

Going back a little further to the topic of aguinaldo, I mentioned that it is one of the cultures that keeps, and may I add, paints a good picture of Filipinos. Ironically, it isn’t something that we originally formed, but it was developed, nonetheless, that it has become our own. I don’t want to end this article in a bad note, so in the spirit of aguinaldo, I ask only this: think!


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