Coins and Notes - History of Philippine Money
Long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, trade among the early Filipinos and with traders from the neighboring lands like China, Java, Borneo, and Thailand was conducted through barter. The inconvenience of the barter system led to the adoption of a specific medium of exchange – the cowry shells. Cowries produced in gold, jade, quartz and wood became the most common and acceptable form of money through many centuries.
Since the Philippines is naturally rich in gold, it was used in ancient times for barter rings, personal adornment, jewelry, and the first local form of coinage called Piloncitos. These had a flat base that bore an embossed inscription of the letters “MA” or “M” similar to the Javanese script of the 11th century. It is believed that this inscription was the name by which the Philippines was known to Chinese traders during the pre-Spanish time.
The cobs or macuquinas of colonial mints were the earliest coins brought in by the galleons from Mexico and other Spanish colonies. These silver coins usually bore a cross on one side and the Spanish royal coat-of-arms on the other.
The Spanish dos mundos were circulated extensively not only in the Philippines but the world over from 1732-1772. Treasured for its beauty of design, the coin features twin crowned globes representing Spanish rule over the Old and the New World, hence the name “two worlds.” It is also known as the Mexican Pillar Dollar or the Columnarias due to the two columns flanking the globes.
Due to the shortage of fractional coins, the barrillas, were struck in the Philippines as ordered by the Royalty of Spain. The barrilla, a crude bronze or copper coin worth about one centavo, was the first coin struck in the country. The Filipino term “barya”, referring to small change, had its origin in barrilla.
Coins from other Spanish colonies also reached the Philippines and were counterstamped to legalize their circulation in the country. Gold coins with the portrait of Queen Isabela were minted in Manila. Silver pesos with the profile of young Alfonso XIII were the last coins minted in Spain. The pesos fuertes, issued by the country’s first bank, the El Banco Espanol Filipino de Isabel II, were the first paper money circulated in the country.
Asserting its independence, the Philippine Republic of 1898 under General Emilio Aguinaldo issued its own coins and paper currency backed by the country’s natural resources. At the Malolos arsenal, two types of two-centavo copper coins were struck. One peso and five peso revolutionary notes printed as Republika Filipina Papel Moneda de Un Peso and Cinco Pesos were freely circulated. These were handsigned by Pedro Paterno, Mariano Limjap and Telesforo Chuidian. With the surrender of General Aguinaldo to the Americans, the currencies were withdrawn from circulation and declared illegal currency.
With the coming of the Americans 1898, modern banking, currency and credit systems were instituted making the Philippines one of the most prosperous countries in East Asia. The Americans instituted a monetary system for the Philippine based on gold and pegged the Philippine peso to the American dollar at the ratio of 2:1. The US Congress approved the Coinage Act for the Philippines in 1903.
The coins issued under the system bore the designs of Filipino engraver and artist, Melecio Figueroa. Coins in denomination of one-half centavo to one peso were minted. The renaming of El Banco Espanol Filipino to Bank of the Philippine Islands in 1912 paved the way for the use of English from Spanish in all notes and coins issued up to 1933. Beginning May 1918, treasury certificates replaced the silver certificates series, and a one-peso note was added.
The Japanese Occupation
The outbreak of World War II caused serious disturbances in the Philippine monetary system. Two kinds of notes circulated in the country during this period. The Japanese Occupation Forces issued war notes in high denominations. These war notes had no back up reserves, thus, Filipinos dubbed it “Mickey Mouse” money. During the worst inflation in Philippine history, Filipinos would go to the market laden with bayongs of Mickey Mouse bills, since one duck egg cost 75 pesos, and a box of matches more than 100 pesos.
On the other hand, Guerrilla Notes or Resistance Currencies which are in low denominations, were issued by different provinces and, in some instances, municipalities through their local currency boards to show resistance against the Japanese occupation.
The Philippine Republic
A nation in command of its destiny is the message reflected in the evolution of Philippine money under the Philippine Republic. Having gained independence from the United States following the end of World War II, the country used as currency old treasury certificates overprinted with the word “Victory”.
With the establishment of the Central Bank of the Philippines in 1949, the first currencies issued were the English series notes printed by the Thomas de la Rue & Co., Ltd. in England and the coins minted at the US Bureau of Mint. The “Filipinization” of the Republic coins and notes began in the late 60’s and is carried through to the present. In the 70’s, the Ang Bagong Lipunan (ABL) series notes were circulated, which were printed at the Security Printing Plant starting 1978. A new wave of change swept through the Philippine coinage system with the Flora and Fauna Coin Series initially issued in 1983. The New Design Series of banknotes issued in 1985 replaced the ABL series. Ten years later, a new set of coins and notes were issued carrying the logo of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.