POSTSCRIPT / July 14, 2022 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Try P1,000 polymer bills in wet markets

The new 1,000-peso polymer banknotes, another legacy left to President Bongbong Marcos by his predecessor, came as a surprise parachute drop on a market that appears to be not adequately prepared.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ new design for the ₱1,000 polymer banknote. Photo: Banknotenews/ Jason T. Rohn

Since the polymer notes were released on April 1, news media have carried stories, a few of them probably exaggerated, of how the bills cracked when folded, smudged when wet, or were rejected by ATMs as unidentified paper objects, etc.

One way to understand what people have been talking about, and why, is to widen quickly the circulation of the 10 million pieces of P1,000 polymer banknotes issued by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The true testing grounds of the new bills are not the air-conditioned shops. malls and banks. The sari-sari stores, wet markets, restaurants, and mass transportation are where most Filipinos spend their meager earnings.

In adopting the printing of polymer banknotes, the Philippines has joined a number of countries, now more than 20, as diverse as Australia, Canada, Fiji, Mauritius, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, and Vietnam.

The US dollar is still printed on a substrate made from 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton. The paper used in the current Philippine peso is a combination of 80 percent cotton and 20 percent abaca.

Users of polymer said its resistance to extreme temperature, water, and dirt makes it highly durable. Polymer banknotes are said to last at least two to four times longer than paper bills, offsetting the high production cost.

In addition, polymer banknotes are able to incorporate security features, such as metameric inks, not available in printing the old paper money.

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The new 1,000-peso bill replaces the design featuring José Abad Santos, Vicente Lim, and Josefa Llanes Escoda on the main side of the note, but keeps the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and the South Sea pearl on the back side.

Abad Santos was Chief Justice when executed by the Japanese occupation forces in the last world war; Escoda was a civic worker and one of the founders of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines; and Lim, an Army general, was the first Filipino graduate of West Point.

We have not found the answers to the questions of (1) whose decision it was to replace the three prominent personalities with the Philippine eagle, and (2) who signed the contract for the printing of the polymer banknotes.

The details of the substitution and the printing contract are not as clear, for instance, as having on record that Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. of Negros Oriental filed the bill to rename the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after the late Ferdinand E. Marcos.

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Will the paper on which a banknote is printed determine or affect its real value? This spender who simply looks at the bill’s denomination to guess how much it can buy at the grocery or coffee shop was surprised to stumble on this related information on the Internet:

“A bill rarely found in any part of the world, the One Million Dollar Zimbabwe Note. You must have heard of a 50-dollar bill and a 100-dollar bill, but a one-million-dollar bill is something you won’t find everywhere around you.

“The bill may be worthless in its country, but the outside world values it somehow. Why would this bill be up for sale on the world’s most renowned e-portal eBay? Novelty buyers are just anxious to buy the banknote and tell the world proudly they own one of the highest denomination notes.”

We read on and were surprised to see that the 1,000-peso polymer Philippine bill, which may be having an uneasy debut in its home country, is already being advertised on eBay to those collecting “interesting” currencies.

Yesterday, our 1,000-peso polymer bill was being offered on eBay for $31 to $49.83, a price made more complicated to assess amid the slide of the foreign exchange value of the peso versus the US dollar. Yesterday, we heard it was at P56.36 to $1, or thereabouts.

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A Pinoy traveling to the US with no local credit/debit cards usually pays cash. When he hands the amazed cashier a crisp $100 bill, she is likely to wave to the crowd the rarely seen greenback, “Hey look, a hundred bucks!”

During the martial law years, when some of us press people flew to the US West Coast, there was this visiting official who went to buy a car to use during his trip. To the surprise of the sales manager, the buyer counted from his clutch bag $100 bills to pay fully for his loaded chariot.

The advocates of polymer banknotes say that the new money does not burn as easily as the old, but admit that polymer shrinks or melts when exposed to open flames or when left in a pocket and inadvertently ironed.

At around 170 degrees Celsius, polymer bills begin to melt and stick together. We’re reminded of a fire in 2004 when a congressman’s residence in a plush Makati village burned reportedly with the private vault where his hoarded millions had been locked.

Polymer bills are said to be harder to fold. Solution: So don’t fold them. Instead of a wallet, especially with inflation requiring more money to buy the same things, we could use bags to carry money when we go shopping.

Polymers are also said to be more slippery, especially when wet, and therefore harder to count by hand. We can adopt the counting method of another congressman of yore, from Cavite, who reportedly just weighed the bundled cash for faster handling.

Another pointer of monetary authorities is not to staple a polymer bill. Although tear-resistant, once nicked, the polymer can tear easily, destroying the claim that it is more durable. It’s good that the average Pinoy does not own a stapler.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 14, 2022)

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