The Peso Chronicles (Part 2): Secret Stories Behind the New 50 Peso Bill

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The certainty of history seems to be in direct inverse ratio to what we know about it. – Anonymous

History, for me, is not just about who killed Lapu-Lapu, Magellan, Rizal or other crude “textbook” knowledge spinning out there. It’ all about knowing his story, her story, and our story. That’s why I always marvel every time I unfold stories behind our heroes, landmarks, or cultural symbols  which became the building blocks of our identity as Filipino people. Our history is a hodgepodge of stories from different genres: mystery, adventure, drama, romance, action and almost every thing under the sun. And just like any other stories, a lesson is always hidden behind every “secret” that we unlock from our rich culture and history. You can find a lot of treasures and stories from simple things that surround you, only if you will open your eyes and mind; the new 50 peso bill is just one of them.

The Peso Chronicles is a series of articles written to put the limelight to some undiscovered treasures and untold stories etched in our new Philippine peso bills. These are not facts as superficial as the Philippine peso bills’ designs which were swarmed with criticisms or certain glitches printed on these bills or those newly designed special fraud-proof security features. Rather, we will try to look at our Philippine peso bills as if they are open books full of history, culture, and lessons to be learned.

PART II: The New 50 Peso Bill.

Front Portion (Obverse): Sergio Osmeña, the Leyte landing, and First National Assembly in 1907. 

The Mystery Behind President Sergio Osmeña’s “SECRET FATHER”

Osmeña must probably one of the most underrated Philippine presidents in history, overshadowed by Quezon’s contributions as the very first president under the Philippine Commonwealth. But unbeknownst to many, Osmeña created and witnessed a lot of “firsts” during the span of his political career: he founded El Nuevo Dia, the very first daily propaganda newspaper in Cebu while working as a war staff under the revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo during the Filipino-American War; he became the very first 29-er to be elected as Speaker of the first Philippine Assembly in 1907,  when the average age of the members was 37; and he became the very first Filipino president to take his oath in a foreign land (Osmeña is our fourth president and served in his office from August 1, 1944  to May 28, 1946). In addition to these, it was during his term when the Philippines first joined the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank). Some historians also believe that Osmeña catapulted the very first and perhaps the oldest and the most dominant political dynasty in the country.

But behind these numerous milestones and achievements, one intriguing question is still left unanswered about Osmeña’s identity: WHO IS HIS REAL FATHER?

 When Osmeña died of cancer and liver failure on October 19, 1961 at the age of 83, it seems that the key in deciphering his real father’s identity was also brought to his grave . Born in Cebu to Juana Osmeña Y Suico, who was only fourteen years old at the time of his birth,  Sergio Osmeña was just another child brought to this world out of wedlock. According to historical accounts, the identity of Sergio’s father was never revealed by Juana or any member of the Osmeña’s at that time, probably to avoid the scandal that they might have faced in the eyes of the Spanish era Cebu society. Being an illegitimate child was considered a curse and a sin during that era, especially in Cebu, the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines. Though Osmeña was able to triumph over his dark past and became one of the most admired personalities in the history of Philippine politics, his father’s identity has become a consistent centerpiece of some historical research and surprising speculations. And among the many names that has been linked to Osmeña, two have emerged as potential candidates for the title “Osmeña’s Lost Patriarch”.

Don Pedro Lee Gotiaoco (Photo courtesy of

Don Pedro Lee Gotiaoco,a 19th century “rags-to-riches” Chinese immigrant tycoon, philanthropist and Cebu Chinese community leader, is strongly believed to had sired our Philippine president. According to reports, Don Gotiaoco came to Cebu after the opening of its port to international trade in 1860 as a penniless immigrant from Kei-tang, part of present-day Fujian Province in China, with the name Go Bon Tiao. He must have met Juana (Osmeña’s mother) in one of his paseos to the neighborhood, perhaps to partake of Dona Paula’s (Osmeña’s grandmother) delicious breads (the Osmeñas’ house was “just a few blocks away” from his own).

The scholar and author Dr. Resil Mojares, who wrote Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu, concedes that the “most popular theory is that he (Don Sergio) was the son of the wealthy Chinese merchant Don Pedro Gotiaoco . It is said Gotiaoco (who came to own the Lapulapu house in which Osmeña grew up) contributed to the young Don Sergio’s educational expenses in Manila.”

In The Philippine Star article written by Wilson Lee Flores last June 20, 2010, it was revealed that apart from supposedly having sired the patriarch of Cebu’s prominent political family, and a revered statesman who fought for Philippine independence, Pedro L. Gotiaoco was also the forebear of several other prominent families — the Gokongwei clan, the Gotianuy clan, the Sy-Gaisano clan and the Gotianun clan of Filinvest Group and East-West Bank.

When asked to comment on reports that his great-grandfather Gotiaoco (the Chinese name is “Go Bun Tiao” in the Hokkien and pronounced “Wu Wen Tiao” in Pudonghua or Mandarin)  had sired Cebu’s great leader President Osmeña, Gokongwei said he couldn’t comment on that since he’s not a historian. But he added that he had personally seen company records of Gotiaoco that show that he had helped finance the education of the future president.

Don Antonio Sanson, a wealthy haciendero originally born in Surigao, is another candidate that has been speculated to be Osmeña’s real father. A rich and entitled man, Don Antonio had a penchant for gaming and womanizing, a reputation that surely preceded him when he met Osmeña’s mother. Dr. Mojares advances that the “more plausible theory is that Don Sergio’s father was Don Antonio Sanson (nicknamed Biyongkog), a Chinese mestizo É.”

So who is Sergio Osmeña’s real father?

Though historians haven’t come up with a sure answer yet, the mystery behind his father’s identity and how he had lived his life despite this bitter truth only give us one sensible piece of advice: Your past will never define your worth as a person and that past mistakes should only propel you to move forward and be better everyday. What a lesson from our beloved hero and president!

Back Portion (Reverse):  The Taal Lake, the deepest freshwater lake found in the country, as well as the animal Maliputo are showed on the reverse side. On the right is a design highlight from an embroidery handcrafted in Batangas.


 Legends of TAAL LAKE: The Untold Story

Taal has been described as an island within a lake within an island within a lake within an island in the sea. But beneath its intricate design and tranquil surface, lies hidden treasures and stories that will enthrall every curious mind willing to partake in its wonders.

With its rich history and brimming natural resources, its fair to assume that Taal Lake and the famous Volcano Island (the landmark you always see featured in post cards) have more to offer aside from being hailed as the third largest lake in the Philippines and world’s smallest and deadliest volcano, respectively.  An eye-opening book entitled “The Mysteries of Taal: A Philippine volcano and lake, her sea life and lost towns” by long-time Philippine resident, researcher, diver and award-winning writer Thomas R. Hargrove provides a closer look to the legends that has haunted this breath-taking Philippine landmark over the years:

Chapter 7 says, “Sea snakes and sardines, sharks and sponges—the incredible marine life of Lake Taal,” […] “Lake Taal’s marine life draws me back, almost like those mysterious towns that sank so long ago. Her deep waters are classified as fresh today—but Taal protects life that Nature intended only for the sea.”

Corpses covered in debris and ash after Taal Volcano's 1911 eruption. (Photo credit: )

Taal Volcano has erupted for 42 times in the period 1572-1977. The eruptions of 1754, 1911, and 1965 hold the record of being the most violent of which. The intensity of both 1754 and 1911 cataclysms completely  wiped out several towns nearby and claimed thousands of human lives and properties, only confirming the veracity of several tales about “sunken towns” hidden underneath the lake’s surface. Old Lipa and Tanauan together with three other towns, namely: Sala, Bauan, and Old Taal, then capital of Taal Province, are underwater sites to be fascinated these days. The January, 1911 eruption, the deadliest so far, claimed a reported 1,335 lives and injured 199; although it is known that more perished than the official records show. The chilling accounts of  Taal Volcano’s  wrath in the past only accentuate its mysterious nature. A lot of innocent victims, most of which are foreign nationals, were reported to have been drowned in the lake, prompting a lot of paranormal investigations to take place in the lake these past few years. Does it have any connection with Taal Lake’s ‘dark history’? Well, it’s up for them to find out!

Without any doubt, Taal Volcano’s major eruptions helped in shaping Taal’s picturesque landscape, which turned out to be one of the best things that Philippines can offer to the world. In addition to that, it’s reputation as one of the “deadliest active volcanoes” has been overshadowed by an array of marine creatures you would not normally expect to find in a lake under the “fresh water” category. But how on earth did all of these marine treasures (including the poisonous Lake Taal Snake, the magnificent Bull Shark, the delectable Tawilis and Maliputo, among others), which are usually found in the sea, survived and thrived in a fresh water environment? According to Thomas Hargrove, the lake’s waters were once essentially a part of the nearby South China Sea  and supported the same variety of marine life. Due to massive eruptions and earthquakes, it’s link to Balayan Bay was blocked, leaving Pansipit River as its only remaining link to the salt water as of  today. And it is through this separation that biological adaptation and evolution was made possible for salt water creatures; an quintessential phenomenon of how nature can do wonders that even human technologies can hardly duplicate.

“MALIPUTO” : One of the World’s Tastiest Fish

A Close Look at the Maliputo fish (Photo courtesy of

If a Batangueño will be asked to identify Taal lake’s best marine delicacies, it’s close to impossible that he will ever forget to include Maliputo or Giant Trevally in his list, along with tawilis, world’s only fresh water sardine and also exclusively found in Taal Lake.

Maliputo, which has a scientific name of  Caranx ignobilis, is most commonly found in the town of San Nicholas, Batangas where Maliputo Festival is annualy held. This famous fish has been known for its delicious meat, which experts attribute to the lake’s rich supply of plankton and sulfur-rich water. It’s quite similar with the local Talakitok, which obviously belongs to the same family as the Maliputo. This similarity is used by clever local fish vendors to sell a much cheaper Talakitok in a price intended for a more expensive but tastier Maliputo. In connection with this, Maliputo is naturally classified as a fish with two varieties:  the maliputong-loob and maliputong-labas. According to, when the small talakitok fish, which is normally referred around Lemery and Taal as muslo fish, finds its way to the Pansipit River, it is normally referred as maliputong labas, which means that it was caught not inside the lake, but instead captivated at the river. But the real maliputo, as stated by the old folks of Taal, Lemery and San Nicholas is the one caught inside Taal Lake, often referred as the maliputong loob. These are the muslo fish that made it all the way inside Taal Lake through Pansipit River.

Maliputo is a delectable fish with a firm flesh that can be served as simple as charcoal broiled with a dash of kalamansi (a small citrus fruit) and bagoong balayan (anchovies). However it is commonly cooked around the province as sinigang (cooked by slow boiling with unripe tamarind and assorted vegetables). (www.

Maliputo may be one of Taal Lake’s famous symbol, but due to careless over fishing and endless greed by some local fishermen, Maliputo might be considered as the latest addition to the country’s growing number of endangered species. However, its a good thing that Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has been successful in its attempts in inducing maliputo to breed in captivity. According to recent reports by Manila Bulletin, Maris M. Mutia, an aquaculturist and her team of 22 committed staff, are laboring in anonymity in a 2.5-hectare fish farm, called the National Fisheries Biological Center in Butong, Taal, Batangas, by the mouth of the Pansipit River. Here, several fish cages of maliputo are in various stages of growth. Mutia, a zoology graduate with a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of the Philippines, was able to breed maliputo in 2006, “a first in the country if not in the world,” according to BFAR Director Malcolm Sarmiento.


….Next article: The Peso Chronicles (Part 3): Secret Stories Behind the New 100 Peso Bill……

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