If there’s one thing that I ought to be thankful for about the New Generation banknotes released by the BSP, it’s none other than the chance to look back and realize how rich our national heritage is, how intricate our history has become, and how spellbinding our cultural landmarks are. For the past two articles of The Peso Chronicles, we were able to discover hidden treasures and unlock secret stories that most of our history books don’t even dare to touch. Now, for the third time, I’m about to reveal another series of untold stories behind those images printed in our new 100 peso bill. Man is curious by nature, and this article, being a mere product of that curiosity, intends to rediscover hidden gems and spread the seed of national pride and consciousness among each and everyone.
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 III: The New 100 Peso Bill.
“Music and Majesty” : The Story of President Roxas and His Lost Love
Love is both multifaceted and complicated. It is a crucial choice that entails a great deal of sacrifice. But what are you going to do if your heart is mesmerized with love while fate is giving you an opportune time to chase your life-long dreams? Are you willing to give up one for the other? Is it love or career?
Such was the dilemma faced by two star-crossed lovers, the late President Manuel Roxas, the first president of the post-war Third Philippine Republic, and his forgotten inamorata, Jovita Fuentes , the first ever Filipino international star in the world of opera. Sadly, their love affair was put to a sudden end after one of them chose fame and fortune over love.
Historical accounts tell us that Roxas and Fuentes, who were both born and raised in Capiz (now Roxas City), started as childhood sweethearts. Later, Jovita, or also known by her relatives as “Bitang”, crossed paths with “Manoling” (Roxas) in University of the Philippines where she took up Music while the latter took up Law. These two gifted intellectuals were highly adept in their respective fields: Jovita was exposed to music as early as the age five, when she learned to sing habaneras and danzas while Manuel became the class valedictorian and eventually, University of the Philippines’ first ever bar topnotcher with an astounding rating of 92%. But there must be a truism in the maxim “you can have it all but not all at the same time” because Roxas and Fuentes, in the end, parted ways to reach for their own stars.
One of the most interesting books today that shed light on this old and forgotten love affair is The Passion of Jovita Fuentes, the 2008 1st Prize Palanca-winning play and the brainchild of Ilonggo icon and literary celebrity Peter Solis Nery. Though it has been criticized for rehabilitating history in favor of Manuel Roxas, who allegedly worked and collaborated with Jose P. Laurel’s puppet government when he was caught by the Japanese soldiers during World War II and was mysteriously cleared by General Douglas MacArthur as ‘not one of the traitors‘ thereafter, this masterpiece clearly gave a “face” to the other side of the late president’s life. The book portrays Jovita Fuentes as a career-oriented woman who refused to elope with Roxas to pursue a more promising music stint abroad. That decision eventually paved the way for a successful career, which has been the prototype that international broadway singers like Lea Salonga have aspired to imitate today.
Jovita Fuentes is best remembered as the great international Diva and first Filipino Prima Donna. In April 1925, Fuentes made her international debut as Cio Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, staged in Italy’s Teatro Municipale di Piacenza. She then went on to perform in the Philippines, the United States, and Europe, where her fame spread and where she essayed the lead roles in major operas—Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème, Iris in Mascagni’s Iris, and Salome in Strauss’s Salome. Because of these unprecedented achievements as a Filipina, she became the very first recipient of the National Artist Award for Music, the highest honor for a musician in the country.
Nonetheless, the price of fame and flourishing career for Fuentes was the downfall of the love she had for her one and only “Manoling”. When Roxas married the beauty-and-brains Trinidad de Leon, a daughter of Sen. Ceferino de Leon of Bulacan, rumors had it that the marriage was more of a politically-advantageous move for Roxas. And as an act of despair, Jovita, who fled to Europe to escape the pangs of a love already lost, composed a heartbreaking song famously known now as Ay! Ay! Kalisud (Ah! Misery!). The song is a portrait of a tragic love affair teaching us a lesson about life and love, fate and choices. Jovita wept all her life until that tragic day when Roxas died of heart attack while giving a historical speech at Clark Air Base. She have lived her remaining years sharing the power of music but she never married. Yes, she died an old maid but it was not a tragic end for a woman who knows that love and life continues until eternity.
“Cagsawa” and The Deadly Beauty of Our “Perfect Cone”
Who’d have thought that the breathtaking landscape of Mayon’s perfect cone was a result of almost 47 eruptions in the past 400 years? And who’d have thought that the “Cagsawa” ruins, equally famous around the globe as a structure overlooking the 2,462 meters-high volcano, is considered a giant tombstone commemorating the great tragedy which happened hundred years ago?
Clearly, the picturesque Mayon-Cagsawa tandem is a paradox in itself that has stood the test of time. Nonetheless, it’s still hard to imagine how a horrific story slowly transitioned into Philippines’ most famous landmarks to date.
According to historical accounts, the Cagsawa church was built after 1724 by Franciscan friars under Fray Francisco Blanco in the small town of Cagsawa (spelled as Cagsaua during the Hispanic occupation of the Philippines). The church became a ‘spiritual refuge’ for the villagers and every time they feel that they needed protection, the doors of the church was always wide-open for them.
But the same church sort of betrayed most of these people when they took refuge inside it while Mayon was in the middle of a furious eruption on February 1, 1814. A total of 1,200 people perished during the unprecedented debacle, including all of the people trapped inside the Cagsawa church. Today, only the belfry and some remaining parts of the convent remain standing, a memento of yesterday’s tragedy that is ironically being hailed now as one of Bicol’s greatest symbols.
It’s interesting to note that the original design of Cagsawa church is similar to how the Paoay church in Ilocos Norte was built. The design was intended for Cagsawa church to make it earth-quake proof and perhaps typhoon-proof as well. But history already taught us that no matter how massive and strong a structure is, the wrath of Nature and God will still prevail in the end. According to locals at that time, the 1814 eruption of Mayon Volcano was God’s way of punishing the people who lived around the volcano because of their “excesses”. But whether it’s a myth or not, the Mayon-Cagsawa tandem reminds us all of one essential lesson: the mighty force of Nature can make any creature disappear in just a blink of an eye.
“Butanding””: The Gentle Giant of Donsol
Over the years, Donsol has played a crucial role in the Philippine tourism industry by serving as a perfect habitat for a special leviathan creature: the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), or locally known as “butanding”. Donsol is located in Sorsogon , Southern Luzon in the Philippines. It takes less than an hour travel time by plane from Manila to Legaspi Airport and another 45 minutes by car to Sorsogon. Because of the “butandings”, which commonly swarm in the clear and tranquil waters of Donsol between the months of March and May, Donsol has been dubbed as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World” by local and foreign tourists alike. The sudden growth of tourism industry came more as a surprise for the whole of Donsol, which formerly thrived in fishing and cottage industry alone; thanks to the whale sharks! However, despite its growing popularity here and around the world, these gentle giants remain to be one of the most mysterious sea creatures seldom studied by marine biologists.