“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”- Winston Churchill
Every good things must come to an end and to celebrate the final chapter of The Peso Chronicles, nothing is more befitting than paying tribute to the 1000 peso bill triumvirate who selflessly chose their own death over traitorship. Yes, I’m pertaining to the three lesser known figures of our 1000 peso bill: Abad Santos, Llanes-Escoda, and Lim – – the three martyrs of WWII whose names are slowly losing their impact nowadays. It’s either most of us can’t even afford to encounter this denomination on a daily basis or we just don’t give a damn at all. But every ending spawns a new beginning; this time, Filipinos will also be reoriented to the majestic Tubbataha Reef and titillating South Sea Pearl colorfully displayed at the back of the 1000 peso bill. Without any doubt, the new 1000 peso bill is a piece of diary that will captivate anyone with its secret stories equally intriguing and shocking as the previous chapters of this historical series.
For all the readers who has supported this simple effort to rediscover some untold stories of the old and modern Philippine society, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you! May you all continue the journey towards discovering a better YOU. Thanks and Godspeed everyone!
PART VI: The New 1000 Peso Bill.
Jose Abad Santos: The Real “Third President of the Philippines”?
You don’t have to be a nerd to realize that history, more often than not, is downright unfair. Have you ever heard the story about Aguinaldo and Bonifacio? We all know that there was a rift between these two revolutionary leaders and this conflict ended up with the latter being blindsided. Bonifacio could have been the first Philippine president had Aguinaldo didn’t order his untimely execution. The great general, as we all know, outlived Bonifacio and you can just imagine how easy it was for him to distort facts and completely overshadow Bonifacio’s great achievements. Sometimes, one’s early death can be the best traitor one can ever have. That is particularly true for Jose Abad Santos, another martyr whose political identity is still cloaked with mystery.
Abad Santos is more than just an LRT station; the brave soul behind it is considered the greatest Filipino hero of the Second World War. He was the country’s Chief Justice and Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce by the time President Quezon fled to the U.S. to escape the wrath of the Japanese forces. In addition to this responsibility, a lot of tangible evidences have been claiming that Abad Santos, in fact, was the Acting President of the Philippines during that time. This clearly contradicts the claim of former President Manuel Roxas that he was appointed by President Quezon at that time to act in his behalf. In an article entitled, “The Story of Roxas”written by Federico Mañgahas, it is clear that “……..President Quezon, on the other hand, gave Roxas full authority to act for and in his behalf in all matters of government and, particularly, to take charge of the National Treasury.” In T.M. Locsin’s “Last Decision” (FREE PRESS, Nov. 30, 1946), on the other hand, the author states that Santos was the direct representative in the Philippines of the Commonwealth government in exile. In addition to that, a letter written by President Quezon dated March 17, 1942 and addressed to Chief Justice Abad Santos also says: “….I hereby designate you as my delegate with power to act on all matters of government which involve no change in the fundamental policies of my administration of which you are quite familiar…..” Abad Santos actually chose to remain in the Philippines for his family and countrymen. However, he was eventually sentenced to death after refusing to cooperate with the Japanese government. More than willing to die for his motherland, he was shot to death on May 7, 1942 in the same manner as how Rizal was killed many years ago.
Technically, he was not the actual “third” president of the Philippines, let alone his feat as Quezon’s “acting president” still shrouded with mystery. But compared to Jose P. Laurel, the ‘real’ third President of the Philippines (under the puppet Japanese government), Abad Santos is undoubtedly more perfect for the position. He is a better candidate as far as infallible political principles are concerned. Laurel’s government was established out of extreme pressure from the Japanese forces. Moreover, Laurel was even charged with 132 counts of treason, but was never brought to trial due to the general amnesty granted by President Manuel Roxas in 1948. He was a traitor in every sense of the word but just like what Aguinaldo did to Bonifacio, Laurel completely upstaged Abad Santos in terms of historical significance. Now, tell me who’s more deserving to be honored as the “third president of the Philippines”? Sadly, Abad Santos’ part in our history has been taken for granted and we only know him today as the “LRT station” or the “other” face in the 1000 peso bill. Well I guess “president” is just a title and at the end of the day, what matters most is one’s good character, something that can’t be robbed from anyone, not even death.
Josefa Llanes-Escoda and Her Mysterious Death
Celebrated by many as the “Florence Nightingale of the Philippines” and the “greatest Filipino heroine of WWII”, Josefa Llanes-Escoda clearly set the standards of what Rizal’s “ideal Filipina” should be. However, her death was surrounded by mystery and horror at the same time. In fact, her body was never found since her disappearance on January, 1945. But how did she gain the “hero” status she have today?
Josefa Llanes-Escoda, also known as “Pepa” by her relatives and friends, is the epitome of selfless love and undying spirit of a fighting woman. Ask what is the essence of a woman and you will see her name as an answer to the question itself. She established Red Cross chapters throughout the country, tirelessly worked for the improvement of her countrymen’s health, worked for better condition in the country’s prisons, founded the Boy’s Town of the Philippines, became a notable suffragette of her generation, founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and the Federation of Women’s Clubs of the Philippines, and crusaded for women’s rights. She and her husband, Antonio Escoda, associated themselves with the Volunteer Social Aid Committee or VSAC enlisted aid for the prisoners of war, especially those who participated in the infamous Death March. His husband was among those who were imprisoned by the Japanese forces in Fort Santiago. Josefa, the strong willed woman that she was, opted to remain in prison with her husband and other war heroes. She even turned down a chance to have freedom just to stay with her beloved inside the prison; she is more willing to die in suffering than live the rest of her life in guilt.
At that time, Japanese forces in the Philippines used La Loma Cemetery as an execution and burial ground for thousands of Filipinos who resisted the occupation. It was believed that when Josefa was last seen on January 6, 1945, she was taken and held in one of the Far Eastern University buildings occupied by the Japanese. According to historical accounts, she was executed together with her husband and other war victims in La Loma Cemetery shortly thereafter. Today, an unmarked grave stands in the cemetery to commemorate those unidentified victims of Japanese brutality.
A few days before she and her husband were executed in February, 1945, she left a message to her country and people: “I have done my duty to my country and God … I have acted as a guarantor not only for the sake of humanity but also to encourage them to fight again. If you happen to survive, and I fall, tell our people that the women of the Philippines did their part in making the ember sparks of truth and liberty alive till the last moments.”
She died a hero and though her body was never recovered, her death has launched thousands of “heroes” from Filipino women up to this day.
Vicente Lim: A Beautiful Mind
Perhaps you will be surprised that aside from Jose Rizal, the town of Calamba in Laguna also cradled Vicente Lim, a less popular hero who is known in Philippine history as the first ever Filipino to enter United States Military Academy at West Point. Lim’s family and Rizal’s were closed friends during that time, but similarities between Lim and Rizal don’t stop there; the famous general, just like our national hero, possessed an exceptional level of intelligence. According to his biography, while Vicente only placed second in his exams at West Point, his 99% score in Mathematics won him the coveted scholarship. In addition to that, he was also an active athlete and an advocate of anti-discrimination for Filipinos like him who were being bullied by Americans due to skin color and some senseless stereotypes. The rigorous training at West Point ingrained into Vicente’s very being the Academy motto of “Duty, Honor and Country”. This eventually became the dominating motivation in his life.Vicente graduated from West Point on June 12, 1914 ranking 77th in a class of 107. Graduating was, in itself, an achievement as the class of 1914 originally started out with 133 cadets. At the start of his military career, he was able to work with the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and General Douglas MacArthur. In addition to that, he was able to get an advanced military education at Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and the Army War College in Washington, D.C., where he wrote his thesis which accurately predicted the war in the Pacific that would break out in the 1940s. Perhaps one of the greatest highlights of his military career was when he was put in command of the 41st Infantry Division (PA) in Bataan, where he showcased his prowess and unparalleled military skills as a general. Bataan was where “Japanese met the stiffest resistance from the armed forces during the campaign” until it finally surrendered due to lack of reinforcements from America. He survived the Death March and sought refuge in the Philippine Cancer Institute where he pretended to be “sick” so he would be out of the enemy’s control. But while on the way to Negros Island where a submarine was waiting to take him to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia, General Vicente Lim was captured by the Japanese forces and was later incarcerated and tortured. And just like what happened to Josefa Llanes-Escoda, General Lim was pronounced missing in 1944. His death remained a mystery until 1994, when his family was able to contact a Japanese-American eyewitness who revealed that Lim, along with 50 or so guerilla members, was beheaded and buried in a Chinese cemetery. What a tragic end to a general with a beautiful mind and heart.
“Tubbataha Rangers”: Silent Heroes of the Isolated Paradise
Never mind its failure to be one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Tubbataha Reef have all the ingredients to make a spectacular under-the-sea paradise: corals, sharks, and a whole lot of uncommon sea creatures that will bedazzle anyone. Tubbataha is the Philippines’ first national marine park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of global importance being preserved for future generations of humankind. Located at the Sulu Sea in the province of Palawan, Tubbataha Reef (“Tubbataha” is a Samal dialect for “long reef exposed at low tide”) boasts a total of 400 species of fishes such as the endangered Hawsbill Sea Turtle, Hammerhead and Whale Shark, Barracuda, and many more. It is next to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in terms of richness in marine ecosystem, a distinction which will never be possible without the Tubbataha rangers patrolling the marine park 24/7.
One year ago, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) released an article entitled “Predators, Now Protectors of Tubbataha Marine Park”, which chronicled how the people from the nearby Cagayancillo evolved from heartless poachers to stark protectors of the marine park today. According to the PCIJ, the Reefs’ rescue began in 1988, when then President Corazon Aquino signed Proclamation No. 306 declaring Tubbataha a National Marine Park, and transferring jurisdiction over the area from the municipality of Cagayancillo to the national government. Today, the park is overseen by the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) and with the cooperation of the local people as stakeholders, an impressive improvement has been observed in the reef over the years. But a large portion of this success will never be possible without the park rangers, who see their jobs as a “calling”, above every thing else. PCIJ gave a detailed account of these modern-day heroes’ struggle as Tubbataha rangers:
For eight weeks straight, these eight men will live on a small, prefabricated structure 15 meters long by six meters wide, perched on stilts in the middle of the Sulu Sea, with little to protect them from winds, waves, or marauding pirates. Their only lifeline to the rest of the human world is a small portable satellite phone and a temperamental long-range radio. A few hours each day, the tide goes down, and a small spit of powdery white sand emerges underneath, and the station becomes an island atop a temporary island. Most of the time, though, there is nothing but the endless grey and blue of water and sky on all sides of the compass. The isolation is complete.
When asked about his job, one of the dedicated park rangers who has been active in this “calling” for six years in a row said, “Although it’s difficult, lonely and we’re far from our families we still do our job for future generations.”
“Pearl of The Orient”: Untold Stories of Philippines’ National Gem
Do you know that aside from a national hero, national tree, national dance, and a national bird, we also have another less popular national symbol? Everybody, meet Philippine South Sea Pearl, our country’s national gem. You heard it right! In 1996, President Fidel V. Ramos proclaimed the South Sea pearl as the Philippines’ National Gem. This historical decree, Presidential Proclamation 905, gave the South Sea pearl an official place in Philippine culture as a gem with “socio-economic and historical value”. But how important is a “pearl” to our culture and economy? Does it really deserve a special attention? Well, for a gem that takes 5 years to be produced, the answer is an echoing “YES!”
According to Jewelmer, the homegrown jeweler known worldwide for the golden South Sea pearl, this marine gem has a long history with the Philippines. They are naturally produced by the Pinctada maxima oyster, a large mollusk that can also be seen in the 1000 peso bill. Aside from being our national gem, the South Sea Pearl has played a very big role in the development of our cultural identity. As a matter of fact, Filipino National Hero Jose Rizal immortalized the pearl in Philippine literature when he called the country “Pearl of the Orient Seas” in his masterpiece, Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell). This metaphor echoed in the Philippines’ National Anthem, Lupang Hinirang (Chosen Land) where the country is hailed Perlas ng Silanganan (Pearl of the Orient) and continues to be sung by every man, woman, and child in the Philippines.
Pearl farming is mostly active in the Palawan province, where local inhabitants have developed unique lifestyle and culture while making a living out of pearl farming and harvesting. They have also played a pivotal role in the conservation of the aquatic resources and environment. A clean and protected marine environment is very crucial for the pearl farming industry to thrive. “The pearl’s beauty is a reflection of the health of the environment from where it hails,” said Mia Macapagal, marketing manager of Jewelmer. “This is why pearl farmers are also stewards of Mother Nature, protecting her even as she continues to bless us with this miracle.”
In the farm, over 375,000 oysters are cultured in large breeding tanks. Of this, only 5-10% actually survive natural selection and become fit to produce pearls. In the wild, oysters’ survival rate is less than 0.01%, which is why it is extremely difficult to find pearls in the wild. The Philippines was the first to successfully culture the south sea golden pearl.