P500-bill with Marcos face was never circulated

Katherine Visconti
Instead, Ninoy Aquino was put on the face of the bill, reflecting the nation's history

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. The approved original 500-peso design featured a casual, almost smiling Marcos.

MANILA, Philippines – The Central Bank once designed a P500-bill featuring former President Marcos, Fe Dela Cruz, Director of the Corporate Affairs Office for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) confirmed recently. 

“However, such banknotes did not reach the circulation stage,” she said.

The P500 bills we know from the 80s to this day instead feature Marcos’ arch-political rival, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.  

What happened to Marcos’ would-be bills? 

Romeo Castillo MananQuil, the artist who designed the P500 bill, brought the untold story to light in Toronto’s Celebrate Magazine in 2008 in the article, “How I ‘Made Money’ for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.”

He was part of a triad of artists on the project, including a fellow magazine illustrator and painter, Angel Cacnio, and the creative director with whom he trained in advertising, Rafael Asuncion.

The design MananQuil crafted showed a casual, almost smiling Marcos. 

The bill was meant to go into production in late 1985, MananQuil explained to Celebrate Magazine. 

Politics intervened. That was around the same time Marcos, facing pressure from Washington and internal grumbles, was forced to announce snap elections to legitimize his rule. 

The circulation of the newly printed bills was put on hold in deference to the law against electioneering, as Marcos, whose image appeared on the new bank note, was the incumbent candidate running against Corazon Aquino,” MananQuil told Celebrate. 

The rest is history reflected in Filipinos’ wallets. Marcos claimed he won, people took to the streets, the dictator was deposed, his bill was never circulated.

“It perhaps seemed fitting that any vestiges of the overthrown government were thrown off,” Mananquil told Celebrate, “President Corazon Aquino soon ordered the redesign of the bill to honor her husband, Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino,” whose murder had sparked a revolution and led to a dictator’s fall from power. 

Aquino’s face was on the new P500 banknotes, which Filipinos passed from hand to hand starting in 1987 under a new constitution and new government. 

What happened to the artist? 

MananQuil was invited to design the Aquino bill but couldn’t take the assignment because he had decided to move with his family to Canada. 

Still his P5 and P1,000 bill went into circulation.

FIVE. A photocopy of the final depiction used for the 5-peso bill. Photo courtesy of www.mananquil.com.

The P5 bill was eventually phased out for the coin we are familiar with today but his illustration of the republic’s first president waving the Philippine flag was reproduced on a commemorative P100,000 note. 

BIG MONEY. The 100,000 peso note was considered the largest paper bank note in the world at the time by the Guinness World Record. Photo courtesy of Romeo Castillo MananQuil.

The P100,000 note was produced in 1998 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the declaration of independence. At the time, Guinness World Record declared the note the largest paper bill in the world.

MananQuil left the Philippines but he continued to create his home in his art. In 1988 he helped form the Philippine Artists Group of Canada (PAG) and served as its president for the next 14 years. His goal was to make Canadians more aware of the merits of Philippine visual arts.

His portrait of Filipino hero Jose Rizal frames the front hall of the Philippine Consulate General in Toronto.  


Reflecting on the Central Bank project, MananQuil told Celebrate, “I did not receive lucrative renumeration for the assignment. The value of the assignment lay more in the knowledge that my art would be accessible to virtually everyone in my home country who would use its currency….This is the real benefit, priceless and irreplaceable by no amount of money I will ever make in my lifetime.”

“This is the very same sentiment of the Filipino design groups who we invited to submit design proposals for our New Generation Currency which we launched 16 December 2010,” wrote the BSP’s Fe dela Cruz in an e-mail to Rappler. 

She explained that even today, creating the bills means going through a long evaluation process, soldiering on to refine the designs again and again, and receiving “far from lucrative professional fees.” 

It may seem ironic. Literally making money means not making money figuratively. Perhaps for the Filipino designers crafting the currency, the money itself and the faces that appear on it don’t matter as much as the country and people using it. – Rappler.com