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Of Polymer and the Public

account_balanceMetro Opinion account_circleLeigh Bellosillo chat_bubble_outline0 Comments

The first time I encountered the word polymer was in one of my required science classes, back when I was taking up my bachelor’s degree. 

 I’ve forgotten all about it, and I was only reminded when the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced its decision in December last year to release a newly-designed 1000-piso polymer banknote, featuring the Philippine eagle in April 2022.

I am not sure if it’s for a sounding board, but the disclosure of the polymer currency pictures that circulated early on riled-up some people, particularly Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, who had an eye of an eagle, pointing out that eagle’s scientific name, “Pithecophaga jefferyi” was misspelled as “Pithecophega jefforyi.”

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Also, Zarate opined that the scientific genus should be in italics to differentiate Latin from English.

Since then, the polymer currency has never been wanting in controversy.

From what this corner gathered, the BSP, then headed by now Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, fast tracked the printing, issuance/circulation of the polymer currency.

The backstory there is that the BSP hierarchy held a dialogue with the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) to inform them that the P1,000 denomination polymer currency will be circulated earlier in April instead.

The pronouncement practically surprised the BAP member-banks. Between January and April, there’s a little over three months for preparation. First, the ATMs must be recalibrated to recognize its smooth plastic texture. Likewise, cash processing/counting machines must also be reprogrammed.

BSP, from what I’ve heard, was adamant on its issuance timetable, telling the BAP that the polymer currency will only be made available OTC (over-the-counter).

More importantly, the information drive is lacking, specifically for the consumers, who at the onset of knowing there’s a new currency on block are willing to pay a premium just to get hold of the banknote for bragging rights.

Though I commend the BSP for the shift to polymer material, which based on my research, the plan started when Amando “Say” Tetangco, Jr. was still the top BSP executive in 2009.  I believed that it is the same “bragging rights” behind the fastracking of its issuance.

Diokno may have wanted his name on the first polymer. It goes without saying that President Duterte’s signature will as well be in the currency.

I’ve learned that even the presentation of the new currency to the President was, also, fast tracked. The original schedule was moved forward to April 7 because Diokno was set to flyout to Washington D.C. to attend the World Bank-IMF Spring meeting.

The seemingly lack of information campaign due to the fastracking of the schedules has virtually backfired because of the relatively meager understanding of the public about the polymer note.

The novelty of owning one, eventually, faded and has been replaced by rejection. Ellen Punzal-S., a housewife, narrated that a wet public market vendor was apprehensive in accepting the polymer currency that he quickly traded the note to a buyer, who was just too willing, then.

This anecdote speaks volume of the extent of the educational campaign that the monetary authorities have undertaken to let the public know of its existence. And, likewise, it’s a bit disturbing that there is no longer a numismatic committee, which in the past was chaired by then Deputy Governor for monetary stability Diwa Guinigundo with historian Ambeth Ocampo as one of the members. It has been disbanded.

Maybe the revival of this committee could have reduced the commotions and controversy against the polymer notes. Remember, it’s not always that the public will go to the BSP website to read about how smarter, cleaner and stronger the P1,000 piso polymer note is.

Even simple comparative analysis, explanation on the use of polymer materials versus the traditional abaca fiber the BSP has yet to come up with, taking note of the Bank of England decision to replace about 50 million plastic bank notes due to”damage and wear” three years after it was circulated. 

It’s high time the BSP tells us about it and some more.


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