MANILA, AUG. 10 -- A new Philippine 100-peso note has evoked a chorus of laughter, blushes of embarrassment and cries of outrage from die-hard nationalists.
The problem with the bill is its colorful design, an artist's rendition -- printed next to a picture of former president Manuel Roxas -- of a historic photograph depicting the lowering of the American flag and the raising of the Filipino flag on Independence Day, July 4, 1946. In the picture, the red, white and blue American flag, flapping in the wind, dominates the red, blue, white and yellow Filipino flag, behind and below it.
The critics say it's hard to tell which flag is going up and which is coming down -- and this in a country that is jealously protective of its hard-won independence and hypersensitive to any hint of continued American dominance.
To nationalists, putting a brightly colored American flag on a Philippine bill is symbolic of the country's inability to break from its colonial past.
"I was quite incredulous at the first sight of that hundred peso bill with its stars and stripes lurking -- sinisterly or benignly, depending on one's view of the world -- from the corner of the familiar blue-violet field," wrote journalist Sheila Coronel in a recent opinion page column in the Manila Chronicle. The Stars and Stripes "loom larger," she wrote, "with the Filipino flag crumpled in a corner."
The Central Bank governor, Jose Fernandez, conceded to the Philippine Senate that the American flag "appears to be unduly prominent." But he argued that the lowering of the U.S. flag when independence was achieved 41 years ago was "a historic event" of which there was only one known photograph -- and the photographer just happened to be standing closer to the American flag.
Then came the bad news for the assorted senators. Under questioning, Fernandez said the controversial bill is here to stay, at least for awhile. It would take more than two years, and 140 million pesos (about $7 million) to come up with another design and produce another batch of 100-peso bills -- the largest denomination and most commonly used note in circulation here.
So for now, the Stars and Stripes will remain unfurled on the Filipino bills, while the Filipino flag will remain banished to a corner. "If we stop producing this bill," Fernandez explained to his inquisitors, "we will have no 100-peso notes."