Bunye: Printing money, minting coins, refining gold

IF THERE is one single Philippine institution that affects all Filipinos, directly or indirectly, across all classes, ages, genders, occupations, every single day of our lives, I would say it is the Bangko Sentral’s Security Plant Complex (SPC).


Because the SPC is the Philippine institution that exclusively prints our money and mints our coins, which we use for our daily activities and transactions.

Also, the SPC refines our gold for sale to the international market.

Over the years, SPC has taken on additional functions. The SPC now also produces state decorations and presidential medals, judicial forms for the Land Registration Authority, passports for the Department of Foreign Affairs and commemorative coins and medals for government and private institutions.

38 years ago -- September 7, 1978 to be exact -- what was then called Security Printing Plant or SPP was inaugurated in a Fort Knox-like complex located along East Avenue, Quezon City.

The name has since evolved to Security Plant Complex or SPC to reflect the additional functions that the institution has assumed.

During SPC’s anniversary celebration last week, Bangko Sentral Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. was all praises for the SPC officers and staff led by Assistant Governor Dahlia Luna for SPC’s “continuous drive to innovate and to integrate.”

Tetangco noted that SPC has “delivered consistently high quality banknotes, coins and refined gold.” Tetangco noted that “in the case of gold, the Philippines has proven that we can meet the exacting standards of the London bullion Market Association’s (LBMA) requirements for assaying and bar quality.”

Tetangco also proudly noted that the entire SPC complex is ISO-certified for operations (ISO 9001).

Tetangco announced that under the SPC Ten-Year Plan, “construction of a new state-of-the-art Mint Plant is underway and its completion early next year … will also allow further expansion and enhancements in our banknote printing operations.”

Later in the morning, Tetangco inaugurated, among others, a new power sub-station designed to ensure sufficient supply even in case of total power outages.

For most of our history - except during the time when the Bank of the Philippine Islands printed “pesos fuertes” for the Spanish insular government starting 1852 -- our country's coins and banknotes were produced abroad.

However, the shortages in bills and coins in the early 1960s prompted the government to seriously consider the idea of producing currency in the country instead of importing all our requirements.

While part of our printed money requirements (and all coin blanks) is still outsourced, local production now insures that we are able to maintain a comfortable buffer and contingency supply at all times.

Printed money has to be replaced regularly. Printed money has an average shelf life of one to three years, depending on frequency of use. Expectedly, lower denominated bills have a shorter life span than higher denominated bills.

In 2008, on my first week as then newly-appointed member of the Monetary Board, I had the unique opportunity to observe how paper money, coins and gold bullions were produced.

Then Director Nestor Salanio of the Banknotes and Securities Printing Department walked me through the various stages of currency, coin and gold bullion production. Director Salanio explained that our banknotes are printed on security paper, made of special paper and abaca fibers, using intaglio and offset printing techniques. Coins, on the other hand, are produced by stamping the impression on imported coin blanks.

I also had the chance of touching a huge pile of uncut 1,000 peso bills. Stacked almost shoulder high, the uncut bills, I was told, had a total face value of P3.2 billion.

I even had the rare opportunity of holding a 12.5-kilo bullion made up of almost 100 percent gold. Salanio said it was worth P15 to P16 million depending on the current price of gold in the world market. The bullion was minted from gold purchased from local miners.

The bullions are kept in the vault but this particular piece, I was told, was “reserved” as a prize for SPC’s lucky visitor.

“And who might that lucky visitor be?” I asked.

“Sir, anyone who can lift the 12.5 kg bullion using only two fingers.”

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