My rejected UPCAT essay

Over the weekend, 75,000 young hopefuls flocked to testing centers all over the country to take the country's most popular entrance exam.

But this year wasn't like any other year, not like it was for Those Of Us Who've Gone Before. For the first time in UPCAT history, examinees would have to answer an essay question.

Within hours, #rejectedUPCATessayquestions was trending on Twitter. Some of my personal favorites were: Have you read the terms and conditions? What is the world's Number 2 shampoo? Jumbo hotdog: kaya mo ba to? Using the Mohs Scale of Hardness, determine kung gaano katigas si Basha. Kung ikaw ang nasasakdal sa Impeachment Trial, ano ang gusto mong sumakit sa iyo at bakit? Why do we fall, Bruce?

As a UP alumna and sometime-UPCAT-taker myself, I've decided to respond to the challenge and answer one rejected UPCAT essay question: Hanggang saan aabot ang bente pesos mo? You may answer in English or Filipino.

There is an old Filipino adage that states that he who does not look back on whence he has come will not reach his intended destination. It is perhaps more eloquently phrased in the original Filipino: Ang di lumingon sa pinanggalingan, di makararating sa paroroonan. The saying is an affirmation of the vitality of a sense of history in charting new roads; thus, in asking the existential question of how far my 20 pesos can take me, it is of primary importance to first look back on how far my 20 pesos have come in the years prior.

The earliest version of the 20-peso bill in the BSP website is a prewar banknote designed by Jorge Pineda, prominently featuring the Mayon Volcano. (It may interest the reader, i.e., test-checker into whose hands I commend my immediate future, to know that the Mayon Volcano has since been transferred to the reverse of the new 100-peso banknote; any implicit meaning is for the reader to infer.)

The arrival of the Americans ushered in the age of English banknotes. By 1951, the faces of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo were on the front, with the Cry of Balintawak and the Kartilya ng Katipunan appearing on the reverse. One can imagine that there were perhaps not many people at the time who were able to lay hands on a 20-peso bill. Then, the expression "bente pesos" couldn't have been thrown around as casually as it is today. This was, after all, the same point in history where a whole chicken in Max's only cost five pesos!

It was in 1969 that the prototype of our current 20 pesos first gained currency. Malacañan Palace was plastered on the back, with Manuel L. Quezon's face on the front-effectively replacing, as a famous historian once put it, heroes with politicians. (I am of the belief, however, that Quezon is more a hero and a statesman than most politicians we have today.) The text was also changed from English to Filipino, an apt reflection of Quezon's advocacy for a national language.

The same was updated and modified several times in the next few years: Marcos had "Ang Bagong Lipunan" printed on the front; renovations in Malacañan necessitated an updated rendering of the same. In today's hyper-orange version, Malacañan, though much smaller than it used to be, has been moved to the front, while the palm civet (with an improperly written scientific name) and the Banaue Rice Terraces appear on the back.

How far has the 20 pesos gone? Have we taken it further, or have we instead regressed? How far can my 20 pesos take me?

I can buy a newspaper with it-perhaps the cheapest reading material that will get my mind to different places. My 20 pesos can pay for a few jeep rides-to SM North Edsa from UP and back. Around the Oval several times over on the Ikot. It can pay for a monay with cheese, with big cheese, with coco jam, with ice cream. It can pay for four sticks of isaw baboy, or for a bottle of C2, or a few sticks of Marlboro. But it won't pay for parking in most places, won't pay for the Skyway, and it's not enough for a Jollibee 39er. It won't even pay for a Max's chicken leg.

Allegedly, it can buy me a Cornetto-even though it can't buy me a decent hoodie or a pirated DVD. My 20 pesos can't buy me love.

How far have people taken the 20 pesos? It's more than most people have given parking boys or beggars on the street. Whole families spend 20 pesos on instant noodles with extra water boiled water to feed six children. Other kids spend the same amount for extra whipped cream on their frappuccinos (and extra inches on their hips).

How many pens can 20 pesos buy for a writer like me?

As varied as one or four or none-depending on how far I choose to take it.


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