Here’s the story behind the Philippine Eagle photo on the newly designed P1,000 bill

Published May 3, 2022, 12:19 PM

by John Legaspi

Pilot and wildlife photographer Floyd Pison Bermejo weighs in on the P1,000 bill’s new look

The Philippines has a myriad of symbols that embody the culture, heritage, and spirit of the Filipino people. Among the official ones, nothing is quite remarkable as the Philippine eagle. In 1995, the Philippine-endemic bird replaced the maya as the National Bird through Proclamation No. 615, signed by then-President Fidel V. Ramos, solidifying its status as one of the country’s emblems.

With its brown feathers, shaggy crest, and intense blue-gray eyes, the creature is a sight to behold whether it is perched on a tree branch or soaring in the sky, making it the perfect muse for artists. One of them is Floyd Pison Bermejo. A professional pilot, Floyd, whenever he is not up in the air maneuvering planes, has kept his eyes on the sky to capture birds with his camera. Having a big heart for wildlife photography and nature conservation, he has set a goal to capture the Philippine eagle in its most regal moment ever since he started taking photos of birds. Not only did he successfully get a master shot of the raptor, but his image is now immortalized by being featured on the polymer banknote.

Floyd Pison Bermejo (Photo from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas)

Last December, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) presented the redesigned version of the P1,000 bill, replacing the images of three of the country’s World War II heroes—Jose Abad Santos, Josefa Llanes Escoda, and Vicente Lim—with his Philippine Eagle photo, which led to dividing many Filipinos about the redesigned bill.

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the pilot-lensman shares the story of how he captured the photo of the Philippine Eagle, how the BSP acquired his work, and his view on the people who are opposed to the P1,000 bill’s new look.

Hi, Floyd! First off, how are you and what are the things that kept you busy these days? How long have you been a wildlife photographer?

Thank God my family and I are going well. I am a pilot by profession so lately I’ve been busy with flight schedules since tourism and air travel are picking up once again. I’ve been a wildlife photographer for eight years now. I joined Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines in 2014. My friends from Negros formed Negros Bird Conservation Society in 2017. In 2018, I joined Robert S Kennedy Bird Conservancy.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo of the Philippine eagle? Where did you capture it?

When I started wild bird photography back in 2014, I listed all the birds that I wanted to photograph in the wild. The Philippine eagle is at the top of the list. Aside from being our National Bird, the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is the largest bird of prey here in our country—and the most beautiful, if I may say so. It’s the world’s rarest eagle. No wonder wild bird photographers, both local and foreign, desire to have a photograph of the “Haring Ibon” in the wild.

Photos from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

In 2017, I went to Davao specifically to get a portrait of the Philippine eagle. My fellow photographers mentioned that seeing the “Haribon” in the wild for the first time could mesmerize you with its beauty. They added that you’ll be in so much awe that you might end up just staring and forget to use your camera to capture its beauty. So it made sense to visit the Philippine Eagle Center, run by the Philippine Eagle Foundation, to familiarize myself with this majestic creature before I get the chance to photograph it in the wild.

Accompanied by my birder friends from Davao, we went to the Philippine Eagle Center as early as possible to avoid the crowd. There are about four Philippine Eagles that are out of their enclosures, but I stayed with Imbulog because, for me, he is the most photogenic. “Imbulog,” which means “to soar,” is one of the captive-bred Philippine Eagles at the Center.

Before I went to Davao, I did some research about the Philippine eagle on how it behaves because I wanted to photograph it with its crest up. I also checked the photos of other photographers for inspiration and to plan how I could present mine differently.

I learned that Philippine eagles raise their crests when they are excited. In captivity, they get excited when they see their handlers bringing food. So whenever I would notice a handler about to walk in front of the eagle, I would prepare to get the shot that I wanted.

As an artist, I envision the shot that I want before I went out in the field. For the Philippine eagle, I wanted to portray it as a fierce hunter but at the same time a gentle creature of God. I wanted it to have a crest that is slightly raised, looking a bit down and a little to the right of my lens.

I stayed with Imbulog for about two hours until I was satisfied with my photograph of the most critically endangered eagle in the world. In those moments, I kept looking at his beautiful blue eyes and wondered why someone would harm such a wonderful creature. Why they would ever want to destroy its kingdom.

It was then that I promised myself to do whatever I can to save our national bird from all kinds of threats. Through my photographs, I hope people would be aware that we have so many marvelous endemic species that need protection from extinction.

How did the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas acquire your photo?

They saw my photo on the internet and they reached out to me through my Facebook page. A year ago, they asked me if they could use my photo for a commemorative banknote that will be released sometime in April 2022. They asked me how much would I ask for it but then I realized that it will be part of history, I gave it for free.

What did you feel about knowing your photo will be immortalized through the P1,000 bill?

Actually, I still think that I am dreaming. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am so honored. I felt more excited when I saw in the news that it would be used in a paper bill for circulation and not just in a commemorative banknote. What a way to spread awareness about our national bird.

What is your view on the people opposing the redesign of the P1,000 bill?

I understand where they are coming from. I, too, deeply honor the heroism and bravery of our heroes, not just the ones featured in our banknotes. I am glad both banknotes co-exist and are in circulation. We salute the heroism of those who have gone before us, at the same time drawing attention to the plight of our endangered flora and fauna. We commemorate the past, while we do something about our future. Both themes are symbols of our cultural identity.

Where can people see more of your photographs?

They can check out my Instagram (@nature.priority) and my website I also have a Facebook page Nature Priority by Floyd P Bermejo.

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