Photos and text by Marc Laurenze C. Celis
DECADES AGO, Thomasian Bayani Rumbaoa would sketch his father on a bond paper with a No. 2 Mongol drawing pencil. Years later, he would engrave his father’s image as a Katipunero on the nation’s commemorative one-peso coin.
Bayani, or “Yannie” as his friends call him, has been Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) senior engraver since 1986. Before that, all the coins produced by the BSP were designed by American and Canadian engravers, so Rumbaoa was the first Filipino to design the country’s coins, which reach every island in the archipelago and Filipinos of all classes.
Yannie’s knack for drawing began at an early age of five. The master engraver said his artistic beginnings were modest, starting in fact in a small shack in Sampaloc, Manila.
“One morning, my father saw me doodling images on a piece of paper,” he recalled. “He asked me to draw him every time he slept, so I did. The next morning, he looked at my drawings and called his cousins, whose pastime was to draw, and asked them to hone my skills.”
From that day onwards, Yannie knew his skill would lead him to the visual arts.
“My father once told me that graduating from high school is more than enough. We were poor,” he said. “If artists who were good in the field were having a hard time getting a job, could I do any better?”
After receiving his high school diploma in 1975, the young Rumbaoa enrolled in an art school in Morayta. Determined to make it in the arts, he then transferred to the then UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts to major in Painting.
Rumbaoa said that he had to work hard to graduate.
“I had to find petty jobs where I was good at,” he said. “I painted movie attraction boards, portraitures—even simple house paint jobs.”
Yannie was able to finish his degree in 1982, after eight years of doing odd paint jobs to finance his tuition.
With an education from the Pontifical University to back up his career, Rumbaoa said his painting skills gained distinction and some renown.
“UST gave me my own identity as a painter,” he said. “If a painter paints an image similar to those of thousands of other painters, his mentor did not do his job well. But in UST, every graduate is as unique as his fingerprint, yet the quality is still remarkable.”
Even with college degrees to back their passion, artists like Yannie found it hard to get a stable job.
“Financially, an artist cannot feed his family with a one-day millionaire wage scheme. I had to find a job—a regular job,” he said. “So I tried my luck on a job call posted outside our college building.”
The poster said the then Central Bank of the Philippines was looking for an “engraver” of coins. Even though Yannie did not know much about coin engraving at the time, he applied and gave his best shot in the examination.
“At that time, I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said. “BSP was looking for a senior engraver. I didn’t know what the job description was, but as long as I was qualified to apply, I took my chance.”
After a grueling exam, Rumbaoa walked out of the old Central Bank building on Roxas Blvd., Pasay City, feeling he had aced his qualifying examination. But it was only three years later that BSP called him up to tell him he got the position.
“They called me up around mid-1986,” he said. “I don’t know why it took so long, but I was glad to get the job.”
Rumbaoa’s first coins were a P10 coin and a P1,000 coin commemorating the People Power Revolution. His other designs included the P2 Araw ng Kagitingan commemorative coin, featuring an image of his father as a Katipunero and a P50 coin with the image of Pope John Paul II to commemorate the Pontiff’s 1995 World Youth Day visit of the Philippines.
The coin mint process usually starts with the engraver’s design approved by the BSP. The design can either be sculpted through plaster or engraved on a titanium plate. The finished product would be used to strike coin blanks to produce identical coins.
“The first time my work was put onto a coin, I was overwhelmed,” Yannie said. “I knew that not everyone would know the design was mine, but it didn’t matter. I could still proudly say that these coins were my designs.”
He added that his job came not only with great perks but with greater responsibilities and conditions.
“At one point in my life, I could not do what I love—painting—so I devoted myself to coin engraving,” he said.
In order to hone his skills as an engraver, Rumbaoa had to study again, this time at the Instituto Telegrafico in Rome, Italy in 1986 to specialize in Coin Mint and Engraving.
“There were a dozen of us studying coin engraving at the time, all from different parts of the world,” Rumbaoa said. “It was fulfilling to represent our country. They kept on praising Filipino talents and how we stand out in the field of art.”
At present, all of the coins in circulation in the country as well as commemorative coins and Malacañang presidential medals were designed by Yannie.
“As an artist, it is fulfilling to see your works reach all people, even those who are not Filipinos,” he said.
But with more time, Rumbaoa wishes to go back to his first love—painting, minting his artistry on canvas and sharing his know-how through workshops and special art classes.
“God is really good,” he said. “He gives you what you need, and gives you more, (which you match) with hard work.”