Saturday, January 6, 2018

Those Mama Sita stamps

In 2013 the Mama Sita food company signed a contract ending 2017 with Philpost for the issuance of stamps bearing the image of founder Teresita Reyes. Many collectors howled and asked why did the post office allow commercial entities to appear in our stamps. The first set appeared that year. Again, grumbling from collectors were heard about the awful design of the souvenir sheet (S/S), particularly the perforations for two "ghost" stamps that amounted to P10 each, making the S/S cost P30. "The extra P20 surtax is twice the amount of the P10 stamp in the S/S," they asked. "What for?"

2013 Mama Sita, the first set
The answer: Because the Post Office needed money, that's why it is accepting commercial products to appear in our stamps. A minimum amount of stamps that must be bought by the proponent was required and established, even before the Mama Sita stamps. More about this later.

Many people do not know that the Bureau of Posts was created in 1922, when the Philippines, under American Occupation, joined the Universal Postal Union as a "sovereign" entity. The Manila Central Post Office building in Liwasang Bonifacio was finished in 1926 and became the headquarters of the Bureau of Posts. The building was destroyed during the battle to liberate Manila from the Japanese in February 1945. It reopened on 1945 April 16, even as other parts of the building were undergoing restoration. Philately was strong in pre-war and post-war years; it did not abate during the Japanese Occupation, when the Philippines' first ever souvenir sheet was printed in 1943 to celebrate the country's "independence" from American rule.

First souvenir sheet was printed under Japanese Occupation.

Stamp shops proliferated in Manila and neighboring cities and even distant provinces. Many families became rich through the stamp trade; they bought cars and big houses, some established branches and the dealers kept churning many variations of First Day Covers (FDCs) by designing for each stamp different cachets on envelopes they embossed by silk-screen printing. Thus, 5-centavo stamps were affixed on envelopes of various designs and sold for, say, 50 centavos, a ten-fold increase of capital. Thousand were made by each dealer. And what remains to the heirs now are just cherry-on-top windfall items whose companions had already recovered the cost of production and had made huge profits all around.

Samples of embossed FDCs made for the stamp commemorating
the inauguration of the Manila Cathedral in 1958. Many variations were made,
as much as the market could bear.

In 1986 the People Power revolution ousted President Marcos and loosened the government's hold on the Post Office, albeit temporarily. "With the overhaul of the Philippine bureaucracy in 1987, the Bureau of Post was renamed the Postal Service Office (PSO) by the virtue of Executive Order No. 125 issued by then-President Corazon Aquino on April 13, 1987. It was also that order which placed PSO under the Department of Transportation and Communications(DOTC). On April 2, 1992, by virtue of the Republic Act No.7354 issued by then-President Fidel V. Ramos, PSO became a government owned and controlled corporation named as the Philippine Postal Corporation of more commonly known today as PHLPost."

Under Martial Rule -- from 1972 Sept. 21 to 1986 Feb. 25 -- the Post Office was implicitly under behest orders to sometimes print "special" issues; for example, Sept. 11 in 1981 and 1982 for Marcos's birthday. Of particular interest is the 1981 Justice Fred Ruiz Castro issue, of which 2,000,000 copies were printed. It made the Guinness Book of World Records (about unusual facts) ask why the 67th birthday of a Supreme Court justice was being made indelible on a Philippine stamp. The answer that tickled rebellious hearts was, "So that we can spit on his back." And there were bundles of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos stamps printed, before and after Martial Law was declared.

Why is he on our stamp? Because Marcos needed the SC's cooperation.

Last year, in 2017, President Duterte asked the Philpost to issue the Marcos Birthday Centenary stamp, following the request of Bongbong Marcos and family, a few months after the dictator was hurriedly buried in the Libingan ng Bayani. Public money shouldered the cost. When no Marcos stamps were sent to the northern provinces, busloads of people from Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan traveled to the Manila Central Post Office and bought sheets and sheets of the stamp. The stock of FDCs, whose production (since 2008) was limited to 400 copies, was quickly depleted. Apparently there was no special order from Malacanang to make more than the usual amount of FDCs, thus high officials' ignorance of the philatelic process somewhat saved a bit of the public fund from extending a tyrant's memoriam. Dead and still stealing!

Dead but still stealing from the public in 2017.

Except for the last thirteen or fifteen years of the last century, dealers made very decent living by buying and selling mint and used stamps and covers. The slump in stamp collecting, and therefore in the sales of stamps, started about 1997 onward. Most likely this was a result of the emergence of affordable cellphones and personal computers for the masses, who are not as disciplined and educated as those of the previous generations. One of the dealers told me about the quiet desperation of staying in her store with almost no collector coming for entire weeks.

Commemorative stamps used to be printed in the hundreds of thousands, with the definitive issues printed in several millions. Definitives are usually smaller in size and used mainly as postage). The fluctuation in printing was evident by 1998, when President Estrada was elected. A set of commemorative stamps for his inauguration was printed, at 200,000 each for each value. The set was sold on November 10.

The last of the commemoratives to be printed in the hundreds of thousands. 

The last commemorative single in high volume was the Victoriano Mapa High School stamp, sold on 1998 May 5. Records show that 205,000 were printed by Amstar, which is still printing for Philpost today. Allow 2,000 copies of that for the official FDCs. In 2001 Philpost printed only 5,000 sets of the Gloria Macapagal Inauguration stamps. Later on, another 5,000 sets were requested to be reprinted. That's still half of the Estrada sets printed.

203,000 for collectors and as postage, 2,000 for FDCs.

The next single after the Mapa High School stamps suffered an abrupt decline in volume; only 50,000 copies of the 1998 University of Baguio stamp were printed. The steep drop went unnoticed by both collectors and Post Office employees, but the impact would be felt year later, when some collectors went searching for this stamp to fill the hole in their album.

The first lowballer

The decline in demand not only forced the Post Office to reduce the number of stamps, souvenir sheets and sheetlets to be printed, this also led to the reduction of the FDCs, from a healthy 2,000 down to an erratic 400 pieces. If the stamp is thematic -- about animals, fish, ships, flowers -- all 400 were quickly snapped up; if the topic is humdrum, many are left over. To save further, the Post Office has decided that FDCs are to be made by request: The buyer who wants FDCs will have to buy the stamps and envelopes first, then go upstairs to have an employee affix the stamps and postmark the envelopes. A very tedious process that only avid cover collectors will endure.

Such was the situation that left the Post Office willing if not averse to soliciting sponsors for stamps or postal materials to be printed, anything to counteract the huge loss of revenues. When Mama Sita arrived, it was received happily, it was deemed a helping hand that produced the fund to meet the budget for stamps and envelopes scheduled to be printed, for salary of all personnel, and for all other regular expenses. 

In 2014 the second Mama Sita set came out, just a B/4, no S/S, and the corresponding FDC. 

2014 set and FDC

Those who are crying out against the commercialism of PHLpost now don't even remember that a Shell Oil Refinery B/4 set, a sheetlet, and FDCs with two different cancels were also sold the same year. The B/4 set costs a steep P100, at a time when collecting stamp is still declining. The Postmaster General then was the former governor of Bulacan, Josie de la Cruz, who knew nothing about stamps, nothing about making profit, and had even made deals which caused losses to the Post Office. But the PHLpost, a government-owned and -controlled corporation is full of corrupt employees and consultants; the stamps, however, are legitimate. What happened to the money earned by philately remains vague. Let's not even talk about the huge but unremitted earnings from metered mail.

2014 Shell sheetlet and FDC with Makati postmark

Then followed the 2015 Mama Sita strip-of-3 set, but arranged in three different formats. So if a collector wants all variants he must buy all three strips, one sheetlet, and three different FDCs. At a time when the number of collectors of Philippine stamps was dwindling and shifting to the much cheaper and at least as beautiful Thailand stamps.

2016 produced a respite in expense for Mama Sita stamps -- just a single plus its FDC. 2017 followed suit, but the design of the single is light-years better than the 2013 S/S. A top employee at the Post Office said the 2017 single is the last Mama Sita stamp to be printed, as provided by contract. But I'm sure in the Philippines, everything is negotiable -- a tyrant who plundered the coffers and caused many Filipinos to disappear can be buried in cemeteries reserved for heroes or decent presidents. Same tyrant has a new stamp and FDC too. 

2016 single and FDC

2017single and FDC

How many collectors know that around 2002 Philpost and Hallmark teamed up to make two postal cards printed for the 2002 Meetings of Families set?

Philpost and Hallmark postal cards front and back
And a bit later four postal cards were printed by Philpost for Manila Bulletin. The postcards were awarded by the newspaper to participants of an event sponsored by the Bulletin. Although some were left at the Post Office ten years later, they were not advertised or sold. For avid postal collectors, anything issued by the Post Office for public use is eminently collectible, but many up to now are not aware that this set is missing from their collection. I printed photos of the postal cards (front and back), each paired with a 2000 Manila Bulletin Centenary stamp.

Not counting UST, the earliest stamp with commercial leaning in the Republic era is the Philippine National Bank set; it was followed by a centenary set in 2016. 1969, 1972 and 2008 saw sets Development Bank of the Philippines commemoratives, in 1971 a First National City Bank set. A Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation single was released in 1975. A set of Asian Development Bank came out in 1977, followed in 1988 by a Land Bank set and a PCI Bank set, Equitable PCI Bank single in 2000, a Bank of the Philippine Islands single and a postal card in 2001, a Metrobank B/4 set and a Security Bank se-tenant set in 2010.

1966 PNB set, the first enterprising Republic stamp?
Philippine Airlines came out four times: sets of 2 in 1976 and 1991, a se-tenant with two B/4s in 1986, and a single in 2017. A Pan American Airlines single was issued in 1977, and in 1979 an Air France set of 2 made its contribution to the aviation topicals.
Drinkers got their share of stamps in the San Miguel Beer Centenary set in 1990, and another set in 2015 for the beer's 125th anniversary. Hard drinkers will get by with the Tanduay Rhum single of 2004. In 2016 Philpost approached Coca-Cola and asked if the corporation would like to have its 125th anniversary in the Philippines celebrated in stamps. The firm declined, explaining that it was still recovering from the loss of its bottling plant in Tacloban after Yolanda devastated the area.

2015 San Miguel Beer FDC set, Mandaluyong cancel
We saw a 1995 Mercury Drugs single in 1995, and a Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in 2004. The UST Hospital single was released in 1996, the Baguio General Hospital in 2002, and a St. Luke's single and a maxicard in 2004.

PLDT came out with a se-tenant in 1978 and a single and a sheetlet 10 years later. In 1988 the Bataan Oil Refinery set was sold. The Meralco Electric Company single and a big sheetlet were issued in 2003. In 1970 Iligan Integrated Steel Mills company was represented by a set of 3 stamps. 

The 1978 Benguet Consolidated Mining single was followed by a Benguet Mining Corporation single in 2003 for its 100th year anniversary. A se-tenant Lepanto Mining set came out in 2012.

2003 Benguet Mining and 2012 Lepanto Mining set
In 1995 the SGV & Co. Accounting firm celebrated with a stamp in 1995. So did the Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez & Gatmaitan Law Firm in 2010.

Insurance firms are well-represented, starting with the 1996 Sun Life Assurance Company set of 2, followed by 1997 Philamlife Insurance Co. single, the 2004 Grepalife Life Insurance Co. single, the 2007 Manulife Insurance single and mini sheetlet, and then the now-infamous Yuchengco Group of Companies single (2011).

A set of 2 of ABS CBN TV Network stamps showcased in 1996, and the GMA-7 TV Network entertained us with a single. In 1987 and 2012 the Manila Hotel celebrated with four stamps, while the less elegant Apo View Hotel made do with a single stamp. 

1996 ABS CBN Sarimanok set
Oh yes, the Boysen Paint pre-stamped envelope set were escorted in by a renowned catalog maker in 2010. And reappeared again in 2013, this time with a B/4 and a paint-can-shaped S/S. It can be a colorful world if you have plenty of stamps, for they are worth a lot of money. Even our stamps, it turns out, are very enterprising.

Uncancelled Boysen Paint pre-stamped set (Front and Back)

Cancelled set, one for regular rate, the other for Air Mail.

2013 set, a delight for collectors of unusual stamps