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Political Caricatures of the American Era

Banos, John Vincent E.

Ecito, Maria Julie C.
Labaclado, Angela Marielle E.
Tarrayo, Oliver Gregorio B.

I. Background of the Author/s

Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred William McCoy, born on June 8, 1945, is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison. McCoy has been recognized as “one of the world’s
leading historians of Southeast Asia and an expert on Philippine political history, opium
trafficking in the Golden Triangle, underworld crime syndicates, and international political
surveillance.” He graduated from the Kent School in 1964. He earned his BA from Columbia
College, and his PhD in Southeast Asian history from Yale University in 1977. McCoy has spent
the past thirty years writing about Southeast Asian history and politics. His publications include
Philippine Cartoons (1985), Anarchy of Families (1994), Closer Than Brothers: Manhood at the
Philippine Military Academy (2000) and Lives at the Margin (2001).

Alfredo R. Roces

Alfredo Reyes-Roces is a gifted artist-writer from the known Roces clan in Philippine
print media. He is the author of the latest book on the Roces family, "Looking for Liling" and the
National Book Award-winning title, "Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and the Generation of 1972".
Currently a freelance artist and writer, Alfredo or Ding, as he is fondly called, has been living in
Australia since 1977. He married Irene Pineda on May 24, 1958 and has three daughters, Grace,
Mina and Mia. The youngest among nine brothers, Ding was born on April 29, 1932 at Sta. Cruz,
Manila. His parents are Rafael Filomeno Roces and Inocencia Reyes. He finished elementary at
St. Mary's College in 1946. He transferred at the Far Eastern University for his high school and
graduated in 1950. For college he went to the University of Notre Dame and completed a degree
in Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1954. He also attended the Arts Students' League of New York in the
years 1955 - 1956 with the well-known German Dadaist, George Grosz, as his mentor. Finally,
for a year (however not mentioned when) he trained at an advertising firm in New York called
Donahue and Coe.

II. Historical Context of the Document/s

The American Period of rule over the Philippine Islands became nearly 50 years after it
purchased the country from its former colonizer, the Spaniards, in the Treaty of Paris in 1899. By
the time United States took over the government in Manila, the country had been in a state of
war for three years. When the Spanish government refused the Filipinos’ long-standing request
of reformation in the islands’ government, the Philippines erupted into rebellion in 1896. Then
on 1899, after the Treaty of Paris, Americans attempted to install a new colonial regime in the
The Philippine-American War began a month later. The war pitted pro-independence
Filipinos (who believed that the Spanish rule was simply replaced by the American government)
up against U.S. forces based mainly in Manila. The United States responded by putting the
country under martial law until the conflict died down in 1902.
By 1902, the war left an indelible mark on the identity of the Philippines. This collective
experience of fighting off against the Spaniards and then the Americans inspired its people to
embrace a sense of nationhood/nationalism, to celebrate and appreciate their commonalities, and
shared beliefs and values. By the time America assumed possession of the Philippines, the
country’s economy had grown at a decent clip. The country experienced growth and
advancements in technology, particularly transportation and communication. As well as the
transition and merging of different cultures, from Spanish to American. The U.S. also introduced
democracy and proper political positions to the Filipinos, as well as a proper education system.
The American era of staying in the Philippines influenced changes in political thought,
values, culture, and tradition of its people. It also made the country an important historical site
for other major events such as the onset of World War II. The liberation of the Philippines ended
nearly three years of hardship that robbed the country of its time and resources for its transition
to independence. The Philippines became independent on July 4, 1946.

III. Content Presentation and Analysis

The above image shows a political cartoon published by The Independent on May 20,
1916. The cartoon depicts Dr. Santos (a Filipino politician from Tondo) passing his crown to his
brother-in-law, Dr. Barcelona. A Filipino (wearing salakot and barong tagalog) is trying to stop
Santos, telling him to stop giving his crown to Barcelona for it is not his to give.
As the phrase written on this cartoon says, “A public post is not a hereditary crown.” This
depicts one of the earliest form of political dynasty in the Philippines. It was almost natural that a
position in the government (a public post) should be given to a relative since during that time
(and even until now) there is no direct law preventing political dynasty to play. Filipinos, since
the American, has always been aware and conscious of those who rule over them and will always
attempt to stop anyone who abuses such power. Especially since during that time, Americans had
begun to introduce the concept of democracy to the Filipinos. Unfortunately, Filipinos did not yet
fully understand the essence of democracy (as depicted in this cartoon).
This second cartoon was a commentary on unprecedented cases of colorum automobiles
in the city streets. This was published by the Philippine Free Press when fatal accidents
involving such colorum cars and taxis occurred too often. The cartoon depicts these colorum
vehicles as Death’s ride, making us think that if you get hit by this, Death has taken you.
The transition from the Spanish rule to the American rule was not easy for the Filipinos.
It was not only a transition of government, it was also a transition of technology. Advancements
in transportation was a new thing for the Filipinos, not only because it made transport easier and
faster, but also because it made transport more enjoyable. This then caused drivers at that time to
drive freely and recklessly. Car accidents (such as hit-and-run incidents) was not new, not only
because of reckless drivers, but also because people at that time were not aware (or not used to)
safety precautions on the streets (such as crossing one).
These vehicles became one of the best things left behind by the Americans to the
Filipinos. But, of course, they take credit for creating it but not by getting hit by one.

This cartoon shows a cinema where a Police Officer is presented on the screen and is
looking towards a young couple, telling them that “…necking or love making is not allowed in
the theater.” The young couple looks terrified while an older couple looks amused.
The message of this cartoon can be summed up in one sentence, “No Public Display of
Affection.” Ever since the American Era (or even during the Spanish Era), young couples
expressing their love towards each other in a public setting has always been shunned by the
public even until now. It also depicts the kind of culture they had back then which is,
interestingly, not so far from the tradition we have today. Young couples kissing, hugging, and
making love in a dark cinema or theater and guards or older people going against such activities.
The same events are happening today and the only difference is that, people today are much
more open than during those times. However, the old couple in the cartoon looks amused.
Probably because either they enjoy seeing the young couple getting scolded or they enjoy seeing
young couple loving one another as they did when they were younger.
Not only is the culture during that time shown here, it also shows the technological
advancements the Philippines had when the Americans arrived. Not only did Filipinos enjoy
advanced transportation, but advanced entertainment as well.

This cartoon, published by The Independent on November 27, 1915, depicts Uncle Sam
(a personification of the United States of America) riding a chariot pulled by Filipino school
boys in uniform while carrying American objects such as a baseball bat and a bottle of whiskey.
According to McCoy, this was based on a similar event in 1907 where William Howard Taft
(arrived at the Manila pier) rode a chariot being pulled by students from Liceo de Manila which
was condemned by Nationalists at that time.
This cartoon represents how Filipinos were seen and treated by the Americans during
their rule over the Philippines. The same way the saw African-Americans in the United States,
they saw Filipinos as a lower and less civilized race than them. During that time, racism towards
Filipinos was common. The idea of Americans using Filipinos as slaves or servants being under
them was not new. This caricature shows the reality that Americans, and even the Spaniards who
came before, depicted Filipinos as savages who needed guidance and rule from higher races to
become civilized.
This could also mean that Americans controlled the populace by controlling their
education. It can also symbolize Americans training Filipinos for their own agenda, whatever
that may be.

This last cartoon was published by Lipang Kalabaw on August 24, 1907. This cartoon
shows Uncle Sam rationing porridge (a meal composed of oats and rice) to the politicians,
specifically the Progresista Party or the Federalista Party (which supported Federalism in the
Philippines). While the Nacionalista Party are waiting for their turn. It depicts Philippine
political parties at that time desiring patronage or political support from the Americans.
The cartoon shows the weakness of Philippine politics at its early stages by exposing
them coveting support from the Americans. This is to no surprise since Philippine politics at that
time was still young and new to this kind of field of work. However, such a practice has not truly
changed even now. Politicians tend to jump from one political party to another which we call as
“Political Butterflies” so as to gain support for their cause. This is actuially a sad message for it
depicts our unchanging practice of personal political gain and no clear political stand or position.
However, this image does show the improvement in Philippine politics ever since the Spaniards
and Americans took rule over us. This represented one of the early step to self-governance of the

IV. Contribution and Relevance of the Document/s in understanding the grand narrative of
Philippine History

The Philippines is a country rich in history. Yet, it is not exempted from false historical
documents which claims to record the past of the country. It is then important to consider other
ways of recording its history besides written documents and other historical objects. Political
cartoons are a good way of telling an event in history in a way that is not commonly studied by
those who have a heart for the Philippine history. Through these caricatures, it paints a picture on
how life was during the American Era, the culture and tradition, as well as the everyday political
and social problems faced by the early Filipinos.
These cartoons provides us a new set of eyes on looking at life during those times. These
documents are important to help us understand how Filipinos used to live, how they adapted to
the major changes both in social life and technology, and how they viewed their rulers. It depicts
the transition of the Filipinos based on their colonizers. These caricatures are therefore relevant
even today as a way of learning about life during the early stages of the Philippines as a nation. It
is a major contribution for the knowledge of the country’s past for both young and old learners to

V. Relevance of the Document

Historical records, in any shape or form, is relevant in the recording of past events.
History will teach you that one historical record of a specific person or event is not enough to
understand or even get a clearer picture. Which is why, historical records, artifacts, monuments,
journals, letters, newspapers, and even political cartoons are important to better understand what
a particular history is all about and what it’s trying to show.
Political cartoons has always been a way of recording an event that is kept to be studied
in the future. It depicts what was happening during that time and it even shows the kind of
culture and tradition the people used to have. If such documents are important before, it still has
the same relevance today. People use it to express their political stand or position on a subject, it
can even be used to express a practice or event in a humorous way which then capture people’s
attention. Political Caricatures also present history in a unique way; it presents history by using
metaphors and other “not straight to the point” ways of telling it. Which makes it more
interesting as a historical record.

 A.W. McCoy & A.R. Roces (1985) Philippine Cartoons: Political Caricature of the
American Era 1900-1941. Vera-reyes, Inc., Philippines.

 Stanley, A Nation in the Making: 55; Brands, Bound to Empire: 50, 51, 53, 60

 “The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902,” Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of


 The group’s personal analysis and opinions.