Cartoons were put to effective use during the Japanese occupation as a tool of propaganda. The Japanese Military Administration knew well of the cartoons' popularity with the Filipino people, and they took advantage of its popularity to propagandize their policy of occupation.
Throughout history, every conquering nation needs to come up with a moral justification for occupying another nation. In its history, the Philippines had been conquered three times by foreign powers. These conquering nations--Spain, the United States and Japan--needed to give a valid and justifiable moral reason in order to win over the cooperation of the subjugated nation as an imperative colonial strategy in order to establish a moral ascendancy to rule, as well as to dissipate any future revolt by the conquered populace.
When Spain conquered the Philippines, the moral justification was that they aimed to spread Catholicism in a pagan country, to make Christians out of heathens. The tools of propaganda were the friars who brought with them religious rites and ceremonies to attract the population. In the case of the United States’ conquest of the Philippines, its moral justification was the credo of colonial rule: “White Man’s Burden”: that it was the moral duty of the white people, being the superior race, to take care of their less-fortunate “brown” brothers, i.e, the Filipinos.
The Japanese, on their part, had to invent their own moral justification when they invaded the Philippines. They claimed that it was the Americans, and not the Filipinos, they were waging war against. Their propaganda was the credo Asia for Asians, Philippines for the Filipinos. They posed themselves as liberators instead of conquerors.
In order to better convince the Filipinos of their “friendly” invasion, the Japanese had to resort to the use of propaganda. In a propaganda war, the printed word is an effective weapon to convince, to manipulate, and to conquer. Moreso was the use of graphic images such as cartoons and comic strips, as they have mass appeal and can easily be understood by people.
Cartoons as Propaganda Tool
On January 2, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Manila. They first thing the Japanese did was to confiscate the press as they obviously knew that controlling it was vital to disseminate their propaganda and justify their invasion.
The Roces newspapers Tribune-La Vanguardia-Taliba, widely known as the TVT, were confiscated. Apparently, the Japanese tried to legally own the TVT by offering Roces any amount he would wish to sell it. But the tycoon said "You can use the TVT, but I will not sell it".
The Hodobu (Japanese Information Bureau)thus occupied the TVT but decided to use only one newspaper: The Tribune.
The Tribune therefore became the sole official newspaper allowed by the Hodobu to circulate in Manila.
Artists' Role in the Japanese Propaganda
Several Filipino artists were recruited by the Hodobu to serve in the propaganda campaign. Some of the notable ones were Tony Velasquez, J.M. Perez, Francisco Reyes, Vicente Manansala, Liborio Gatbonton, and Victorio Edades. These artists/cartoonists were forced to create illustrations that were used in various Japanese-sponsored publications like Shin-Seiki, Liwayway, Tribune, and other similar propaganda materials. The collaboration issue may be charged to these artists, but one must understand the fact they have families to feed, and during those critical years, that was the most important thing. It was understood that not everyone was expected to flee to the mountains.
Tony Velasquez created a series of cartoons in the Tribune called the Kalibapi Family. This cartoon strip depicted the everyday life of a typical Filipino family in Manila during the Japanese occupation, and as such, should supposedly portray the new social order of the Philippines under the aegis of the Japanese Empire.
The Kalibapi Family’s title was derived from the KALIBAPI or the Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (Society for the service to the New Philippines), a Japanese sponsored socio-cultural-political party for serving the new Philippines under the aegis of Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It was founded in November 19, 1942, under Executive Order No. 109, issued by Jorge Vargas, the Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission. All other political parties were dissolved.
The party’s ultimate aim was to “unify the Filipinos, regardless of social class, sex, rank, or religion, in order to achieve, with the cooperation of the Japanese Military Administration, the reconstruction of the country and to reinvigorate in the people oriental values such as faith, self-reliance, respect and hard work” (Source: A.V.H. Hartendorp, The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, Bookmark, 1969)
Like all others employed by the Japanese, Velasquez became member of the Kalibapi party. By 1943, there were already some 500,000 members of the Kalibapi. (Source: Augusto De Viana, Kulaburetor! UST Press, 2003)
The Kalibapi Family cartoons first appeared on a January 1943 issue of the Tribune. As earlier mentioned, these cartoons were supposed to be a propaganda material to serve the Japanese purposes, but Velasquez wisely managed to evade portraying it to be such.
However, extant prints of the Kalibapi cartoons revealed nothing that would make it appear as pro-Japanese or even remotely a propaganda material. Actually, Velasquez “cheated” the Japanese Censors in this comic strip, and he got away with it. Instead of creating propaganda cartoons that portrayed the moral justification of the Japanese occupation, he portrayed the inherent qualities of the Filipino people in times of distress.
Filipino values like pagtitiis, pagtitipid, and paggalang were recurring themes in the cartoons. These, of course, did not conflict with the original aims of the Kalibapi Party, which only vaguely benefited the interests of the Japanese.
Another frequent theme in the comic strip focused on the malicious profiteering of some greedy Filipinos who took advantage of the current scarcity of basic necessities.
It was remarkable that this strip was able to pass the approval of the Japanese censors. In fact, had it not been a time of war, the Kalibapi Family may well have passed for an educational comic strip intended for values education of Filipino school children.
It is intersting that Velasquez was not the only one who employed this technique: fellow writers in Liwayway also tricked the Japanese. They would weave stories of heroism of Filipino guerrillas in between lines and pages that contained Japanese propaganda. Since these stories were written in Tagalog, the unwary Japanese thought they were publishing propaganda materials.
The Role of Kenkoy
The Japanese Military Administration also confiscated the Liwayway. As the leading Tagalog weekly, the Liwayway was put to good use to help propagandize Japanese aims. During the Japanese occupation, stories of Japanese war heroes and heroism abound in the Liwayway.
The Kenkoy strip was also continued in the Liwayway. However, its creator, Tony Velasquez, refused to let Kenkoy be used in propaganda campaigns. Instead, he managed to make his Kenkoy strip apolitical. Velasquez concentrated on just making Kenkoy mouth the health programs of the newly-established Laurel Republic.
During the Second World War, the Japanese intended that cartoons be used to propagandize their occupation agenda. Many cartoonists/artists were forced to create artworks that may serve the Japanese purpose. However, not one of the extant cartoons/illustrations created by these Filipino artists is found to be pro-Japanese. Most of the cartoons depict only ordinary Philippine life during the occupation, or even satirized (in subtle form) the Japanese administration.
- Arevalo, Cynthia, ed., "A History of Komiks in the Philippines and Other Countries" Manila: Islas Filipinas Publishing Co., 1985
- De Viana, Augusto "Kulaburetor" Manila: UST Press 2003
- Hartendorp, A.V.H. "The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines" Manila: Solidaridad Publishing, 1966
- Jose, Ricardo "The Japanese Occupation" Vol.7, "Kasaysayan", Manila: Readers Digest Publications, 1998
- McCoy Alfred and Roces, Alfredo, "Philippine Cartoons" Manila: Vera-Reyes, 1985
- Steinberg, David Joel "The Issue of Philippine Collaboration" Manila: Solidaridad Publishing Co., 1967
- Velasquez, Antonio "My Authobiography" from the Estate of Tony Velasquez
- Villegas, Dennis "Tony Velasquez: Life and Times"