Travel Guide

Influence of American in the Philippines 101

American influence in the Philippines runs deep. History has not always been friendly though. Before the influence of American in the Philippines, there would be war and strife. There would be a series of reforms and betrayal. However, Filipino-American connection would eventually solidify through the desire for peace and development. This connection would run deep into history, from economic development to cultural ties.


The American government was split on two sides: annexation and integrity. Following the defeat of Spain in 1898 was the debate in American shores. America has snatched the Philippines, a Spanish colony. This was after the 1898 Spanish-American War. Back at home, the debate now rested on whether or not the Philippines was to become an annex of America.

Those in favor of annexation sought for economic opportunities. In addition, they were also concerned about other colonists, such as Japan, and the clamour to the Philippine islands. Meanwhile, those who were not in favor were worried about integrity. First, it was “morally wrong” to colonize the Philippines. Second, annexation can grant rights to non-white Filipino-Americans to work in the government. While the debate was on-going, Emilio Aguinaldo, who seized his place among the Filipino revolutionaries that time, claimed territories in the Philippines. He eventually proclaimed an independent republic. 

Philippine-American War

America had to act. The debate need not finish at this point. Aguinaldo-led revolutionaries and American forces clashed into total war in 1899. Aguinaldo and his forces engaged in conventional military warfare at this point. Many forces from the revolutionaries and the Americans died. American soldiers, however, overwhelmed the revolutionaries by numbers and resources. Aguinaldo was eventually captured and was convinced to surrender. Filipino revolutionaries, however, shifted into guerilla-style warfare and continued. Americans turned into a more reformist manner to capture the Philippines, focusing on the elites. They focused on social reforms, education, and economic development. In 1946, the Philippines was proclaimed as independent. 

A Synthesis 

The Spanish colonial government surrendered the Philippines. This was established in the Treaty of Paris. Mainly, America was concerned about other colonial powers. Japan and Germany were in the race. The Philippines was a strategic territory in Southeast Asia. Gaining control over the islands was a military and economic advantage. America was caught in the middle of a debate at first. However, the government was more keen into taking over the country. This surfaced when total war broke out between Aguinaldo forces and the American government.

America granted “independence” to the Philippines after winning the hearts and minds of the elites. Yet, the guerilla forces raged on. Dividing the country through class interest was the main premise of victory. Thus, the declaration of Philippine Independence. However, the conflict was never resolved. Guerillas rejected this “independence.” Eventually, the same revolutionary wing would eventually fight against Japanese occupation afterwards. Nevertheless, the proclamation of independence also caused America to inject reforms and new “development” in the Philippines. 

The American Dream: Influence of American in the Philippines

America brought in social reforms and economic development. Cultural changes were also prominent. The American Dream sunk into the heart and minds of the colonized. This pertained to the formula of individualism. The American Dream was attainable through hard work, education, and a good job. This attracted many Filipinos. In the country, American music, clothing, and lifestyle spread. Schools taught the English language and literature. Many Filipinos sought to go to American soil, as if it was key to dreams of progress and prosperity. 


America brought its program of tutelage. One of the pillars is economic development. Education was to be the backbone. Meanwhile, education is a known influence of American in the Philippines. The Philippines predominantly has public lands. Upon independence and economic treaties, much of these public lands have been converted into commercial uses. American investors eventually set ventures on these converted lands. America’s goal was to build infrastructure, particularly highways, harbor facilities, and mining facilities, to benefit commerce and trade. Americans also set eyes on the agricultural capacity of the Philippines. 

However, this would introduce competition in the world market. If major agricultural goods were to be harnessed, then this would compete with other US-owned plantations within and outside of its shores. As a resolution, all goods from the Philippines could enter the country except for sugar, rice, and tobacco. 


Philippine elites and American companies in the Philippines thrived over the years. Commercializing public land was a big hit. The Philippines became export oriented in terms of economic progress. It becomes dependent on imports, ironically, when it comes to basic goods. The Philippines, in other words, became dependent on foreign markets. It thrived on the pillars of cheap exports. Along with exports, however, other industries flourished. Infrastructure and buildings increased. Transportation and communication modernized. American economic legacy was based on commercialization, exportation, and modernization.


Influence of American in the Philippines created roads and bridges. This was a result of thriving exportation, commercialization, and modernization. Mining in the Cordillera region was also prominent. The Spanish colonial government was not able to penetrate indigenous communities in the Cordillera. The Cordillera is a mountainous region in northern Luzon. It includes Benguet, Mountain Province (then Bontoc), Ifugao, Kalinga, Abra, and Apayao. Indigenous communities live in the areas.

Americans were able to penetrate Cordillera, particularly Benguet and Mountain Province, through education and culture. Within them is the mining interest in the areas. The Cordillera is rich in gold and other minerals. Americans established mining sites, launching the on-set of large-scale mining in the Philippines. Americans even established their vacation spots in Baguio City. Some still exist today. Camp John Hay, now a prime location for tourists and locals, is an example (See 5 Baguio Hotel with Pool for Executive Meetings for more info.). Local economy thrived as well. In Davao, the abaca industry flourished. 


The idea of self-governance and democracy were American influences as well. Americans established elections for Filipino leaders. The Jones Act had set to establish Philippine independence with a stable government. This Act established the legislating body and the Supreme Court. Both bodies, however, were still dominantly American-led until 1916. Members of the Supreme Court, for instance, were US-appointed.

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was eventually established, inheriting provisions in the Jones Act. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth of the Philippines. This was dominated by the Nacionalista Party. Manuel Quezon took the Senate president seat. The proclamation of independence in 1946 carried principles of American democracy. Even the Constitution of the Philippines then was nearly a replica of the American Constitution. 


Culture is an important influence of American in the Philippines. This transcends to education, literature, food, music, and lifestyle. Culture is the last battle to be fought. It holds a key to capturing the hearts and mind of the colonized. Education is one of the most essential Influence of American in the Philippines.


Not simply education, however. Informal education existed before. There are indigenous systems of education even. American established westernized and institutionalized education. The English language was a cornerstone. The University of the Philippines, established in 1908, was originally a technical and profession-based school for Filipinos. It was the first state-funded university in the country for future leaders.

Most students also had access to United States graduate schools. In other words, graduates from this university were to function for the American benefit and the American-built Filipinized government. Following the University of the Philippines was the establishment of the educational system. 

Education System

This consisted of elementary years, high school years, and a collegiate or university level. 

Literacy and knowledge of the English language spread. Enthusiasm in the school system propelled this movement. Of course, the American Dream was already seeping into popular ideas. The American government and the Commonwealth aggressively promoted the education system. Education was one of the important assets, after all, in self-governance. It also increased social mobility in Philippine society. Wealth, meanwhile, was still the primary vehicle. However, the educated made a cut in the process. It was an essential move to stabilize political leadership during this period.


The establishment of education also brought western music and literature. American music such as country, rhythm and blues, and jazz spread in Philippine soil like wildfire. With the English language comes understanding of American music and literature. Country music became a popular genre in the Cordillera. American elites, after all, made Baguio City a vacation spot. Also, Americans opened the mining industry. Country music was pulled into the action. Even today, old country music is a huge hit in the Cordillera. It has influenced locally-made songs. One popular example is the song “Remember Me” which has stayed on top of the music charts in the region for a long time. Later, Hip Hop and Pop music would infiltrate the Philippines.


Filipino literature has already been thriving even before the colonial period. The Propaganda Movement used writing to expose anomalies in the Spanish colonial period. Many writers held enlightenment even after the Commonwealth was established. The works of Jose Rizal inspired revolutionaries and reformists alike. English literature, however, entered the scene more when public schools spread. The works of Mark Twain, and Wlliam Faulkner, for instance, have influenced writers and Filipino literature.


There is a saying: the last to be colonized is taste. And this holds true. Filipino food has stayed the same even when Americans have introduced the more pastry-typed dishes. Rice is still a staple food. “Ulam” is still the entree accompanying rice. A true blue Filipino meal is not complete without rice. Americans, however, brought in new delicious items. They have influenced Filipino palettes and the definition of the delicious. Carbonated drinks are heavily popular in the country today. Any celebration will not be complete without soft drinks.

Today, American food chains are popular in the country. Some notable names are McDonald’s and KFC. Even newcomers cannot beat McDonald’s. Perhaps the only rival is the formidable Jollibee. Today, American food and beverage in the Philippines has a long list. Starbucks, for instance, is a famous coffee shop in the country. American recipes and food have inspired local food chains. The most notable influences, meanwhile, are burgers, pizza, ice cream, and soft drinks. 


Then and now, American culture continues to influence Filipino clothing. Earlier influences are obvious in the Cordillera. American country music has influenced the “cowboy” look. Checkered shirts and long sleeves with matching (sometimes slim-fit) jeans are popular attires in the mountain region. During the Commonwealth period, suits became popular. This was a high-class educated marker. Suits were already “in” during the Spanish period; however, its popularity rose during the Commonwealth and later years. 

To women, high heels and pantyhoses were introduced. Being high-heeled became attractive and alluring, the marker of a westernized woman. Bonnets became popular among women in the 1900’s as well. Think Great Gatsby. Bonnets were also popular in the United States during this period. The popularization was simply diffusion and influence. What was popular in the US also became popular in post-colonial Philippines. 

Mass Media

We cannot leave mass media out of the picture. Mass media is a hallmark of democracy. Of course, this includes all forms – printed, radio, television, and later on, social media. Let us be reminded that Facebook is an American company. Filipinos rank as one of the highest Facebook users in the world. Newspaper companies opened and increased after American annexation. The English language is prominent in many newspapers today such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Manila Bulletin. Journalism was tailored after American journalism. 

The Americans introduced the television and broadcasting as well, which were important cornerstones in media communication. Television has also introduced western films such as Mickey Mouse and Hollywood movies. Hollywood movies have greatly impacted Filipino mindset, especially in standards of beauty and masculinity. Television has also influenced the unbreakable Filipino love for basketball – via NBA. 

Top 5 Influence of American in the Philippines

America has influenced the Philippines and the world. As a major power, it has managed to seep into economic development, political ideology, and culture. International organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organizations have increased American influence. Treaties and inter-state policies have secured US influence in many countries. This includes the Philippines. However, there are prominent American influences that are bound to survive many generations. These influences are most significant ever since MacArthur said “I shall return.”

  1. Institutionalized and systematized education
  2. Television and mass media
  3. American music genres: hip hop, pop, country, rock ‘n’ rock, and jazz
  4. Western democracy
  5. Transportation (cars and other four-wheeled drives, motorcycles)

Final Thoughts

Influence of American in the Philippines transcends from economic development to lifestyle. Then and now, the connection between Filipinos and Americans runs deep. Globalization has opened boundaries, blurred national lines. However, one influence after another is obvious. America has left its trademark in the country. Philippine-American history has not always been a bed of roses. However, the future is bright and challenging for both countries. The connection is not only etched in treaties, documents, and policies. It runs in Filipino blood, figuratively and literally. 

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