|Part of the Communist insurgency in the Philippines|
|Commanders and leaders|
Manuel Roxas |
56,000 men |
25 Battalion Combat Teams (BCTs)
12,800 active troops|
67 military squadrons
The Hukbalahap Rebellion was a rebellion staged by former Hukbalahap or Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Anti-Japanese Army) soldiers against the Philippine government. It started in 1946, during the presidency of Manuel Roxas, a known Japanese collaborator during World War II and the first President of the Third Philippine Republic (see History of the Philippines (1946–1965). It ended in 1954 under the presidency of Ramon Magsaysay.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the Hukbalahap created a strong resistance army against the Japanese forces in Central Luzon. The Huk Resistance, as it became popularly known, created a stronghold against the Japanese in the villages through guerilla warfare. During this time, the area was heavily protected by Huks, and Huk justice reigned. The aftermath of the liberation from Japan was characterized by chaos. The Philippine Government, following orders from the United States of America, disarmed and arrested the Huks for allegedly being communists. Harassment and abuses against peasant activists became common. Largely consisting of peasant farmers, the Huks feared for their lives as United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) hunted them down. Civilian casualties were huge. The Huks decided to go back to the mountains and their guerrilla lifestyle as a response to supposed maltreatment by the government. They staged a rebellion against the Philippine Government when it became clear that the repression will not stop unless all former Huk soldiers and supporters were rounded up.
Peasant Movements: Predecessors of the Hukbalahap
Effects of American Capitalism
The late 1800s and early 1900s saw the arrival of Americans and the opening up of the Philippine market to the US economy due to American victory in both the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the Philippine-American War in 1902. The arrival of the Americans was characterized by the amplification of capitalism that was instituted by the Spaniards in the encomienda system; there was an exponential increase in the amount of free trade between the Philippines and the United States of America.[Constantino 1] Landowners favored cash crops for exprert to the USA, such as tobacco and sugar cane, over the usual rice or cereals, resulting in lesser supply of staple foods for the peasant farmers.
Patterns of farm management were also changing. Traditional landowners wanted to modernize their farms and employ tenant-farmers as wage-earners with legal contracts in order to maximize their profit. The following excerpts of Benedict Kerkvliet's interview with Manolo Tinio, one of the landowners during that time in San Ricardo, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (a town in Central Luzon where most of the Huks resided) perfectly captured the general attitude of landowners during that time:
On the padrino relationship "In the old days.. the landlord-tenant relationship was a real paternalistic one. The landlord thought of himself as a grandfather to all tenants, and so he was concerned with all aspects of their lives... But the system had to be changed over time as the hacienda has to be put in a sound economic footing.. The landlord tenant relationship is a business partnership, it is not a family. The landlord has invested capital in the land, and the tenants give their labor."
On loans "If the tenants need to borrow rice or money, they could go somewhere else to get it. I decided to lend to only a few tenants, if they pay interest. But to give ration loans and charge no interest, and sometimes not be repaid is certainly an un-businesslike way to handle money."
On contracts "Contracts help to prevent tenants from cheating from me. My father never had problems because the tenants were better people then. But tenants became lazy, and they would take rice and other things that do not belong to them. So each year I made them sign contracts. anyone who didn't want to could go someplace else. And those who didn't abide by the contracts can go someplace else."
On mechanization of farms "I was enthused about putting modern machinery to work like the modern farms I'd seen in the US... The only machine here is the Japanese rice thresher..Meanwhile I try to make the tenants do as I said so the land will be more productive. If you tell a machine something it will do it. It's not the way with tenants. No more Padrino
This period saw the collapse of the colonial structures the Spaniards had maintained for more than three centuries. Before, the landowner was very visible. He could be seen attending social functions like weddings and baptisms of his tenants, sponsoring food during fiestas, and inspecting the land. The relationship was very intimate.[Kerkvliet 1] He helped them in times of distress, especially financial ones, and was seen as a protector from friars and government officials.
Now the landowners were nowhere to be found; the hacienda were left to caretakers. The peasants felt abandoned. The elites had become collaborators of the Americans. If before they looked to the masses to legitimize their place in society, now they looked to Manila. As a result, peasants started looking for other landowners, only to find that the situation elsewhere was no better and that some peasants had it worse. Hence, there was a growing unrest among the peasantry, which was characterized by small protests against their own landlords.
This situation was especially true in the Central Luzon area of the Philippines. The sudden and extreme gap between the landlord and the tenant is seen as the main cause of the peasant unrest.[Lachica 1]
With peasants out of work and cash crops being preferred over staple food, peasants started begging for food and stealing from the rice warehouses of the government.[Kerkvliet 1] There was despair during this troubled decade.[Constantino 1] Furthermore, the early 1930s saw the formation of many small peasant unions. Some of these are:
- Samahang Magsasaka
- Kabisang Tales
- Anak Pawis
- Aguman ding Malding Talapagobra (AMT; General Workers' Union)
- Kalipunang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (KPMP; National Council of Peasants in the Philippines)
Peasants saw that it was the similar elsewhere in their environs in Central Luzon. They decided to protest together in order to have a bigger voice and have mutual protection from landlords and the government. The goal remained the same: to revert back to the traditional tenancy system.'The means of protest, however, have evolved. Now the strikes are organized, there are petitions to government officials, including the Philippine president, court cases against landlords and even joining (and winning) local elections. In 1939, the two largest peasant organizations merged: The AMT with 70,000 men and the KPMP with 60,000 men.[Kerkvliet 1] They participated in the 1940s election by joining with the Partido Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PSP), a rural peasant political party, and ran with a complete slate of candidates under the Popular Front ticket in Pampanga. Although Pedro Abad Santos, the founder of the PSP, did not win any elections, his party became synonymous with the peasant movements and eventually with the Huks. His right hand man was Luis Taruc, the future supreme commander of the Huks.
The Hukbalahap Resistance Against Japan
In December 1941, the Japanese army arrived in the Philippines.[Constantino 1] The Philippines did not have sufficient military capacity to protect its citizen from the advancing army of the Allied Forces and needed the help of the USA, under the USAFFE, in defending the country. Still, it was not sufficient, and the peasants of Central Luzon had to learn how to fight back in order to survive. The organized peasant movements of the 1930s in Central Luzon have set the conditions for organized resistance against the Japanese. In March 29, 1942, 300 of these peasant leaders[Lachica 1] decided to form the HUKBALAHAP or the Hukbong Laban sa Hapon. This event marks the moment when the peasant movement became a guerrilla army.
The Hukbalahap expanded what the peasant movement had become until 1941. From tenant-landlord problems, the peasants now had to protect themselves against the military government the Japanese installed in the Philippines. The Huks had the mission of policing the countryside and fighting the Japanese.[Kerkvliet 1]
Purposes of the Hukbalahap:
- Organize people into an anti-Japanese resistance movement
- Collect arms from civilians
- Gather guns from retreating USAFFE forces
- Stop banditry
The numbers of Huk soldiers increased. By September 1942, there were 3000 men[Lachica 1] and by 1946 the Huks numbered to about 10,000.[Lachica 1] During the time of the Japanese occupation, the organization became an underground political government[Kerkvliet 1] with a full-functioning military committee composing of 67 squadrons in 1944.[Kerkvliet 1] The Huk army composed of squadrons, and squadrons were composed of squads. In the town of Talavera, Nueva Ecija alone, there were 3 squadrons, with about 200 men each.[Kerkvliet 1]
Its top commanders were Castro Alejandrino (AMT, PSP), Felipa Culala (KPMP), Bernardo Poblete (AMT), and Luis Taruc (AMT, PSP), with Taruc being the supreme military commander. The Communists claimed that the Hukbalahap was Communist-led and initiated.[Saulo 1] However, prior to the war, none of the top leaders have any connections with the PKP.[Kerkvliet 1] and interviews conducted by Kerkvliet with members afterwards also points to a non-bias towards any ideology. The Huks were very popular among the villagers and were seen as their protector from the abuses of the Japanese. There were many motivations for people to join: nationalism, empathy, survival, and revenge.[Kerkvliet 1] Those who could not join the guerrilla army joined the underground government via its “secretly converted neighborhood associations” called Barrio United Defense Corp (BUDC). The HUKBALAHAP also tried to recruit beyond Central Luzon[Kerkvliet 1] but were not as successful. Nonetheless, the Huks fought side by side from local troops under the Philippine Commonwealth Army and Philippine Constabulary units and USAFFE soldiers and helped the US win the Japanese war in the Philippines.
The HUKBALAHAP Rebellion
The Socio-Economic and Political Context
Unfortunately, even though the Japanese have left, life for the Huks did not return to pre-war conditions. Most of the landowners were collaborators during the Japanese occupation[Kerkvliet 1] and are no longer interested in tenant-farming. Furthermore, most of them have already moved to Manila during the war. Not only was life economically unsustainable for the Huks, their hardships were aggravated by the hostility and repression they experienced from the USAFFE soldiers, Philippine Constabulary, and Landlords.[Kerkvliet 1] Former Huks were hunted down and arrested under orders of disarmament from the United States. Even the villagers were victimized: their properties were looted, food stolen and houses even burned in search of Huks who were possible hiding. One major act of hostility against the Huks was the Massacre of Squadron 77 in Malolos, Bulacan in February 1945.[Lachica 1] Consisting of 109 Huks, the Squadron 77 was surrounded by American and Filipino soldiers, each one was shot and buried in a mass grave.
Furthermore, in February 1945, the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corp (USCIC) decided that the only way to end the "Huk domination of the area"[Kerkvliet 1] was to arrest the prominent leaders of the Hukbalahap. There were almost 20 prominent leaders arrested, including the top two commanders of the Huks: Castro Alejandrino and Luis Taruc.
In September 1945, Luis Taruc and other Huk leaders were freed from prison. Luis Taruc formally announced the end of the resistance movement. He gave the roster of Hukbalahap names to the US and Philippine government hoping for recognition from President Osmena for their participation during the Japanese war to qualify for war veteran's benefits. Unfortunately, four squadrons consisting of about 2,000 men were not recognized. The Huks saw it as a divide-and-conquer tactic and decided not to accept anything from the government. Luis Taruc protested to MacArthur to stop the maltreatment of the Huks. Although at the top levels leaders were constantly negotiating with each other, the situation on the ground between the Huks and the US and Philippine forces was ripe for a full-scale rebellion. In the words of the Hukbalahap's supreme commander, Luis Taruc, the truce is "in effect, only at the top level, between the government representatives and peasant leaders. On the level of the fields there was open conflict".[taruc 1] Moreover, the harvest between the period of late 1945 to early 1946 not only has exacerbated the plight of the Huks, it has also further intensified the gap between the tenants and the landlords. There were “landowner-tenant disputes over high interest rates, loans, rent payments, and sharing agricultural expenses sometimes led to evictions.[Kerkvliet 1]” The landed elites, who collaborated with the Japanese during the war, have now pledged their allegiance to America. Together with the government, they have agreed to a 60% share of harvests for the tenants, from a the usual 50-50. However, when harvest came, the promises were not delivered. Hence, the Huks decided to join politics again, continuing the tradition borne of the peasant movement.[Kerkvliet 1] The Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid (PKM) or National Peasants Union was formed. At the national level, the PKM lobbied for the 60-40 division of harvest. PKM had the following objectives:
- Better relations with the landlords
- Low interest loans from landowners
- Government to set up banks so they can borrow easily
- Laws to be implemented: to protect peasants from landowners; to protect small landowners from big landowners
- Justice for everyone regardless of social standing
However, despite their meager aims, harassment and abuses continued. Local police, military police, and even “civilian guards” intimidated, arrested, and even killed Huk veterans and PKM supporters.[Kerkvliet 1]” It is in this situation that the Huks formally allied with the PKP (which at this time had already become the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The CPP had created the Committee of Labor Organizations (CLO) to spearhead its political offensive on the labor front.[Saulo 1] It was composed of 76 trade unions from all over Manila and had a membership of 100,000 laborers.[Lachica 1] On the other hand, peasant support for the PKM was impressive in the countryside. In July 15, 1945, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was formed with the merger of the PKM and the CLO.[Lachica 1] The PKM partnered with them for greater chances of winning the national elections despite apparent ideological bias towards Communism of the CLO. It is done with the aim of finally representing the tenant farmers through legal political means at the national level.[Kerkvliet 1] The DA supported the candidacy of a former collaborator, Sergio Osmena of the Nacionalista Party, although it had a clear anti-collaborationist platform. This was done in order to ensure the defeat of Liberal Party's Manuel Roxas.
The May 1946 elections won Manuel Roxas the presidency. The six DA candidates won their seats in the Congress. However, the six DA Congressmen, together with 1 NP Congressmen and 3 NP Senators, were not allowed to take their seats in the House of Representatives with a resolution introduced by Rep. Jose Topacio Nueno and upheld by a majority of the congress on grounds of election fraud and terrorism.[Saulo 1]
The six DA Congressmen were:
- Luis Taruc, 2nd district of Pampanga
- Amado Yuzon, 1st district Pampanga
- Jesus Lava, Bulacan
- Josa Cando, Nueva Ecija
- Constancio Padilla, Nueva Ecija
- Alejandro Simpauco, Tarlac
In July 4, 1946, the US Government granted sovereignty to the Philippines. The Philippine economy at this point had become very dependent on the US economy. It is important to note that the Philippine Trade Act of 1946 or Bell Trade Act at that time was being debated in both the Bicameral. Had the unseated Congressmen voted, the controversial bill may not have been passed.[Kerkvliet 1] On August 24, 1946, Juan Feleo, a prominent peasant leader from Nueva Ecija, together with four of his companions, were kidnapped while they were on their way to Manila. Their dead bodies were found floating in the Pampanga river a few days afterwards. This was the tipping point for the Hukbalahap Rebellion.[Saulo 1] He was in-charge of the Pacification Program and was negotiating with the Government in behalf of the Huks. Scholars explained that the paranoia caused by his death ("if the government can kill someone like Juan Feleo, they can kill anyone of us") caused the Huk soldiers to rebel and flee back to the mountains.
The Huks staged a rebellion against the Roxas presidency within months after the Philippines gained independence from the USA and days after Feleo's murder. They have retreated to the mountains once more for fear of their lives and renamed themselves as Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or People's Liberation Army.[Lachica 1] The government intensified its campaign against the Huks, which caused the rebellion to further escalate.[Kerkvliet 1]
President Roxas employed what he termed a “Mailed-Fist Policy” to stop the rebellion.[Lachica 1] It was meant to crush the rebellion in 60 days. The Philippine Constabulary (PC) became even more ferocious in hunting down the Huks.[Kerkvliet 1]
The response of Roxas was based on two assumptions:
1.) The Huks were Communists; and everyone, including their peasant base was to be suppressed
2.) That the Philippine army had the capacity to sustain an all-out war against guerillas
However, his reasoning was flawed because:
1. The Communists broke off from the HMB when the HMB staged a rebellion against the Philippine Government. They broke off due to primarily because of two reasons:.[Kerkvliet 1] Firstly, to the CPP a rebellion must have a greater calling i.e. the flattening of society; not just self-defense.[Saulo 1] Secondly, to the CPP, it is the working class and the labor movement who will be at the forefront of a real revolution; not peasants who cannot even comprehend dialectical materialism. Hence, the government lost the support of the villagers when they also went after the Huk's mass base under the assumption that everyone was a Communist.[Kerkvliet 1]
2. Roxas over-estimated the capacity of his army.[Lachica 1] The Huks were trained in the guerrilla warfare during the Japanese Occupation while the Philippine government was yet to establish a formidable army. The government eventually sought the help of the United States militarily. Hence, the rebellion lasted for years with huge civilian casualties.[Kerkvliet 1]
During this time, the HMB had the same organizational structure similar to the one it had during the Hukbalahap Resistance. It served both as an army against the civilian guards of the elites and the PC and had in place an underground government which was well known for “Huk justice”.[Kerkvliet 1] Villagers supported the Huk squadrons again as well. There was a continued growth in strength and numbers in its soldiers and supporters. It reached it zenith in 1950 when it had 12,800 soldiers with a mass base of 54,000.[Lachica 1]
Roxas died of a heart attack a few weeks after he declared his Mailed Fist Policy against the Huks. His successor, President Elpidio Quirino had a more accommodating stand towards the Huks. However, failure to deliver fundamental land reforms and appease the Huks who have been victimized by the PC have further intensified the demands of the Huks. On June 21, 1948, President Quirino gave the Huks amnesty.[Lachica 1] A few days after, both the Senate and the Congress approved the amnesty[Kerkvliet 1] provided that they “present themselves with their arms and ammunitions”. However, no matter how good the negotiations were in Manila, the continued fighting in the countryside affected it. During the period of amnesty and negotiations, the Huks were supposed to surrender their arms. Many Huks did so unwillingly; based on their understanding of the amnesty, it was only supposed to be registered.[Kerkvliet 1] This caused trouble since a lot of the Huks were forced to surrender and were often threatened and beaten up. Once the word spread of continued abuses, people no longer came to register their arms. On August 14, 1948 negotiations fell apart.[taruc 1]
As an attack against the government, the Hukbalahap members allegedly ambushed and murdered Aurora Quezon in 1949; Chairwoman of the Philippine Red Cross and widow of the Philippines' second president, Manuel L. Quezon, as she was en route to her hometown for the dedication of the Quezon Memorial Hospital. Several others were also killed, including her eldest daughter and son-in-law. This attack brought worldwide condemnation of the Huks, who claimed that the attack was done by "renegade" members, and justified further attacks by the Philippine Government.
The end of the Rebellion
Luis Taruc and his men immediately went back into hiding in the Sierra Madre mountains when negotiations fell apart on 14 August 1948.[taruc 1] However, the start of the 1950s saw the beginning of the rebellion's decline.
There are two main reasons attributed to the decline of the Huks: 1. There was general weariness among the people from years of fighting.[Kerkvliet 1] A lot of the prominent leaders of the Huks either have died or are already too old to fight. For those that remained, they were small and were now pursued by the army even in the mountains. To make things worse for the Huks, the villagers became weary (or just saw them as irrelevant) in supporting them.
2. The Anti-Huk Campaigns were transferred by President Quirino from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to the Department of National Defense (DND) under the leadership of Ramon Magsaysay. Under Magsaysay's leadership, the army was purged of corrupt and inefficient officials. Major military offensives were launched and the army became innovative in pursuing the Huks in the mountains.[Lachica 1] By 1951, army strength had increased by 60 percent over the previous year with 1,047-man BCTs. Furthermore, the PCs stopped their abuses of the peasants, which further caused peasants to no longer see the need for "Huk justice".
The Huk Rebellion was finally put down through a series of reforms and military victories that was made by Ramon Magsaysay who became the 7th Philippine President. Moreover, in May 1954, Luis Taruc surrendered and accepted a 15-year imprisonment.
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