While ostensibly organized to fight the Japanese occupiers, the movement also had a strong socioeconomic program. The Huks gave voice to the grievances of tenant farmers and landless laborers on the sugar plantations of central and southern Luzon. They resented the iniquitous crop sharing, growing indebtedness, and forced labor inherent in the exploitative landholding system of the Philippines. During World War II Huk guerrillas succeeded in killing many Japanese and Filipino collaborators and established their own governments in many barrios (villages) and towns.
In the immediate postwar period, the situation reverted to the status quo ante for the Hukbalahap. The landed elite who had collaborated with the Japanese now turned to the Americans for support. The Americans, because of their antipathy to communism and sporadic but negative wartime experiences with the Huks, backed the landlords and turned against the Huks. Many Hukbalahap squadrons were disarmed, and their contribution to the war effort was denigrated. Local Huk governments were also removed from power, while Huk leaders, including Luis Taruc, were imprisoned.
The Huks nonetheless participated in the April 1946 elections that were held prior to Philippine independence on 4 July 1946. The Huks ran under the banner of the Democratic Alliance Party, which had been formed in July 1945 and combined the peasant movement with the urban Left. However, it was the Liberal Party that emerged victorious. The Democratic Alliance won six seats in Congress representing Central Luzon, but President Manuel Roxas denied the duly elected representatives their seats on charges that they had employed terror tactics during the elections. Hukbalahap leader Taruc was among the six prevented from being seated in Congress.
Finding the constitutional-political channel to realize their aims blocked, the Huks reverted to guerrilla activity. The priority issue was no longer collaboration but rather agrarian reform. There were many reasons for the popularity of the Hukbalahap among peasants, intellectuals, and nationalists. Discontent had been brewing in the countryside for many decades. The peasants rebelled primarily because of repression by both government officials and the landed elite. They viewed their actions as entirely defensive in nature. Taruc demanded immediate enforcement of the bill of rights and revocation of all criminal charges against the Huks. The Huks also sought agrarian reform, including a more equitable crop-sharing arrangement, and representation in the Philippine Congress.
President Roxas unveiled his iron fist policy in August 1946 by proclaiming his intention to crush the Hukbalahap revolt within sixty days. The resultant repression only fueled peasant anger and further bolstered the Huks' popularity. In March 1948, as the Huk rebellion continued, the Roxas administration outlawed the Hukbalahap. Its leaders responded by changing its name to the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB, People's Liberation Army) in November 1948.
In 1950, during the Elpidio Quirino administration, the Huks threatened Manila itself and the stability of the government. In September 1950, Ramon Magsaysay became secretary of national defense, and U.S. President Harry S. Truman responded to Quirino's appeal for help by dispatching the Bell Mission (headed by Daniel W. Bell) and extending military aid. Meanwhile, Magsaysay's unorthodox methods and experience as a former guerrilla helped check the Huk rebellion. He devised a clever reward system for the identification of Huks and a system for their rehabilitation. In a single raid conducted in October 1950 in Manila, the entire communist-Huk politburo was arrested. Magsaysay also developed a Huk resettlement program in which he used the army under the Economic Development Corporation (EDCOR) to resettle the Huks in Mindanao.
In December 1953 Magsaysay became president of the Philippines. His personal charisma and folksy demeanor appealed to rural Filipinos, helping to short-circuit the Huks' popularity. Magsaysay also introduced agricultural reforms to raise productivity, which helped mollify the peasants. By the mid-1950s, Huk activity had been significantly decreased.
Udai Bhanu Singh
Jones, Gregg R. Red Revolution: Inside the Philippine Guerrilla Movement. Boulder, CO, and London: Westview, 1989.; Kerkvliet, Benedict J. The Huk Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the Philippines. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977.; Romulo, Carlos P., and Marvin M. Gray. The Magsaysay Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1957.