When one looks back on the insurrection, one sees that Ramon Magsaysay defeated the guerrillas through a campaign that combined American aid and assistance, domestic social reforms, and a revitalization of both the Philippine military and central government. Before mid-1950, Manila governments had neither the resources nor the inclination to attack the insurgents with such a broad socio-military program. Did the movement's rapid growth after World War II indicate that the people supported their form of change or does it indicate that Huk leaders merely took advantage of ineffectual governments in Manila? Perhaps a little of both was true. At various times the Huks were indeed effective and, at their peak of influence in 1950, kept, the Philippine president in self-imposed seclusion within Malacanang. Finally, did Magsaysay's ultimate success indicate that American post-war policy was handled correctly? Indeed not, for although U.S. policy after mid-1950 allowed Magsaysay to win the battle, U.S. policy between 1945 and 1950 was certainly deficient. If instead, American policy had been less complacent and more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the Filipino people, the Hukbalahap movement would simply have dried up and blown away after the war.
The entire insurgency suffered from a variety of ailments at different times during the course of the insurrection. Each of the key players in the rebellion; the Philippine government, the United States, and the guerrillas achieved victories between 1946 and 1955. It was this timing of neglect, reaction, victory, and defeat that eventually doomed the insurrection to failure. U.S. neglect of social problems on Luzon after the war combined with a series of uncaring governments in Manila to provide the Huks with
fertile ground for their communist based insurgency. Only when the Philippine government was at the brink of collapse did U.S. policy makers tackle the real problems facing this allied nation and provide the necessary assistance that allowed Magsaysay to carry out his strategy to defeat the guerrillas.The Huk Guerrillas
By taking advantage of World War II to consolidate their organization, the Huks were able to adapt quickly to post-war conditions in the Philippines. The people of central Luzon were disillusioned with the post-war government and felt that no one but the Huks cared about their problems. That the guerrillas were communist inspired made little difference to a peasant farmer who lacked education, medical care, clean water, and was deeply in debt to uncaring landlords. The Huks understood this disaffection and made it the cornerstone for their movement.
At war's end, the Huks had a goal -- the overthrow of the Philippine government and the establishment of a communist state -- and they possessed the internal organization to mount an effective campaign to achieve it. Prior to 1951, they had sufficient logistic support to maintain their forces and to strike out against government police and military forces who at best, were reluctant to venture far afield to chase them. And, at least during the first stage of the insurrection, the Huks had the support of the local population -- the key that made all of their actions possible. This was a population that had suffered at the hands of the Japanese and was then suffering at the hands of their own government and its poorly disciplined troops. In both instances, the Huks seemed the only force visibly fighting against those who were oppressing the peasants.
However, by mid-1950 the Hukbalahap movement began to suffer from symptoms that had afflicted it during World War II -- over confidence and lapses of security. The October Manila raid hurt them seriously and disrupted their joint political-military strategy. Coupled with public outrage over the murder of Senora Quezon and other atrocities against civilians, the Huks' mass support base developed cracks. Later, when the government managed to mount a few successful operations, the cracks expanded and eventually led to the movement's collapse. Taruc knew that he depended on popular support to survive, but as government pressure built against him, he began demanding too much from the same peasants he had once vowed to protect from just that type of abuse. Once his mass support base began to crumble, the end was in sight. His chief opponent, Ramon Magsaysay, realized the importance of popular support from his own days as a guerrilla leader, and won it for the government.Ramon Magsaysay
It required two major changes to the post-war status quo for the Philippine government to defeat the Huks. First, the United States had to recognize the severity of the insurgency and provide appropriate amounts of advice and military and economic assistance to help counter it. Luckily, this American advice was sound and well received by an enlightened Filipino leader; Magsaysay. Second; a government victory required an administration in Manila that was more concerned with improving the quality of life for its citizens than with self-enrichment. Ramon Magsaysay provided the latter when he accepted the position of Secretary of National Defense and later won the office of President.
What attributes made this former Zambales resident and son of a village school teacher so successful in winning his fellow
Filipinos' loyalty? Certainly his well-known honesty helped him achieve his position in the Congress. But it was his deep and sincere concern for his fellows that brought him to national attention and paved the way for his becoming the Secretary of National Defense. He was a man dedicated to duty and blessed with a personality that blended persistance and charisma with an ability to listen to those around him. Perhaps his greatest attribute, an atribute certainly reinforced by his own war-time experience as a guerrilla leader, was his ability to see the Huk guerrilla movement as symptomatic of greater diseases that were threatening his country -- poverty, rising social expectations, and an uncaring and corrupt central government.
These were the targets that Magsaysay set his sights on. He combined military operations with civic-action projects to form his grand strategy, a strategy that, if successful, would improve Philippine living conditions and remove the base of guerrilla strength -- popular support. He demanded that each soldier, regardless of rank, be dedicated first to the people, then, to killing the guerrillas. He changed the basic tactics used by the Philippine military and fostered unconventional operations, while concurrently developing a more professional and competent armed forces. The military and the government had first to win the respect of the people before their anti-Huk campaign could ever produce tangible results. Military abuses ceased and soldiers or policemen implicated in abusing civilians were dealt with swiftly and harshly. Without the people's support, whatever gains the military made would vanish as soon as the last trooper returned to his garrison. Without the people's support, Huks would be unable to move freely or sustain themselves in the field.
With American assistance and the fortune of having Edward Lansdale's advice, counsel, and friendship, Magsaysay's strategy proved a resounding success. EDCOR provided land for reformed guerrillas. Other tracts of government land were sold to the
people, schools were established, transportation and communication networks were repaired and improved and, for the first time, the armed forces worked side by side with the people to secure their mutual future.
As an epilogue to his remarkable life, Ramon Magsaysay was honored with a commemorative stamp issued by the United States shortly after his death in 1957. At the ceremony accompanying the stamp's issue, President Eisenhower eulogized this progressive leader and his contribution to Philippine democracy.
If we are ready to do our full part in combating communism, we must as a unit stand not only ready, as Magsaysay did, to bare his chest to the bayonet, if it comes to that, but to work day by day for the betterment -- the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and material betterment -- of the people who live under freedom, so that not only may they venerate it but they can support it. This Magsaysay did, and in this I believe is his true greatness, the kind of greatness that will be remembered long after any words we can speak here will have been forgotten.1
United States Support
Without American economic and military assistance to the Philippine governments after 1950, the Huks might well have succeeded in their rebellion. But, before we applaud the U.S. effort too quickly, perhaps we should consider that U.S. neglect and short sighted helped put the government in jeopardy. Before 1950, U.S. policy makers concentrated their attentions on Europe, were tired of war in the Pacific, and seemed blind to the many problems that tore at the islands. The land-tenure question had been present since the days the nation became an American
protectorate and very little had been done to ease its burden on the Filipino farmer. Although land-tenure was a major factor in the years preceding WWII, after the war, U.S. policy ignored it and was intent on divestiture of responsibility for the islands.
Economic aid was made available to the government after the war but the programs were poorly managed and did little other than increase the size of many Filipino elite's bank balances. Other programs, such as the various economic trade acts and the issue of collaboration served only to widen the gap between the people and their government. American foreign policy makers simply did not understand Filipino concerns and aspirations and therefore chose to ignore them. Many incisive and worthwhile reports on conditions in the Philippines (such as that delivered by the Bell Mission) went unheeded until the government in Manila nearly fell in 1950.
Luckily, once the American government realized how close to collapse the Quirino administration was in 1950, Washington reacted. JUSMAG reports, long ignored or given only summary attention, suddenly gained new respect and concern. The JUSMAG was expanded, aid began to flow in, and opinions expressed by some of the JUSMAG's exceptional advisors began to receive attention. Thanks in great measure to the Korean War that was attracting the lion's share of attention in Washington, advisors found themselves with great latitude and were able to develop comprehensive assistance programs that worked hand-in-hand with Magsaysay's objectives for integrating the armed forces with social reforms.
Although the Philippines received large amounts of military aid and equipment from the United States during this period, most of it came from surplus WWII stocks. The equipment was simple to use and maintain, and allowed the AFP to adapt quickly to it and keep it operational. One should remember that the vast
preponderance of newer equipment was committed elsewhere, Europe and Korea. Another result of the Korean War was that no U.S. troops were readily available for deployment to the Philippines and, with very few exceptions, American advisors were prohibited from taking the field with their Filipino counterparts until the latter stages of the insurgency. This was perhaps one of our greatest contributions to the Philippines during this period. Without foreign troops to assist them, the Philippine military was forced to develop on its own, under its own leaders, and fight to protect its own land and people. Once the Army became convinced that they were fighting to protect their countrymen, and not as an occupation force trying to subdue an unruly foreign population, they began to receive the people's support. As already described, the alliance of the military with the villagers, and in turn the villagers reliance on the government, spelled the end for the Huk movement.
JUSMAG advisors did all they could to foster a sense of Filipino self-reliance. Whenever possible, they assumed back-row seats for themselves so that government officials could look good and receive the credit for successful operations. Even when programs succeeded as direct results of American efforts, the advisors played down their own role and let a Filipino become the moment's hero. This built pride and self-esteem in both the officials involved and, more importantly, in the Filipino people. They saw themselves succeeding where others had failed and they tried to continue the pattern. When advice was given, it was given directly to the Filipino leader who needed it, as low in the organization as possible, and given by an advisor who the recipient knew and trusted. And how did they develop this trust? General Lansdale put it quite simply -- treat them as equals, treat them fairly and honestly, never lie to them, and prove your intentions by displaying courage and willingly accepting the same hardships and inconveniences that they do. In essence then, you must demonstrate that you consider them as good as yourself and
that you trust and respect them as much as you want them to trust and respect you.2
By following these guides the United States helped the Philippine government solve its internal insurgency. The American government provided most of the material with which the Philippine military fought, provided the money that paid them, and provided advice when it was needed. But, it was Filipinos who fought the battles and defeated the guerrillas under the leadership of an unusual man endowed with the insight to see the larger problem that fostered the resistance, and a leader who aggressively sought to remove the causes for internal unrest in the future.
1. US Department of State Bulletin, Remarks of President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles on US Commemorative Stamp Honoring Magsaysay, September 16, 1957, p. 472.
2. Interview with Edward G. Lansdale.
page created 14 February 2002
Return to the Table of Contents
Return to CMH Online