The Hukbalahap movement, known simply as the Huk (pronounced "hook"), was the culmination of events and internal Philippine conditions that predated World War II by centuries and was rooted in the country's pre-colonial period. Economic, social, and political inequities existed before the arrival of the Spanish, who further co-opted it into their own variety of mercantilism, and were perpetuated into the twentieth century by American policy. This social and political history divided the Filipinos into classes where the "haves" reaped the nation's profits while the "have-nots" were left with little but their desperate desire for change.

In 1565, Spanish explorers landed in the Philippines (christening the islands for their monarch, King Philip II) and found a homegrown agricultural society that was easily adapted into their own encomienda system. The Spanish crown issued royal land-grants to colonists, who developed large plantations on the island of Luzon, the nation's agrarian heartland. Filipino landowners were disenfranchised and their tenant farmers were placed under the authority of the new landlords. Former native landlords were either retained by the Spanish to operate the haciendas for them, became sharecroppers themselves, or sought work elsewhere.

Filipinos were quick to react to their loss of land ownership, additional taxes placed upon them by the Spanish, and their worsening economic condition. The first of numerous revolts against the Spanish broke-out in 1583 and was dealt with


in the manner of the times -- bloody retaliation. A relatively small Spanish garrison, that did not exceed 600 troops during this period, employed the assistance of several native ethnic groups and ruthlessly crushed the revolt. Subsequent uprisings during the next three hundred years were handled by the Spanish colonial government in much the same manner.

Hints of social reform did not appear in the Philippines until the mid-19th century. A more liberal regime in Madrid allowed some wealthy Filipinos, who rose in social stature via employment as tax collectors and low level administrators for the colonial government, to seek education and operate small tracts of private farmland. The Spanish also started a few small development projects on some of the larger islands, such as Mindinao and Cebu. However, when the enlightened government in Madrid fell, attempts for even minimal reforms were forgotten and the near feudal, pre-reformed status quo returned.1

In 1870, Philippine opposition to Spanish rule erupted into a series of guerrilla wars. Despite harsh repression taken against peasant farmers, the fighting continued and by the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Katipunan Revolt (usually credited with beginning in 1896) spread from Luzon to the islands of Panay and Cebu as Spanish troops withdrew for the defense of Manila. In the same year, rebel leader Jose Rizal, was captured and killed by the Spanish. During the Huk insurrection, his descendants again played a role.2


When the United States annexed the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, Filipinos were given greater responsibility for governing their own land. Local government was assisted by limited American efforts to improve both economic and social conditions. Philippine officials advanced in the civil service and many of these bureaucrats joined a growing number of prosperous businessmen to replace Spanish haciendas with their own large plantations. Collectively, they formed a new Philippine elite and sought to retain the status quo that had provided them the opportunity to succeed -- whether through business, agriculture, or corruption in government.3 There existed little indeed for honest government servants when the system rewarded corruption, nepotism, and favoritism so handsomely.


American policy toward the Philippines was first tested during the bloody 1899-1902 Philippine Insurrection. Although the nearly three year long war suppressed overt Philippine nationalism, at least for the time, the bitterness it produced among many Filipinos endured well into mid-century. As normalcy returned to the islands in 1903, the United States attempted to address one of the long-term problems faced by the islands--land-tenure. Many large parcels of Church-owned land that had been expropriated by the Spanish in the sixteenth century and given to the Church to administer were offered for public sale. However sincere the effort, few Filipinos were able to take advantage of this opportunity. Those who attempted to purchase land were often victims of usury and fraud at the hands of local officials more interested in graft than in helping the peasants


acquire land.4 The land sale program failed to transfer land ownership to the farmers but did allow those few Filipinos with resources to increase the size of their holdings. This had the effect of perpetuating the landlord-tenant relationship that had become synonymous with Philippine agriculture. Rampant corruption in government, coupled with an unchanging socioeconomic climate, continued under the new American administration in Manila throughout the 1920s.

During the next few years, American concerns about the Philippines were limited almost entirely to economic matters and establishing a date for Philippine independence. In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 127, the Tydings-McDuffie Act. The act, ratified in May by the Philippine Congress, promised full Philippine independence on 4 July 1946 and established conditions under which the islands would be governed until that time -- the Philippine Commonwealth. The United States retained control of Philippine foreign relations, defense, and major financial transactions but granted the Philippine president and legislature power to administer internal affairs.5 The Tydings-McDuffie Act created dissension within the Philippine government, for it promised independence at the price of formalizing economic ties with Washington for the next twelve years. Many critics in Manila, and in the growing communist and socialist parties as well, objected strongly to the near total disregard for Philippine nationalism that these strict controls mandated.

After the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, U.S. economic and political policy did little to alleviate the basic Philippine problems of poverty and land-tenure.


Although the Philippine economy showed marked improvements before World War II, internal distribution of wealth remained much as it always had been. Landlords grew rich at the expense of the peasant farmer who found it increasingly difficult to repay loans for seed or lease money made by the landlord. Confronted with these obstacles, individual initiative was stifled, productivity remained low, and whatever profits a farmer managed to scrape together went toward paying his landlord.

Map:  Central Luzon

By 1941, 80 percent of Luzon's farmers were hopelessly indebted to their landlords with no expectations of a brighter future at all. Although improvements had been made in education, transportation, health care and communications, the absence of social reforms served only to raise local frustrations with their central government. In Luzon's provinces of Balacan, Nueva Ecija, Cavite, Tarlac, Bataan, and Laguna, few farmers owned their land. The majority were either tenants or hired labor. In Pampanga Province, 70 percent of the farmers were tenants.6 As a result, annual income during this period hovered at only 120 pesos, about $65. This agrarian region proved ripe for anti-government insurgencies as the local population continued to struggle against landlords and had little faith in the central


government which the peasant saw as unconcerned with their plight.


Peasant farmers, many of whom were literate by this time thanks to American efforts to abolish mass illiteracy under Spanish rule, were demoralized by stagnant social conditions and the failure of the United States to grant Philippine independence after the war with Spain. They realized landlords were taking advantage of them and began to seek outlets for their frustrations. The farmer tilled land owned by an absentee landlord or by the Church, either of which demanded not less than half of his crop, sometimes 70 percent, as rent and payment for seed. Additionally, the landlord controlled almost every aspect of his life. A story recalled by the Huk supreme commander, Luis Taruc, shares the experiences of many Filipino farmers during the early 1920s. Taruc told of his family moving by carabao cart from their home in San Luis, Pampanga, to take over the farm worked by his uncle in Bataan. Although they moved with great expectations about the land's productivity, they realized that it was owned by the Pabalan family, landlords from San Miguel, Bulacan, who would exact their 50-70 percent of the crop as rent and interest payment. But because the land was more productive than that in Pampanga, they hoped to end up with a larger share than before.7 Faced with a government content to maintain the status quo, it was not surprising to find serious unrest on Luzon, Panay, Negros, and Mindinao by 1920.8


In 1920, the Third International, or Comintern, headquartered in Moscow, met in Canton, China. The worldwide growth of interest in communism coincided with the rising level of disaffection in the Philippines. Following the International, an American Comintern representative, Harrison George, joined with several Philippine socialists to form the base for the first Philippine communist party. Together with Isabelo de los Reyes, Dominador Gomez, Crisanto Evangelista, and Antonio Ora, he fought an influential Church and established a small foothold for the communist cause in Luzon. In May 1924 they founded the Kapisanang Pambansa ng mga Magbudukid sa Filippinas (KPMP), or National Peasant's Union in Nueva Ecija Province, a stronghold of peasant unrest and violence. Soon the National Peasant's Union spread across Luzon and into the Philippine capital of Manila.9

The Peasant's Union exploited social conditions, the continued colonial status of the islands, the land-tenure system, and the deteriorating climate between landlords and peasants, to become the leader of a confederation of labor unions, the Philippine Labor Congress. In 1927, the organization officially associated itself with the Comintern and organized the nation's first legal communist political party, the Worker's Party.10 Within the year, Evangelista, as head of the Worker's Party, took advantage of his position and visited Chou En Lai and Stalin. Upon his return to Luzon, he organized four new socialist and communist organizations and began to plan the "class struggle" against the Manila government.11


On the 34th anniversary of the 1896 Katipunan Revolt, 26 August 1930, Evangelista announced the birth of the Partido Komunista ng Filipinas, the Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP). Less than three months later, on the 13th anniversary of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, he formally established the PKP and proclaimed its objectives. In his address of 7 November, he set forth five guiding principles for the Philippine communist movement: to mobilize for complete national independence; to establish communism for the masses; to defend the masses against capitalist exploitation; to overthrow American imperialism in the Philippines; and to overthrow capitalism. With these guidelines and the PKP banner that displayed the communist hammer and sickle emblem on a red background, surrounded by the words "Communist Party of the Philippines," Evangelista set out on his mission.12

Exactly two years after the birth of the PKP, the Philippine Supreme Court declared it illegal and Evangelista and several of his chief lieutenants were imprisoned. They were charged with plotting the overthrow of the government and instigating large-scale, bloody riots in Manila. Other PKP members went underground and began to fight against landlords on behalf of the peasants. Although not widespread, PKP attacks unsettled central Luzon. Landlords were murdered, farm animals slaughtered, and many fields were put to the torch. In reaction, President Quezon instituted several minor land reform measures, including putting a 30 percent limit on the amount of a tenant's crop that could be demanded by the landlord. Although highly lauded at its conception, this reform was all but ignored by landlords, courts, and the government.13


An unfortunate side-effect of the 1932 court decision was a dramatic rise in prestige and size of the heretofore weak Philippine Socialist Party (formed in April 1932 in Pampanga) and the militant Worker and Peasant's Union (WPU). With the PKP in an outlaw status, the socialists and WPU became the legal foci for many PKP supporters. Both organizations gained considerable influence during the next six years as poor socio-economic conditions remained unchanged for Luzon's tenant farmers and urban poor.14

Amidst increasing incidents of violent communist-sponsored demonstrations in Manila in 1938, Quezon released PKP leaders Evangelista, Taruc, and de Los Reyes when they pledged their loyalty to the government and to American efforts to resist fascist and Japanese expansion.15 This action soon proved less than desirable for Quezon. Almost immediately after his parole, Evangelista assumed leadership of a united socialist front when the PKP merged with the Socialist Party on 7 November. The new organization openly proclaimed the communist doctrine and spread from its traditional stronghold in central Luzon to Bataan, Zambales, and to the islands of Cebu, Panay, and Negros.




Chart 1

Evangelista's bitter opposition to Quezon and his administration continued until 1941 when the threat of Japanese invasion brought a temporary truce and offers from the PKP to support the Commonwealth. President Quezon, who trusted neither Evangelista nor the CPP coalition, refused the offer.16 The stage had been set for the war with Japan that was sure to come. Evangelista was the leader of a small but growing socialist/communist organization that drew support from the large number of dissatisfied peasants in Luzon's heartland. The Philippine central government distrusted the CPP coalition and despite the growing clouds of war on the horizon, refused to negotiate any cooperative agreements with them. The peasant remained trapped by his poor social and economic status and perceived the Manila government as content to let this condition continue. Now, on top of all these concerns, the threat of Japanese invasion cast an even darker shadow over the Filipino peasant.



1. Robert R. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency: Economic, Political and Military Factors, (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, [1963]), pp. 3-9.

2. F. Landa Jocano, "Ideology and Radical Movements in the Philippines: An Anthropological Overview," Solidarity No. 102 (1985), p. 53.

3. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, pp. 7-8.

4. Ibid., p. 13.

5. Clarence G. Barrens, I Promise: Magsaysay's Unique PSYOP "Defeats" HUKS, (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, [1970]), p. 25.

6. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 14.

7. Interview with Luis Taruc, 29 May 1974, by Bruce Nussbaum. Bentley Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

8. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 3.

9. Ismael Lapus (Colonel, AFP), "The Communist Huk Enemy," in Counter-Guerrilla Operations in the Philippines 1946-53, (Ft. Bragg, NC: U.S. Army Special Forces Center and School, [15 June 1961]). p. 11; and Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 17.

10. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 18.

11. Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy," p. 12.

12. Rodney S. Azama, The Huk and the New People's Army: Comparing Two Postwar Filipino Insurgencies, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 26 April 1985]), p. 209; and Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy," p. 12.

13. Azama, The Huk and the NPA, p. 209; and Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy, p. 13.

14. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 19.

15. Taruc, interview, p. 40.

16. Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy," p. 13; Eduardo Lachica, The HUKS: Philippine Agrarian Society in Revolt, (NY: Praeger Publishers, 1971 , p. 103; and Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 19.

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