The Hukbalahap Rebellion in the Philippines

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A guerrilla fighter in Manila uses a fire hydrant as a make-shift tripod while firing at the Japanese. Keystone / Getty Images

Between 1946 and 1952, the government of the Philippines fought against a tenacious foe called the Hukbalahap or Huk (pronounced roughly like "hook").  The guerrilla army got its name from a contraction of the Tagalog phrase Hukbo ng Bayan Balan sa Hapon, meaning "Anti-Japanese Army."  Many of the guerrilla fighters had fought as insurgents against the Japanese occupation of the Philippines between 1941 and 1945.

  Some were even survivors of the Bataan Death March who managed to escape their captors.

Once World War II was over, however, and the Japanese withdrew, the Huk pursued a different cause: fighting for the rights of tenant farmers against wealthy land-owners. Their leader was Luis Taruc, who had fought brilliantly against the Japanese in Luzon, the largest of the Philippine islands.  By 1945, Taruc's guerrillas had retaken most of Luzon from the Imperial Japanese Army, a very impressive result.

Taruc began his guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Philippine government after he was elected to Congress in April of 1946, but was refused a seat on charges of election fraud and terrorism.  He and his followers went to the hills and renamed themselves the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Taruc planned to create a communist government, with himself as president.  He recruited new guerrilla soldiers from tenant organizations set up to represent poor peasants who were being exploited by their landlords.

In 1949, members of the PLA ambushed and killed Aurora Quezon, who was the widow of former Philippine president Manuel Quezon and the head of the Philippine Red Cross.  She was shot dead along with her eldest daughter and son-in-law.  This killing of a very popular public figure known for her humanitarian work and personal kindness turned many potential recruits against the PLA.

By 1950, the PLA was terrorizing and killing wealthy land-owners across Luzon, many of whom had ties of family or friendship with government officials in Manila.  Because the PLA was a left-wing group, although it was not closely affiliated with the Philippine Communist Party, the United States offered military advisers to assist the Philippine government in combating the guerrillas.  This was during the Korean War, so American concern about what would later be termed "the Domino Effect" ensured eager US cooperation in anti-PLA operations.

What followed was literally a textbook anti-insurgency campaign, as the Philippine Army used infiltration, misinformation, and propaganda to weaken and confuse the PLA.  In one case, two PLA units each became convinced that the other was actually part of the Philippine Army, so they had a friendly-fire battle and inflicted heavy casualties on themselves. 

In 1954, Luis Taruc surrendered.  As part of the bargain, he agreed to serve a fifteen-year prison sentence.  The government negotiator who convinced him to give up the fight was a charismatic young senator named Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. 

Sources:

Bridgewater, L. Grant.  "Philippine Information Operations During the Hukbalahap Counterinsurgency Campaign," Iosphere, Joint Information Operations Center, accessed July 2014.

Gojo, Romelino R.  "The Hukbalahap Movement," Command and Staff College Thesis, April 6, 1984.

Greenberg, Lawrence M.  "The Hukbalahap Insurrection: A Case Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation in the Philippines, 1946 - 1955," U.S. Army Center of Military History, Historical Analysis Series, Washington DC, 1987.

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "The Hukbalahap Rebellion in the Philippines." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/hukbalahap-rebellion-philippines-195649. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2016, February 17). The Hukbalahap Rebellion in the Philippines. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hukbalahap-rebellion-philippines-195649 Szczepanski, Kallie. "The Hukbalahap Rebellion in the Philippines." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hukbalahap-rebellion-philippines-195649 (accessed November 24, 2017).