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The Hukbalahap (Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon, "People's Army Against the Japanese"), was a Communist guerrilla movement that took root in the Philippine Islands following the Japanese conquest. The movement, led by Luis Taruc, eventually numbered 30,000 and controlled large areas of central Luzon.
The movement had its origins among the peasant farmers of central Luzon, who under the semifeudal Spanish rule of the late 19th century had farmed large estates as tenant farmers who were obligated to pay 50% to 70% of their crops to their landlords. Following the expulsion of the Spanish by the Americans in 1898 and the suppression of the Philippine Insurrection, the Americans established a native civil service, which they saw as the nucleus of a future independent government. The Americans also made an attempt at land reform by putting up for sale large tracts of land formerly owned by the Spanish colonial administration. However, the civil service became dominated by a mixed-ancestry Filipino elite that was plagued by charges of corruption. Few tenant farmers were able to purchase the lands offered for sale, which largely ended up in the hands of the the elite. While the Americans made significant progress in improving infrastructure and public education, the majority of farmers remained tenant farmers deeply indebted to their landlords. A law passed by the Commonwealth government in 1932 that limited landlords to taking no more than 30% of their tenants' crops proved unenforceable. The result was a growing population of educated but poverty-stricken young Filipinos susceptible to radicalism.
The Philippine Communist Party (PKP) was founded in 1930 under Crisanto Evangelista. It was almost immediately banned
by the Philippine Supreme Court, and Evangelista and his lieutenants
were jailed for fomenting insurrection. However, they were released in
1938 after pledging to support the Quezon government and resist
Evangelista began his guerrilla movement even before the combined American-Filipino forces had retreated into the Bataan Peninsula, setting up his headquarters near Mount Arayat and the Candaba Swamps north of Manila Bay. Here he established a United Front of left-leaning organizations, but he was distrusted by both the Quezon government and the Americans. Initially the United Front targeted the Philippine Constabulary, now controlled by the Japanese, threatening members of the Constabulary with execution if they did not join the United Front. The brutality of the Kempeitai played into the hands of the United Front by driving peasants into the movement.
Evangelista's original movement was short-lived, since Evangelista himself was captured and executed by the Japanese in January 1942. However, one of Evangelista's lieutenants, Luis Taruc, reorganized the remaining left-leaning organizations on Luzon on 29 March 1942 at a conference near the original guerrilla base at the foot of Mount Arayat. A Military Committee of four leaders was selected to direct a guerrilla campaign and then seize power after the war, and Taruc was elected "El Supremo" of the new Hukbalahap. The organization started with about 500 guerrillas, and grew only slowly due to strong peasant support for the competing American-led guerrilla movement, which also had superior organization, training, and access to arms. The Huks, as they were popularly called, turned to impressment and intimidation to increase their numbers, sometimes threatening the family of a rival guerrilla to force him to align with the Huks.
In response to Huk contacts with American guerrilla leaders, MacArthur instructed his chief guerrilla leader, Colonel Charles A. Thorpe (who had his headquarters near Mount Pinatubo in the western Luzon mountains) to attempt to create a united guerrilla operation. The effort did not go well (Greenberg 1987):
Anderson and three other American officers met with a Huk delegation, led by Casto Alejandrino, for three weeks in the Candaba Swamp. The Huks requested arms and munitions from USAFFE units but refused to relinquish control of their own operations to Thorpe. They were willing, even anxious, to fight the Japanese with U.S. assistance but only in line with their own ultimate objective of seizing post-war control of the Philippines. After three weeks of negotiations a draft agreement was struck and delivered by two of the U.S. officers to Colonel Thorpe. In the proposed agreement Taruc's forces would follow U.S. military direction but would maintain independent control over their political program. Although a joint headquarters would be set-up to issue battle orders and regulations, the Huks would remain free to run their own organization and recruitment efforts. The other two officers were to remain with the Huks as an example of American trust and goodwill until Thorpe's reply arrived. Knowing that Thorpe would not accept the proposed agreement and fearing for their lives, the two stay-behind officers escaped from the Huk camp and returned to the safety of a nearby USAFFE unit.
Colonel Thorpe was captured by the Japanese in October 1942, shortly after the Huk organization was badly disrupted by a major Japanese anti-guerrilla operation. Thereafter the Huks became almost as hostile to the Americans and the American-led guerrilla movement as they were to the Japanese. The only Huk organization that cooperated to any significant extend with the American-led guerrillas was Recco 2 in southern Luzon, which was less radicalized than the other Huk regional commands, and was willing to work with the Alamo Scouts. Ray C. Hunt, an American who organized a band of 3000 guerrillas under Robert Lapham in Luzon, said of the Huks (Breuer 2002):
My experiences with the Huks were always unpleasant. Those I knew were much better assassins that soldiers. Tightly disciplined and led by fanatics, they murdered some Filipino landlords and drove others off to the comparative safety of Manila. They were not above plundering and torturing ordinary Filipinos, and they were treacherous enemies of all other guerrillas (on Luzon).
Open warfare existed between the Huks and Lapham's guerrillas after Hunt's executive officer was shot in the chest while attempting to parley with the Huks for a common strategy against the Japanese. Following the American return in 1945, a Huk patrol learned that Lapham's guerrillas had assisted with the rescue raid on the Cabanatuan prisoner of war camp, they attempted to detain a group of Alamo Scouts as they were leading stragglers from the rescue raid to safety. In this instance, the Scouts successfully bluffed their way through to American lines.
The Huk organization, as reestablished after the Japanese counter-guerrilla operation of September 1942, was oriented less towards armed resistance than towards intelligence gathering and political indoctrination. The basic unit was the 100-man squadron, led by a commander, executive officer, and intelligence officer and divided into platoons and squads. The company-sized squadrons were organized by pairs into battalions and the battalions by pairs into regiments. These were organized into five military districts (later redesignated as regional commands).
The Huk were strongest in the rice bowl of central Luzon, and both
the landlords and the Japanese grew reluctant to attempt to seize any
of the rice harvest. Freed from the heavy rice payments to their
landlords, many of the peasants recalled 1942-1947 as the period in
which food was most abundant.
By January 1943 the Huks numbered 5000 men organized into 35 squadrons and supporting elements and resumed active operations, aimed primarily at the Constabulary and at Japanese supply depots. By March their numbers had doubled again. These included the Overseas Chinese 48th Detachment, an all-Chinese force, and there are indications that veteran Chinese Red Army advisors played a role in training Huk leaders. The Japanese responded with a second anti-guerrilla operation that took 100 prisoners, captured part of the Huk general headquarters, and scattered fourteen squadrons. The Huks successfully turned this military rout into a moral victory, continuing to build their organization and extend their political control through the Barrio United Defense Corps, units of ten or fifteen guerrillas in each Huk-controlled village that were ordered to avoid direct conflict with the Japanese while providing local defense and political indoctrination. Anti-Japanese military activity by the Huk actually decreased from about mid-1944 until the American landings in January 1945.
In the wake of the American offensive, the Huks
moved into villages from which the Americans had driven the Japanese
and then themselves moved on, claiming credit for liberation and
establishing their version of law and order. MacArthur's headquarters,
disturbed by reports on the Huks from American-sponsored guerrilla
organizations, came to view the Huks as little better than bandits, and
MacArthur, while surprisingly sympathetic to the Huk guerrillas,
ordered the Huks disarmed and dispersed. Only two squadrons from 2
Recco were granted official recognition by the American-backed
provisional government. Taruc was imprisoned until shortly before the
1946 elections, and was refused his seat when elected to the
Philippines Congress. By mid-1947 he had resumed guerrilla operations
in his old base around Mount Arayat.
The Hukbalahap would
continue their insurgency against the American-sponsored Filipino
government until 1955, when the popular American-backed President,
Ramon Magsaysay, was able to simultaneously effect serious social and
economic reforms while increasing the professionalism of the government
counterinsurgency forces. Retired Admiral Raymond Spruance was the American ambassador
to the Philippines at this time, and Spruance's biographer has claimed
that Spruance directed considerable covert U.S. aid to Magsaysay to
ensure his victory in the presidential election.
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