Philippine HiStory Today: Hukbalahap Formed
I come from a family of farmers. My father was from Tarlac and my mother from Negros. My parents’ families grew two different kinds of crops, both of which are backbones in our country’s agriculture: rice and sugar cane.
Through hard work my grandparents were able to send may parents to good schools… fortunately for me that determination for a better life was carried on by my parents. Away from the farmland, my parents prospered in Manila as educators. And here I am, the fruit of their labour!
I share the same story with a lot of our kababayans. Maybe you also come from a family of farmers, though I bet you are not a farmer. According to newspaper writer Sara Soliven de Guzman, farmers are a dying breed in our country. Our economy reflects that trend: in 1946, agriculture earned 29.7% whereas in 2012 it contributed only 11.1% to the economy.
Why am I saying all this? Because today we are going to talk about the plight of farmers in the Philippines. But this time we are looking beyond the events of Black Thursday and focusing on another, longer fight by farmers in the middle of the 20th century: the Hukbalahap movement.
The date in focus is 29 March 1942, the day a group of peasants ceased to be simple farmers and became soldiers of freedom.
Hold on to your seat!
The Filipino farmer under the Spanish and American periods
Years of hardship under Spain has forced many farmers who have been robbed of their lands to take to the woods and hills, becoming outlaws or tulisan. These people killed Spanish officials or the occasional hacienda manager, and earned the support of small communities in the process.
Filipino peasants yearned for change. But the farmers’ condition during the American period was no better than the condition of those who lived under Spain’s rule (if you wish to know more on the latter, read about how the ‘encomienda system’ angered the peaceful king Lakandula).
The promise of a new government under America brought temporary hope to the farmers. However, the slow and unfair implementation of modern agrarian laws, like the sharecropping system, failed to protect them. Instead, it was the educated elite who began to amass wealth by exploiting the loopholes in the law.
Farmers in the Philippines during the American rule
Many farmers did not take this oppression by their fellow Filipinos lightly. In fact, agrarian uprisings persisted through the 1920s and 30s (during this period, the first labour unions, communist parties and groups emerged in the Philippines, a chapter in history we will reserve for another day!).
The farmers fought for their right to own the land they tilled versus the landlords. Fuelled by the promises of the communist movement (the Communist Party of the Philippines or CPP), farmers groups they launched guerilla warfares throughout central Luzon, which was composed of great tracks of farmland. But the government, which by the 1930s was ruled by Filipinos, didn’t seem to care much for the peasant’s cause.
These guerilla wars would eventually give rise to the Hukbalahap. But before that happened, the Japanese came into the picture.
Japan occupies the Philippines
World War 2 in the Pacific: Japan wanted to create a sphere of influence in Asia, which meant getting rid of European and American forces in a region that had been colonised by these Western nations. One of their main targets was the Philippines.
They bombed the country, driving out America’s last line of defence, the US Army Forces in the Far East (Usaffe), and their commander Douglas MacArthur. The Philippines was totally left at the whims of the Japanese.
Filipinos suffered terrible torture during that period. Women were abducted and raped, prisoners of war were starved, burned, beheaded, bayoneted, experimented on… one such example of the torture the Japanese inflicted was the Bataan Death March.
The Japanese used a type of water torture called ‘waterboarding’ that simulates the feeling of drowning
Physical hardship by the Japanese further added to the worry and plight of the poor farmers. In response to this growing threat, CPP merged with socialist and labour groups in central Luzon to form one of the most successful guerilla forces in the history of the Philippines.
29 March 1942
Less than half a year after Japan invaded the Philippines, the ‘Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon’ (Anti-Japanese Army), also known as Hukbalahap or Huk, was formed with El Supremo Luis Taruc, a CPP member and peasant organiser from Pampanga, at their helm.
For a guerilla group that started out with peasant farmers for soldiers, it is amazing that the Huk grew to become a very efficient army of 15,000. As the war progressed, they recruited more men and acquired weapons by looting Usaffe bases and confiscating private weapons.
Pro-Hukbalahap poster spread during and after the war
The Huk did have working relations with the Americans who needed every ally they could get to fight off the Japanese. They had a common enemy, so they had to set aside their differences to achieve what they wanted. However, opposing political thrusts cut short this relationship.
Nevertheless, the Huk was successful in their raids of Japanese garrisons and supply bases. Morale was high among the Huks and the communities they protected, and this motivated the group to refine their structure and intensify tactics to be a more efficient force.
A 1986 analysis by the US Army Centre of Military History shows the organisation and efficiency of Hukbalahap’s internal structure
America returns and aftermath
When World War 2 drew to a close, Usaffe once again strengthened its forces in the Philippines with the return of General Douglas MacArthur. As the Japanese were being driven out of the country, Hukbalahap took the opportunity to branch into politics. Since the exit of the Japanese meant the return of governance into Filipino hands, the Huk’s move was timely if they wanted to pursue a lasting agrarian reform.
The Huk’s link to the communist movement however made them bad news in the eyes of America, which was reinstating the Commonwealth Government. After the war, the Philippine government continued to have clashes with the Huk, further increasing the gap between the political elite and the farmers.
Did you know that at some point in the 1950s the government became so threatened by Huk forces that it created a special anti-Huk operation called Operation Thunder-Lightning. It was under former Usaffe guerilla turned Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay that the Huks finally surrendered in 1955.
The story of Hukbalahap doesn’t end with the loss of the Japanese in the Pacific war. In some ways, the physical presence of the Huk is still alive today through its successors in the CPP, the New People’s Army (NPA).
New People’s Army
Granted, CPP-NPA and the National Democratic Front are fighting a different kind of war today. But they are echoing the same kind of sentiment shouted by the Huks of the 1940s until Luis Taruc surrendered.
My point is, whether they are connected with groups like the Huk, CPP and others, the plight of farmers is real and they are happening right now. I know I have already talked about agrarian reform in another history session. But we have to keep on repeating this issue if we want real changes to take place.
If you have been following news, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is once again caught in a controversial issue, this time involving the PDAF scam. According to whistleblowers Rhodora Mendoza and Vic Cacal, PDAF had been coursed through the state-owned National Agribusiness Corporation’s (Nabcor) and DA, benefiting senators and congressmen alike sometime in 2009.
This new expose proves that Filipino farmers are still being cheated today, many years after Spain left our country. Isn’t it about time we change this?
What do you think ordinary Filipinos can do to help our farmers? Leave your thoughts and opinions below, and see you in our next chapter in history!