By Michael Benge
The communist Hukbong Laban sa Hapon (Anti-Japanese Army) or simply Huks, comprised mainly of disenfranchised peasant tenant-farmers of Central Luzon, was only one of several guerrilla groups resisting the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines. The Huks were well received by the villagers and were seen as their protector from the abuses of the Japanese. There were many motivations for people to join: nationalism, empathy, survival, and revenge. Those who could not join the guerrilla army joined the underground government via its “secretly converted neighborhood associations”, called Barrio United Defense Corps. The Huks also tried to recruit beyond Central Luzon but were not as successful.
On March 29, 1942, the communist Hukbong Laban sa Hapon (Huks) was incorporated into a broad-based united front of guerrillas named the -- Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap) -- "The Nation's Army Against the Japanese"). Soon after, its representatives met with USAFFE (United States Army Forces in the Far East) representative Colonel Thorpe at Camp Sanchez in the spring of 1942, and under this umbrella, the conferees agreed to cooperate, share equipment and supplies, with the Americans providing trainers under USAFFE’s overall command.Although the communist Huks fought the Japanese, at times, they also fought other guerrilla units under USAFFE as well as killed, pillaged and plundered other Filipino nationalists. Their methods were often portrayed by other guerrilla leaders as terrorists; for example, “Ray C. Hunt, an American who led his own band of 3000 guerrillas, said his experiences with the communist Huks were always unpleasant, they were much better assassins than soldiers.” Tightly disciplined and led by fanatics, they murdered 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. The initial force of 500 armed Huks was organized into five squadrons and “by late summer 1943, Huk leadership claimed to have a fully armed guerrilla force of 5,000 to 20,000 active men and women military fighters and 50,000 more in reserve. By August 1948, the Huks became a trained and experienced force, well-equipped and well-prepared for its guerrilla warfare. Their weaponry was obtained primarily by stealing it from battlefields and downed planes left behind by the Japanese, Filipinos, and Americans. The Huks also created a training school where they taught political theory and military tactics based on Marxist ideas. In areas that the group controlled, they set up local governments and instituted land reforms, dividing up the largest estates equally among the peasants and often killing the landlords.” Among the group's leaders were figurehead Luis Taruc, communist party Secretary General Jesus Lava, and Commander Hizon (Benjamin Cunanan) who aimed to lead the Philippines toward Marxist ideals and communist revolution.
After the surrender of Japan in WWII and the withdrawal of its forces from the Philippines, most of the guerrilla groups disbanded and went home, or were absorbed into the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) or the Army. The aftermath of the liberation from Japan was characterized by chaos. The paternal relationship of the large landowners toward the tenant farmers had been virtually destroyed during the war, and life was economically unsustainable for the peasants who had joined the Huks. Moreover, the poor harvest between late 1945 to early 1946 period not only exacerbated the plight of the Huks, it also further intensified the gap between the tenants and the landlords. Added to this, the Huks being a communist-led group were considered to be disloyal and were not accorded U.S. recognition or benefits at the end of the war. Their hardships were aggravated by the hostility they experienced when the Philippine Government, following orders from the United States of America, disarmed and arrested the communist Huks. Harassment and abuses against peasant activists became common. Largely consisting of peasant farmers, the Huks feared for their lives as the USAFFE and the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) hunted them down. In September 1946, the Huks retreated to the Sierra Madre Mountains and their guerrilla lifestyle as a response to supposed maltreatment by the government and renamed themselves Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or People's Liberation Army.
Although the communist Huks were only one of a plethora of guerrilla groups in the umbrella organization Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap) -- "The Nation's Army Against the Japanese"), originally formed to fight the Japanese. However, in 1946 in what became known as the Hukbalahap Rebellion, the communist Huks extended their fight into a rebellion against the Philippine Government and usurped the Hukbalahap name in an attempt to play off on its patriotic reputation and create a charade of legitimacy among the peasants. Adding to this deception, the Huks claimed that it had extended its guerrilla warfare campaign merely in search of recognition as World War II freedom fighters and former American and Filipino allies who deserved a share of war reparations. In reality, the communist Huks insurrection was but an attempt to take over the entire Philippines. The rebellion lasted for years, with huge civilian casualties.
In 1949, the Huks ambushed and murdered Aurora Quezon, Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross and widow of the Philippines' second president Manuel L. Quezon, as she was in route to her hometown for the dedication of the Quezon Memorial Hospital. Several others were also killed, including her eldest daughter and son-in-law. This attack brought worldwide condemnation of the Hukbalahap, who claimed that the attack was done by "renegade" members.
The continuing condemnation and new post-war causes of the movement forced the Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP) in 1950 to reconstitute the organization as the armed wing of a revolutionary party and change the official name to Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or "Peoples' Liberation Army"; likely changing it in emulation of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Notwithstanding this name change, the HMB continued to be popularly known as the Hukbalahap, and the English-speaking press and the U.S. Army command continued to refer to it and its members, interchangeably, as "The Huks" during the whole period between 1945 and 1952, and commentators have continued to do so since then.
The start of the 1950s saw the beginning of the rebellion's decline. There was general weariness among the people from years of fighting. Many prominent Huk leaders either had died or were too old to fight, and those that remained were few. To make things worse, the villagers of Central Luzon showed signs of becoming weary of supporting them or just saw them as irrelevant. Public sympathies for the movement began waning due to their postwar attacks. The Huks carried out a campaign of raids, holdups, robbery, ambushes, murder, rape, massacre of small villages, kidnapping, and intimidation. The Huks confiscated funds and property to sustain their movement and relied on small village organizers for political and material support. Nevertheless, from Central Luzon, the Huk movement had spread to the central provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, and in Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Laguna, Bataan, and Quezon.