The Huk Rebellion was a leftist, rurally based armed rebellion in the Philippines, first against Japan and later against the newly independent, U.S.-supported Filipino government. Its main objective was independence and a more equitable society. The movement blossomed during World War II, dissipated in the mid-1950s, then returned during the late 1960s.
The Hukbalahap, or Huks, originated during World War II to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control. Hukbalahap is a contraction of the Tagalog phrase “Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon,” which means “People’s Anti-Japanese Army.” (Japan had taken control of the archipelago nation by defeating U.S.-Filipino forces in 1941.)
The Huks found a base of support among the peasants of central Luzon, where approximately 80 percent of local farmers lived under oppressive debt. Led by the socialist Luis Taruc, they advanced an agenda of nationalism and agrarian reform. Taruc had worked as a peasant organizer in the Pampanga region during the 1930s. Throughout the war the Huks trained local farmers in political theory and fighting strategy.
By the end of the conflict the Huks could claim roughly 15,000 armed soldiers and many supporters. Obtaining their weapons mostly from retreating Filipino soldiers, old battlefields, and downed planes, they used their power to block Japanese food and military supplies and to interrupt the collection of taxes. Besides earning widespread popular support, the Huks developed communication networks and fighting tools that would serve them well in later years.
After U.S.-led forces recaptured Luzon from the Japanese in February 1945, the Huks looked forward to independence as promised by the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934. They formed a political party and won a number of elections in 1947, but were denied their rightful seats in parliament.
In response they once again returned to the mountains and took up arms. In November 1948 the Huks renamed themselves “Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan,” or People’s Liberation Army.
The Huks came close to toppling the government in 1950. However, under the leadership of Ramon Magsaysay, the Filipino government was able to turn the tide on the Huks. Magsaysay pursued a two-pronged approach, combining vigorous military action with successful efforts to reform the army. When Taruc surrendered in 1954, the movement ended. Magsaysay’s campaign became the model for U.S. efforts in Vietnam.
Rural discontent once again pushed the Huks to take up arms against the government in the late 1960s. In August 1969 however, President Ferdinand Marcos, with the aid of the U.S. government, launched a military campaign that crushed them.