Philippines through the Centuries
Republika ñg Pilipinas

Independance and Democratization
1946 till 1972
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Independance and Constitutional Governments, 1945-72

Demoralized by the war and suffering rampant inflation and shortages of food and other goods, the Philippine people prepared for the transition to independence, which was scheduled for July 4, 1946. A number of issues remained unresolved, principally those concerned with trade and security arrangements between the islands and the United States. Yet in the months following Japan's surrender, collaboration became a virulent issue that split the country and poisoned political life. Most of the commonwealth legislature and leaders, such as Laurel, Claro Recto, and Roxas, had served in the Japanese-sponsored government. While the war was still going on, Allied leaders had stated that such "quislings" and their counterparts on the provincial and local levels would be severely punished. Harold Ickes, who as United States secretary of the interior had civil authority over the islands, suggested that all officials above the rank of schoolteacher who had cooperated with the Japanese be purged and denied the right to vote in the first postwar elections. Osmeña countered that each case should be tried on its own merits.

Resolution of the problem posed serious moral questions that struck at the heart of the political system. Collaborators argued that they had gone along with the occupiers in order to shield the people from the harshest aspects of Japanese rule. Before leaving Corregidor in March 1942, Quezon had told Laurel and José Vargas, mayor of Manila, that they should stay behind to deal with the Japanese but refuse to take an oath of allegiance. Although president of a "puppet" republic, Laurel had faced down the Japanese several times and made it clear that his loyalty was first to the Philippines and second to the Japanese-sponsored Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere.

Critics accused the collaborators of opportunism and of enriching themselves while the people starved. Anticollaborationist feeling, moreover, was fueled by the people's resentment of the elite. On both the local and the national levels, it had been primarily the landlords, important officials, and the political establishment that had supported the Japanese, largely because the latter, with their own troops and those of a reestablished Philippine Constabulary, preserved their property and forcibly maintained the rural status quo. Tenants felt the harshest aspects of Japanese rule. Guerrillas, particularly those associated with the Huks, came from the ranks of the cultivators, who organized to defend themselves against Philippine Constabulary and Japanese depredations.

The issue of collaboration centered on Roxas, prewar Nacionalista speaker of the House of Representatives, who had served as minister without portfolio and was responsible for rice procurement and economic policy in the wartime Laurel government. A close prewar associate of MacArthur, he maintained contact with Allied intelligence during the war and in 1944 had unsuccessfully attempted to escape to Allied territory, which exonerated him in the general's eyes. MacArthur supported Roxas in his ambitions for the presidency when he announced himself as a candidate of the newly formed Liberal Party (the liberal wing of the Nacionalista Party) in January 1946. MacArthur's favoritism aroused much criticism, particularly because other collaborationist leaders were held in jail, awaiting trial. A presidential campaign of great vindictiveness ensued, in which Roxas's wartime role was a central issue. Roxas outspent and outspoke his Nacionalista opponent, the aging and ailing Osmeña. In the April 23, 1946, election, Roxas won 54 percent of the vote, and the Liberal Party won a majority in the legislature.

On July 4, 1946, Roxas became the first president of the independent Republic of the Philippines. In 1948 he declared an amnesty for arrested collaborators - only one of whom had been indicted - except for those who had committed violent crimes. The resiliency of the prewar elite, although remarkable, nevertheless had left a bitter residue in the minds of the people. In the first years of the republic, the issue of collaboration became closely entwined with old agrarian grievances and produced violent results.

Economic Relations with the United States after Independence

If the inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in November 1935 marked the high point of Philippine-United States relations, the actual achievement of independence was in many ways a disillusioning anticlimax. Economic relations remained the most salient issue. The Philippine economy remained highly dependent on United States markets - more dependent, according to United States high commissioner Paul McNutt, than any single state was dependent on the rest of the country. Thus a severance of special relations at independence was unthinkable, and large landowners, particularly those with hectarage in sugar, campaigned for an extension to free trade. The Philippine Trade Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1946 and commonly known as the Bell Act, stipulated that free trade be continued until 1954; thereafter, tariffs would be increased 5 percent annually until full amounts were reached in 1974. Quotas were established for Philippine products both for free trade and tariff periods. At the same time, there would be no restrictions on the entry of United States products to the Philippines, nor would there be Philippine import duties. The Philippine peso was tied at a fixed rate to the United States dollar.

The most controversial provision of the Bell Act was the "parity" clause that granted United States citizens equal economic rights with Filipinos, for example, in the exploitation of natural resources. If parity privileges of individuals or corporations were infringed upon, the president of the United States had the authority to revoke any aspect of the trade agreement. Payment of war damages amounting to US$620 million, as stipulated in the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946, was made contingent on Philippine acceptance of the parity clause.

The Bell Act was approved by the Philippine legislature on July 2, two days before independence. The parity clause, however, required an amendment relating to the 1935 constitution's thirteenth article, which reserved the exploitation of natural resources for Filipinos. This amendment could be obtained only with the approval of three-quarters of the members of the House and Senate and a plebiscite. The denial of seats in the House to six members of the leftist Democratic Alliance and three Nacionalistas on grounds of fraud and violent campaign tactics during the April 1946 election enabled Roxas to gain legislative approval on September 18. The definition of three-quarters became an issue because three-quarters of the sitting members, not the full House and Senate, had approved the amendment, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the administration's interpretation .

In March 1947, a plebiscite on the amendment was held; only 40 percent of the electorate participated, but the majority of those approved the amendment. The Bell Act, particularly the parity clause, was seen by critics as an inexcusable surrender of national sovereignty. The pressure of the sugar barons, particularly those of Roxas's home region of the western Visayan Islands, and other landowner interests, however, was irresistible. In 1955 a revised United States-Philippine Trade Agreement (the Laurel-Langley Agreement) was negotiated. This treaty abolished the United States authority to control the exchange rate of the peso, made parity privileges reciprocal, extended the sugar quota, and extended the time period for the reduction of other quotas and for the progressive application of tariffs on Philippine goods exported to the United States.

Security Agreements

The Philippines became an integral part of emerging United States security arrangements in the western Pacific upon approval of the Military Bases Agreement in March 1947. The United States retained control of twenty-three military installations, including Clark Air Base and the extensive naval facilities at Subic Bay, for a lease period of ninety-nine years. United States rather than Philippine authorities retained full jurisdiction over the territories covered by the military installations, including over collecting taxes and trying offenders, including Filipinos, in cases involving United States service personnel. Base rights remained a controversial issue in relations between the two countries into the 1990s.

The Military Assistance Agreement also was signed in March 1947. This treaty established a Joint United States Military Advisory Group to advise and train the Philippine armed forces and authorized the transfer of aid and matériel - worth some US$169 million by 1957. Between 1950 and the early 1980s, the United States funded the military education of nearly 17,000 Filipino military personnel, mostly at military schools and training facilities in the United States. Much United States aid was used to support and reorganize the Philippine Constabulary in late 1947 in the face of growing internal unrest. A contingent of Philippine troops was sent to Korea in 1950. In August 1951 the two nations signed the Mutual Defense Treaty Between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America.

The Huk Rebellion

At the end of World War II, most rural areas, particularly in Central Luzon, were tinderboxes on the point of incineration. The Japanese occupation had only postponed the farmers' push for better conditions. Tensions grew as landlords who had fled to urban areas during the fighting returned to the villages in late 1945, demanded back rent, and employed military police and their own armed contingents to enforce these demands. Food and other goods were in short supply. The war had sharpened animosities between the elite, who in large numbers had supported the Japanese, and those tenants who had been part of the guerrilla resistance. Having had weapons and combat experience and having lost friends and relatives to the Japanese and the wartime Philippine Constabulary, guerrilla veterans and those close to them were not as willing to be intimidated by landlords as they had been before 1942.

MacArthur had jailed Taruc and Casto Alejandrino, both Huk leaders, in 1945 and ordered United States forces to disarm and disband Huk guerrillas. Many guerrillas, however, concealed their weapons or fled into the mountains. The Huks were closely identified with the emerging Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid (PKM - National Peasant Union), which was strongest in the provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Tarlac and had as many as 500,000 members. As part of the left-wing Democratic Alliance, which also included urban left-wing groups and labor unions, the PKM supported Osmeña and the Nacionalistas against Roxas in the 1946 election campaign. They did so not only because Roxas had been a collaborator but also because Osmeña had promised a new law giving tenants 60 percent of the harvest, rather than the 50 percent or less that had been customary.

Six Democratic Alliance candidates won congressional seats, including Taruc, who had been released from jail along with other leaders, but their exclusion from the legislature on charges of using terrorist methods during the campaign provoked great unrest in the districts that had elected them. Continued landlord- and police-instigated violence against peasant activities, including the murder of PKM leader Juan Feleo in August 1946, provoked the Huk veterans to dig up their weapons and incite a rebellion in the Central Luzon provinces. The name of the HUK movement was changed from the People's Anti-Japanese Army to the People's Liberation Army (Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan).

Roxas's policy toward the Huks alternated between gestures of negotiation and harsh suppression. His administration established an Agrarian Commission and passed a law giving tenants 70 percent of the harvest, although this was extremely difficult to enforce in the countryside. The Huks in turn demanded reinstatement of the Democratic Alliance members of Congress; disbandment of the military police, which in the 1945-48 period had been the equivalent of the old Philippine Constabulary; and a general amnesty. They also refused to give up their arms. In March 1948, Roxas declared the Huks an illegal and subversive organization and stepped up counterinsurgency activities.

Following Roxas's death from a heart attack in April 1948, his successor, Elpidio Quirino, opened negotiations with Huk leader Taruc, but nothing was accomplished. That same year the communist PKP decided to support the rebellion, overcoming its reluctance to rely on peasant movements. Although it lacked a peasant following, the PKP declared that it would lead the Huks on all levels and in 1950 described them as the "military arm" of the revolutionary movement to overthrow the government. From its inception, the government considered the Huk movement to have been communist instigated, an extension onto the Luzon Plain of the international revolutionary strategy of the Cominform in Moscow. Yet the rebellion's main impetus was peasant grievances, not Leninist designs. The principal factors were continuous tenant-landlord conflicts, in which the government actively took the part of the latter, dislocations caused by the war, and perhaps an insurrectionist tradition going back several centuries. According to historian Benedict Kerkvliet, "the PKP did not inspire or control the peasant movement . . . . What appears closer to the truth is that the PKP, as an organization, moved back and forth between alliance and nonalliance with the peasant movement in Central Luzon." Most farmers had little interest in or knowledge of socialism. Most wanted better conditions not redistribution of land or collectivization. The landlord-tenant relationship itself was not challenged, just its more exploitive and impersonal character in the contemporary period.

Huk fortunes reached their peak between 1949 and 1951. Violence associated with the November 1949 presidential election, in which Quirino was reelected on the Liberal Party ticket, led many farmers to support the Huks, and after that date there were between 11,000 and 15,000 armed Huks. Although the core of the rebellion remained in Central Luzon, Huk regional committees also were established in the provinces of Southern Tagalog, in northern Luzon, in the Visayan Islands, and in Mindanao. Antigovernment activities spread to areas outside the movement's heartland.

Beginning in 1951, however, the momentum began to slow. This was in part the result of poor training and the atrocities perpetrated by individual Huks. Their mistreatment of Negrito peoples made it almost impossible for them to use the mountain areas where these tribespeople lived, and the assassination of Aurora Quezon, President Quezon's widow, and of her family by Huks outraged the nation. Many Huks degenerated into murderers and bank robbers. Moreover, in the words of one guerrilla veteran, the movement was suffering from "battle fatigue." Lacking a hinterland, such as that which the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) provided for Viet Cong guerrillas or the liberated areas established by the Chinese Communists before 1949, the Huks were constantly on the run. Also the Huks were mainly active in Central Luzon, which permitted the government to concentrate its forces. Other decisive factors were the better quality of United States-trained Philippine armed forces and the more conciliatory policy adopted by the Quirino government toward the peasants.

The Magsaysay, Garcia, and Macapagal Administrations, 1953 - 65

Ramon Magsaysay, a member of Congress from Zambales Province and veteran of a non-Huk guerrilla unit during the war, became secretary of defense in 1950. He initiated a campaign to defeat the insurgents militarily and at the same time win popular support for the government. With United States aid and advisers he was able to improve the quality of the armed forces, whose campaign against the Huks had been largely ineffective and heavy-handed. In 1950 the constabulary was made part of the armed forces (it had previously been under the secretary of the interior) with its own separate command. All armed forces units were placed under strict discipline, and their behavior in the villages was visibly more restrained. Peasants felt grateful to Magsaysay for ending the forced evacuations and harsh pacification tactics that some claimed had been worse than those of the Japanese occupation.

Nominated as Nacionalista Party presidential candidate in April 1953, Magsaysay won almost two-thirds of the vote over his opponent, Quirino, in November. Often compared to United States president Andrew Jackson, Magsaysay styled himself as a man of the people. He invited thousands of peasants and laborers to tour the Malacañang Palace - the presidential residence in Manila - and encouraged farmers to send him telegrams, free of charge, with their complaints. In the countryside a number of small-scale but highly visible projects had been started, including the building of bridges, roads, irrigation canals, and artesian "liberty wells"; the establishment of special courts for landlord-tenant disputes; agricultural extension services; and credit for farmers. The Economic Development Corps project settled some 950 families on land that the government had purchased on Mindanao. In the ensuing years, this program, in various forms, promoted the settlement of poor people from the Christian north in traditionally Muslim areas. Although it relieved population pressures in the north, it also exacerbated centuries-old Muslim-Christian hostilities. The capture and killing of Huk leaders, the dissolution of Huk regional committees, and finally the surrender of Taruc in May 1954 marked the waning of the Huk threat.

Magsaysay's vice president, Carlos P. Garcia, succeeded to the presidency after Magsaysay's death in an airplane crash in March 1957 and was shortly thereafter elected to the office. Garcia emphasized the nationalist themes of "Filipino First" and attainment of "respectable independence." Further discussions with the United States on the question of the military bases took place in 1959. Early agreement was reached on United States relinquishment of large land areas initially reserved for bases but no longer required for their operation. As a result, the United States turned over to Philippine administration the town of Olongapo on Subic Bay, north of Manila, which previously had been under the jurisdiction of the United States Navy.

The 1957 election had resulted, for the first time, in a vice president of a party different from that of the president. The new vice president, Diosdado Macapagal, ran as the candidate of the Liberal Party, which followers of Magsaysay had joined after unsuccessful efforts to form an effective third party. By the time of the 1961 presidential election, the revived Liberal Party had built enough of a following to win the presidency for Macapagal. In this election, the returns from each polling place were reported by observers (who had been placed there by newspapers) as soon as the votes were counted. This system, known as Operation Quick Count, was designed to prevent fraud.

The issue of jurisdiction over United States service personnel in the Philippines, which had not been fully settled after the 1959 discussions, continued to be a problem in relations between the two countries. A series of incidents in the 1960-65 period, chiefly associated with Clark Air Base, aroused considerable anti-American feelings and demonstrations. Negotiations took place and resulted in an August 1965 agreement to adopt provisions similar to the status of forces agreement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization regarding criminal jurisdiction. In the next four years, agreements were reached on several other matters relating to the bases, including a 1966 amendment to the 1947 agreement, which moved the expiration date of the fixed term for United States use of the military facilities up to 1991.

Philippine foreign policy under Macapagal sought closer relations with neighboring Asian peoples. In July 1963, he convened a summit meeting in Manila consisting of the Philippines , Indonesia, and Malaysia. An organization called MAPHILINDO was proposed; much heralded in the local press as a realization of Rizal's dream of bringing together the Malay peoples, MAPHILINDO was described as a regional association that would approach issues of common concern in the spirit of consensus. MAPHILINDO was quickly shelved, however, in the face of the continuing confrontation between Indonesia and newly established Malaysia and the Philippines' own claim to Sabah, the territory in northeastern Borneo that had become a Malaysian state in 1963.

Marcos and the Road to Martial Law, 1965-72

In the presidential election of 1965, the Nacionalista candidate, Ferdinand E. Marcos (1917-90), triumphed over Macapagal. Marcos dominated the political scene for the next two decades, first as an elected president in 1965 and 1969, and then as a virtual dictator after his 1972 proclamation of martial law. He was born in llocos Norte Province at the northwestern tip of Luzon, a traditionally poor and clannish region. He was a brilliant law student, who successfully argued before the Philippine Supreme Court in the late 1930s for a reversal of a murder conviction against him (he had been convicted of shooting a political rival of his father). During World War II, Marcos served in the Battle of Bataan and then claimed to have led a guerrilla unit, the Maharlikas. Like many other aspects of his life, Marcos's war record, and the large number of United States and Philippine military medals that he claimed (at one time including the Congressional Medal of Honor), came under embarrassing scrutiny during the last years of his presidency. His stories of wartime gallantry, which were inflated by the media into a personality cult during his years in power, enthralled not only Filipino voters but also American presidents and members of Congress.

In 1949 Marcos gained a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives; he became a senator in 1959. His 1954 marriage to former beauty queen Imelda Romualdez provided him with a photogenic partner and skilled campaigner. She also had family connections with the powerful Romualdez political dynasty of Leyte in the Visayas.

During his first term as president, Marcos initiated ambitious public works projects - roads, bridges, schools, health centers, irrigation facilities, and urban beautification projects - that improved the quality of life and also provided generous pork barrel benefits for his friends. Massive spending on public works was, politically, a cost-free policy not only because the pork barrel won him loyal allies but also because both local elites and ordinary people viewed a new civic center or bridge as a benefit. By contrast, a land reform program - part of Marcos's platform as it had been that of Macapagal and his predecessors - would alienate the politically all-powerful landowner elite and thus was never forcefully implemented.

Marcos lobbied rigorously for economic and military aid from the United States but resisted pressure from President Lyndon B. Johnson to become significantly involved in the Second Indochina War. Marcos's contribution to the war was limited to a 2,000- member Philippine Civic Action Group sent to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1969. The Philippines became one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), established in 1967. Disputes with fellow ASEAN member Malaysia over Sabah in northeast Borneo, however, continued, and it was discovered, after an army mutiny and murder of Muslim troops in 1968 (the "Corregidor Incident"), that the Philippine army was training a special unit to infiltrate Sabah.

Although Marcos was elected to a second term as president in 1969 - the first president of the independent Philippines to gain a second term - the atmosphere of optimism that characterized his first years in power was largely dissipated. Economic growth slowed. Ordinary Filipinos, especially in urban areas, noted a deteriorating quality of life reflected in spiraling crime rates and random violence. Communist insurgency, particularly the activity of the Huks - had degenerated into gangsterism during the late 1950s, but the Communist Party of the Philippines-Marxist Leninist, usually referred to as the CPP, was "reestablished" in 1968 along Maoist lines in Tarlac Province north of Manila, leaving only a small remnant of the original PKP. The CPP's military arm, the New People's Army (NPA), soon spread from Tarlac to other parts of the archipelago. On Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago, violence between Muslims and Christians, the latter often recent government-sponsored immigrants from the north, was on the rise. In 1969 the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was organized on Malaysian soil. The MNLF conducted an insurrection supported by Malaysia and certain Islamic states in the Middle East, including Libya.

The carefully crafted "Camelot" atmosphere of Marcos's first inauguration, in which he cast himself in the role of John F. Kennedy with Imelda as his Jackie, gave way in 1970 to general dissatisfaction with what had been one of the most dishonest elections in Philippine history and fears that Marcos might engineer change in the 1935 constitution to maintain himself in power. On January 30, 1970, the "Battle of Mendiola," named after a street in front of the Malacañang Palace, the presidential mansion, pitted student demonstrators, who tried to storm the palace, against riot police and resulted in many injuries.

Random bombings, officially attributed to communists but probably set by government agents provocateurs, occurred in Manila and other large cities. Most of these only destroyed property, but grenade explosions in the Plaza Miranda in Manila during an opposition Liberal Party rally on August 21, 1971, killed 9 people and wounded 100 (8 of the wounded were Liberal Party candidates for the Senate). Although it has never been conclusively shown who was responsible for the bombing, Marcos blamed leftists and suspended habeas corpus - a prelude to martial law. But evidence subsequently pointed, again, to government involvement.

Government and opposition political leaders agreed that the country's constitution, American-authored during the colonial period, should be replaced by a new document to serve as the basis for thorough-going reform of the political system. In 1967 a bill was passed providing for a constitutional convention, and three years later, delegates to the convention were elected. It first met in June 1971.

The 1935 constitution limited the president to two terms. Opposition delegates, fearing that a proposed parliamentary system would allow Marcos to maintain himself in power indefinitely, prevailed on the convention to adopt a provision in September 1971 banning Marcos and members of his family from holding the position of head of state or government under whatever arrangement was finally established. But Marcos succeeded, through the use of bribes and intimidation, in having the ban nullified the following summer. Even if Marcos had been able to contest a third presidential term in 1973, however, both the 1971 mid-term elections and subsequent public opinion polls indicated that he or a designated successor - Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile or the increasingly ambitious Imelda Marcos - would likely be defeated by his arch-rival, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.


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