Sunday, September 16, 2012

THE PHILIPPINES: 1940s to 1950s - U.S. Oldest Colony

“The true Filipino is a decolonized Filipino.” – Prof. Renato Constantino (1919-1999)

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NOTE: In 1898, President William McKinley declared the U.S. mission in the Philippines one of "benevolent assimilation." But within weeks of McKinley's remarks, American troops embarked on a bloody campaign to stamp out an indigenous independence movement that would ultimately cost somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 Filipino lives. Mark Twain called The Philippine-American War (The First Vietnam) (which the U.S. called the "Philippine Insurrection") "a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater."


Chapter 4. The Philippines 1940s and 1950s - U.S.'s oldest colony

"I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed (to) Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don't know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them [the Philippine Islands] back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or  Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) chat we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-governmentand they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died." —William McKinley, President of the United States, 1899 1 (Bill McKinley's Conversation with God)

William McKinley's idea of doing the very best by the Filipinos was to employ the United States Army to kill them in the tens of thousands, burn down their villages, subject them to torture, and lay the foundation for an economic exploitation which was proudly referred to at the time as imperialism by leading American statesmen and newspapers.

After the Spanish had been driven out of the Philippines in 1898 by a combined action of the United States and the Filipinos, Spain agreed to "cede" (that is, sell) the islands to the United States for $20 million. But the Filipinos, who had already proclaimed their own independent republic, did not take kindly to being treated like a plot of uninhabited real estate. Accordingly, an American force numbering at least 50,000 proceeded to instill in the population a proper appreciation of their status. Thus did America's longest-lasting and most conspicuous colony ever come into being.

Nearly half a century later, the US Army again landed in the Philippines to find a nationalist movement fighting against a common enemy, this time the Japanese. While combating the Japanese during 1945, the American military took many measures aimed at quashing this resistance army, the Huks (a shortening of Hukbalahap-"People's Army Against Japan" in Tagalog). American forces disarmed many Huk units, removed the local governments which the Huks had established, and arrested and imprisoned many of their high-ranking members as well as leaders of the Philippine Communist Party.

Guerrilla forces, primarily organized and led by American officers and composed of US and Filipino soldiers of the so-called US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), undertook police-type actions which resulted in a virtual reign of terror against the Huks and suspected sympathizers; disparaging rumors were spread about the Huks to erode their support amongst the peasants; and the Japanese were allowed to assault Huk forces unmolested. This, while the Huks were engaged in a major effort against the Japanese invaders and Filipino collaborators and frequently came to the aid of American soldiers.2

In much of this anti-Huk campaign, the United Slates made use of Filipinos who were collaborating with the Japanese, such as landlords, large estate owners, many police constables, and other officials. In the post-war period, the US restored to power and position many of those tainted with collaboration, much to the distaste of other Filipinos.3

The Huk guerrilla forces had been organized in 1942, largely at the initiative of the Communist Party, in response to the Japanese occupation of the islands. Amongst American policy makers, there were those who came to the routine conclusion that the Huks were thus no more than a tool of the International Communist Conspiracy, to be opposed as all such groups were to be opposed. Others in Washington and Manila, whose reflexes were less knee-jerk, but mote cynical, recognized that the Huk movement, if its growing influence was not checked, would lead to sweeping reforms of Philippine society.

The centerpiece of the Huk political program was agrarian or land reform, a crying need in this largely agricultural society. (On occasion, US officials would pay lip-service to the concept, but during 5O years of American occupation, nothing of the sort had been carried out.) The other side of the Huk coin was industrialization, which the United States had long thwarted in order to provide American industries with a veritable playground in the Philippines. From the Huks' point of view, such changes were but prologue to raising the islanders from their state of backwardness, from illiteracy, grinding poverty, and the diseases of poverty like tuberculosis and beri-beri. "The Communist Hukbalahap rebellion," reported the New York Times, "is generally regarded as an outgrowth of the misery and discontent among the peasants of Central Luzon [the main island]."4

A study prepared years later for the US Army echoed this sentiment, stating that the Huks' "main impetus was peasant grievances, not Leninist designs".5 Nevertheless, the Huk movement was unmistakably a threat to the neo-colonial condition of the Philippines, the American sphere of influence, and those Philippine interests which benefited from the status quo.

By the end of 1945, four months after the close of World War II, the United States was training and equipping a force of 50,000 Filipino soldiers for the Cold War.6  In testimony before a congressional committee, Major General William Arnold of the US Army candidly stated that this program was "essential for the maintenance of internal order, not for external difficulties at all".7 None of the congressmen present publicly expressed any reservation about the international propriety of such a foreign policy.

At the same time, American soldiers were kept on in the Philippines, and in at least one infantry division combat training was re-established. This led to vociferous protests and demonstrations by the GIs who wanted only to go home. The inauguration of combat training, the New York Times disclosed, was "interpreted by soldiers and certain Filipino newspapers as the preparation for the repression of possible uprisings in the Philippines by disgruntled farm tenant groups." The story added that the soldiers had a lot to say "on the subject of American armed intervention in China and the Netherlands Indies [Indonesia]," which was occurring at the same time.8

To what extent American military personnel participated directly in the suppression of dissident groups in the Philippines after the war is not known. The Huks, though not trusting Philippine and US authorities enough to voluntarily surrender their arms, did test the good faith of the government by taking part in the April 1946 national elections as part of a "Democratic Alliance" of liberal and socialist peasant political groups. (Philippine independence was scheduled for three months later—the Fourth of July to be exact.)

As matters turned out, the commander-in-chief of the Huks, Luis Taruc, and several other Alliance members and reform-minded candidates who won election to Congress (three to the Senate and seven to the House]were not allowed to take their seats under the transparent fiction that coercion had been used to influence voters. No investigation or review of the cases had even been carried out by the appropriate body, the Electoral Tribunal.9 (Two years later, Taruc was temporarily allowed to take his seat when he came to Manila to discuss a ceasefire with the government.)

The purpose of denying these candidates their seats was equally transparent: the government was thus able to push through Congress the controversial Philippine-US Trade Act—passed by two votes more than required in the House, and by nothing to spare in the Senate—which yielded to the United States bountiful privileges and concessions in the Philippine economy, including "equal rights ... in the development of the nation's natural resources and the operation of its public utilities".10 This "parity" provision was eventually extended to every sector of the Philippine economy.11 

The debasement of the electoral process was followed by a wave of heavy brutality against the peasants carried out by the military, the police, and landlord goon squads. According to Luis Taruc, in the months following the election, peasant villages were destroyed, more than 500 peasants and their leaders killed, and about three times that number jailed, tortured, maimed or missing. The Huks and others felt they had little alternative but to take up arms once again.12

Independence was not likely to change much of significance. American historian George E.Taylor, of impeccable establishment credentials, in a book which bears the indication of CIA sponsorship, was yet moved to state that independence "was marked by lavish expressions of mutual good will, by partly fulfilled promises, and by a restoration of the old relationship in almost everything except in name. ... Many demands were made of the Filipinos for the commercial advantage of the United States but none for the social and political advantage of the Philippines."13

The American military was meanwhile assuring a home for itself in the Philippines. A 1947 agreement provided sites for 23 US military bases in the country. The agreement was to last for 99 years. It stipulated that American servicemen who committed crimes outside the bases while on duty could be tried only by American military tribunals inside the bases.

By the terms of a companion military assistance pact, the Philippine government was prohibited from purchasing so much as a bullet from any arms source other than the US, except with American approval. Such a state of affairs, necessarily involving training, maintenance and spare parts, made the Philippine military extremely dependent upon their American counterparts. Further, no foreigners other than Americans were permitted to perform any function for or with the Philippine armed forces without the approval of the United States.14

By early 1950, the United States had provided the Philippines with over $200 million of military equipment and supplies, a remarkable sum for that time, and was in addition to the construction of various military facilities.15 The Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUS-MAG) reorganized the Philippine intelligence capability and defense department, put its chosen man, Ramon Magsaysay, at its head, and formed the Philippine army into battalion combat teams trained for counter-insurgency warfare.16 The Philippines was to be a laboratory experiment for this unconventional type of combat. The methods and the terminology, such as "search-and-destroy" and "pacification", were later to become infamous in Vietnam.

By September, when Col. Edward Landsdale arrived in the Philippines, the civil war had all the markings of a long, drawn-out affair, with victory not in sight for either side. Ostensibly, Lansdale was just another American military adviser attached to JUSMAG, but in actuality he was the head of CIA clandestine and paramilitary operations in the country. His apparent success in the Philippines was to make him a recognized authority in counter-insurgency.

In his later reminiscences about this period in his life, Lansdale relates his surprise at hearing from informed Filipino civilian friends about how repressive the Quirino government was, that its atrocities matched those of (or attributed to) the Huks, that the government was "rotten with corruption" (down to the policeman in the street, Lansdale observed on his own), that Quirino himself had been elected the previous year through "extensive fraud", and that "the Huks were right", they were the "wave of the future", and violence was the only way for the people to get a government of their own. (The police, wrote a correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post, were "bands of uniformed thieves and rapists, more feared than bandits ... the army was little better.")17

Lansdale was undeterred. He had come to do a job. Accordingly, he told himself that if the Huks took over there would only be another form of injustice by another privileged few, backed by even crueller force. By the next chapter, he had convinced himself that he was working on the side of those committed to "defend human liberty in the Philippines".18

As a former advertising man, Lansdale was no stranger to the use of market research, motivation techniques, media, and deception. In CIA parlance, such arts fall under the heading of "psychological warfare". To this end, Lansdale fashioned a unit called the Civil Affairs Office. Its activities were based on the premise—one both new and suspect to most American military officers—that a popular guerrilla army cannot be defeated by force alone.

Lansdale's team conducted a careful study of the superstitions of the Filipino peasants living in Huk areas: their lore, taboos, and myths were examined for clues to the appropriate appeals that could wean them from supporting the insurgents. In one operation, Lansdale's men flew over these areas in a small plane hidden by a cloud cover and broadcast in Tagalog mysterious curses on any villagers who dared to give the Huks food or shelter. The tactic reportedly succeeded into starving some Huk units into surrender.19

Another Lansdale-initiated "psywar" operation played on the superstitious dread in the Philippine countryside of the asuang, a mythical vampire. A psywar squad entered a town and planted rumors that an asuang lived in the neighboring hill where the Huks were based, a location from which government forces were anxious to have them out. 

Two nights later, after giving the rumors time to circulate among Huk sympathizers in the town and make their way up the hill, the psywar squad laid an ambush for the rebels along a trail used by them. When a Huk patrol passed, the ambushers silently snatched the last man, punctured his neck vampire-fashion with two holes, held his body by the heels until the blood drained out, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks, as superstitious as any other Filipinos, discovered the bloodless comrade, they fled from the region.20

Lansdale regularly held "coffee klatsches" with Filipino officials and military personnel in which new ideas were freely tossed back and forth, a la a Madison Avenue brain session. Out of this came the Economic Development Corps to lure Huks with a program of resettlement on their own patch of farm land, with tools, seeds, cash loans, etc. It was an undertaking wholly inadequate to the land problem, and the number that responded was very modest, but like other psywar techniques, a principal goal was to steal from the enemy his most persuasive arguments.21  

Among other tactics introduced or refined by Lansdale were: production of films and radio broadcasts to explain and justify government actions; infiltration of government agents into the ranks of the Huks to provide information and sow dissension; attempts to modify the behavior of government soldiers so as to curtail their abuse of people in rural areas (for the Huks had long followed an explicit code of proper conduct towards the peasants, with punishment meted out to violators), but on other occasions, government soldiers were allowed to run amok in villages—disguised as Huks.22

This last, revealed L. Fletcher Prouty, was a technique "developed to a high art in the Philippines" in which soldiers were "set upon the unwary village in the grand manner of a Cecil B. De Mille production".23 Prouty, a retired US Air Force colonel, was for nine years the focal point officer for contacts between the Pentagon and the CIA. He has described another type of scenario by which the Huks were tarred with the terrorist brush, serving to obscure the political nature of their movement and mar their credibility:

In the Philippines, lumbering interests and major sugar interests have forced tens of thousands of simple, backward villagers to leave areas where they have lived for centuries. When these poor people flee to other areas, it should be quite obvious that they in turn then infringe upon the territorial rights of other villagers or landowners. This creates violent rioting or at least sporadic outbreaks of banditry, that last lowly recourse of dying and terrorized people. 

Then when the distant government learns of the banditry and rioting, it must offer some safe explanation. The last thing that regional government would want to do would be
to say that the huge lumbering or paper interests had driven the people out of their ancestral homeland. In the Philippines it is customary for the local/regional government to get a 10 percent rake-off on all such enterprise and for national politicians to get another 10 percent. So the safe explanation becomes "Communist-inspired subversive insurgency." The word for this in the Philippines is Huk.24

The most insidious part of the CIA operation in the Philippines was the fundamental manipulation of the nation's political life, featuring stage-managed elections and  disinformation campaigns. The high-point of this effort was the election to the presidency, in 1953, of Ramon Magsaysay, the cooperative former defense department head.

Lansdale, it was said, "invented" Magsaysay.25 His CIA front organizations—such as the National Movement for Free Elections—ran the Filipino's campaign with all the license, impunity, and money that one would expect from the Democratic or Republican National Committees operating in the US, or perhaps more to the point, Mayor Daley operating in Chicago. Yet the New York Times, in an editorial, was moved to refer to the Philippines as "democracy's showcase in Asia."26 

The CIA, on one occasion, drugged the drinks of Magsaysay's opponent, incumbent president Elpido Quirino, before he gave a speech so that he would appear incoherent. On another occasion, when Magsaysay insisted on delivering a speech which had been written by a Filipino instead of one written by Lansdale's team, Lansdale reacted in a rage, finally hitting the presidential candidate so hard that he knocked him out.27 

Magsaysay won the election, but not before the CIA had smuggled in guns for use in a coup in case their man lost.28

Once Magsaysay was in office, the CIA wrote his speeches, carefully guided his foreign policy, and used its press "assets" (paid editors and journalists) to provide him with a constant claque of support for his domestic programs and his involvement in the US-directed anti-communist crusade in southeast Asia, as well as to attack anti-US newspaper columnists. So beholden was Magsaysay to the United States, disclosed presidential assistant Sherman Adams, that he "sent word to Eisenhower that he would do anything the United States wanted him to do—even though his own foreign minister took the opposite view".29 

One inventive practice of the CIA on behalf of Magsaysay was later picked up by Agency stations in a number of other Third World countries. This particular piece of chicanery consisted of selecting articles written by CIA writer-agents for the provincial press and republishing them in a monthly Digest of the Provincial Press. The Digest was then sent to congressmen and other opinion makers in Manila to enlighten them as to "what the provinces were thinking".30

Senator Claro M. Recto, Magsaysay's chief political opponent and a stern critic of American policy in the Philippines, came in for special treatment. The CIA planted stories that he was a Communist Chinese agent and it prepared packages of condoms labeled "Courtesy of Claro M. Recto—the People's Friend". The condoms ail had holes in them at the most inappropriate place.31

The Agency also planned to assassinate Recto, going so far as to prepare a substance for poisoning him. The idea was abandoned "for pragmatic considerations rather than moral scruples."32

After Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957, various other Filipino politicians and parties were sought out by the CIA as clients, or offered themselves as such. One of the latter was Diosdado Macapagal, who was to become president in 1961. Macapagal provided the Agency with political information for several years and eventually asked for, and received, what he felt he deserved: heavy financial support for his campaign. {Reader's Digest called his election: "certainly a demonstration of democracy in action".)33

Ironically, Macapagal had been the bitterest objector to American intervention in the Magsaysay election in 1953, quoting time and again from the Philippine law that "No foreigner shall aid any candidate directly or indirectly or take part in or influence in any manner any election."34

Perhaps even more ironic, in 1957 the Philippine government adopted a law, clearly written by Americans, which outlawed both the Communist Party and the Huks, giving as one of the reasons for doing so that these organizations aimed at placing the government "under the control and domination of an alien power".35

By 1953 the Huks were scattered and demoralized, no longer a serious threat, although their death would be distributed over the next few years. It is difficult to ascertain to what extent their decline was due to the traditional military force employed against them, or to Lansdale's more unorthodox methods, or to the eventual debilitation of many of the Huks from malnutrition and disease, brought on by the impoverishment of the peasantry. Long before the end, many Huks were also lacking weapons and ammunition and proper military equipment, bringing into question the oft-repeated charge of Soviet and Chinese aid to them made by Filipino and American authorities.36

Edward Lachica, a Filipino historian, has written that "The Kremlin did pay lip service to the Communist movement in the Philippines, praising the Huks for being part of the 'global struggle against the U.S.', but no material support was offered."37 

"Since the destruction of Huk military power," noted George Taylor, "the social and political program that made the accomplishment possible has to a large extent fallen by the wayside."38

Fortress America, however, was securely in place in southeast Asia. From the Philippines would be launched American air and sea actions against Korea and China, Vietnam and Indonesia. The Philippine government would send combat forces to fight alongside the United States in Vietnam and Korea. On the islands' bases, the technology and art of counter-insurgency warfare would be imparted to the troops of America's other allies in the Pacific.


1. Charles S. Olcott, The Life of William McKinley (Boston, 1916) vol. 2, pp. 110-11; from a talk given to a visiting group from the Methodist Episcopal Church.

2. US actions against Huks during Second World War:
a) D.M. Condit, Bert H, Cooper, Jr., et al., Challenge and Response in Internal Conflict, Volume 1, The Experience in Asia (Center for Research in Social Systems, The American University, Washington, D.C., 1968), p. 481, research performed for the Department of the Army.
b) Luis Taruc, Born of the People (New York, 1953, although completed in June 1949) pp. 147-62, 186-211, the autobiography of the Huks' commander-in-chief who surrendered to the government in 1954.
c) William J. Pomeroy, An American Made Tragedy (New York, 1974) pp. 74-7; Pomeroy is an American who served in the Philippines during the war where he encountered the Huks. After the war, he returned to fight with them he until he was captured in 1952,
d) George E. Taylor, The Philippines and the United States: Problems of Partnership (New York, 1964) p. 122 (see note 1.! below).
e) Eduardo Lachica, Huk: Philippine Agrarian Society in Revolt (Manila, 1971) pp, 112-
3, 116-7.
f) Philippines: A Country Study (Foreign Area Studies, The American University, Washington, D.C., 1983-84) p. 43, prepared for the Department of the Army.
3. Taruc, chapter 22; Pomeroy, pp, 77-8; Taylor, pp. 116-20.
4. New York Times, 19 December 1952, p. 13
5. Philippines: A Country Study, p. 44
6. New York Times, 5 January 1946, p. 26
7. Hearings before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in executive session, 7 June 1946, released in 1977, p. 31. Arnold was the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, Operations Division, War Department General Staff.
8. American servicemen's protests: New York Times, 8 January 1946, p. 3; 11 January, p. 4; for more information see Mary-Alice Waters, G.I.'s and the Fight Against War (New York, 1967), pamphlet published by Young Socialist magazine.
9. New York Times, 20 May 1946, p. 8; 2 June, p. 26; 4 June, p. 22 (letter from Tomas Confessor, prominent Filipino political figure, detailing the illegality of not seating the men); 18 September, p. 4; 19 September, p. 18; Pomeroy, p. 20; Taruc, pp.
214-27; Lachica, pp. 120-1.
10. New York Times, 12 March 1947, p. 15; the words are those of the Times; Lachica, p.121.
11. Pomeroy, p. 28, explains how this came about.
12. Taruc, chapters 23 and 24; Pomeroy, p. 78; the Philippine Army reported that 600 deaths had occurred from their incursions into Huk areas in the month following the electron (New York Times, 20 May 1946, p. 8) but no breakdown between military and non-military casualties was given in the press account; see also Lachica, p.121.
13. Taylor, pp. 114, 115. The book was published by Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. for the Council on Foreign Relations, the ultra high-level think-tank whose officers and directors at the time included Allen Dulles, David Rockefeller, and John J. McCloy. Praeger, it was later disclosed, published a number of books in the 1960s under CIA sponsorship- This book, though generally reasonable on most matters, descends to
the puerile and semi-hysterical when discussing the Huks or 'communism'.
14. Department of State, Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 (Washington, 1974) pp. 84-9; Pomeroy, pp. 21-3; Taylor, p. 129.
15. New York Times, 1 July 1946, $50 million furnished; 11 February 1950, p. 6, $163.5 million furnished under the 1947 agreement.
16. Edward G. Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars (New York, 1972) passim; Stephen Shalom, "Counter-insurgency in the Philippines" in Daniel Schirmer and Stephen Shalom, eds., The Philippine Reader (Boston, 1987) pp. 112-3.
17. William Worden, 'Robin Hood of the Islands', Saturday Evening Post, 12 January 1952, p. 76.
18. Lansdale, pp. 24-30,47.
19. Joseph Burkholder Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior [New York, 1976) p. 95 (see note 30 for Smith's back-ground).
20. Lansdale, pp. 72-3.
21. Ibid., pp. 47-59.
22. Ibid., pp. 70-1, 81-3, 92-3; Smith, p. 106; Taruc, pp. 68-9; for further description of this propaganda campaign, see Shalom, pp. 115-6.
23. Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, US Air Force, Ret., The Secret Team: The CIA and its Allies in Control of the World (Ballantine Books, New York, 1974, paperback) pp.
24. Ibid., pp. 102-3.
25. Smith, p, 95, quoting CIA officer Paul Lineberger.
26. New York Times, 16 October 1953, p. 26
27. Interviews by author Thomas Buell of Ralph Lovett, CIA Chief of Station in the Philippines in the early 1950s.and of Lansdale; cited in Raymond Bonnet, Waltzing With a Dicatator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (New York, 1987) pp. 39-40. See also New York Times, 31 March 1997, p.l
28. Bonner, p. 41
29. Sherman Adams, Firsthand Report (New York, 1961) p. 123.30. For an overall derailed description of CIA manipulation of Philippine political life, and of Magsaysay in particular, see Smith, chapters 7, 15, 16, 17. Smith was a CIA officer who, in the early 1950s, worked in the Far East Division, which includes the
Philippines, concerned with political and psychological-warfare matters.
31. Smith, p. 280
32. Buell interview of Lovett (see note 27), cited in Bonnet, p. 42.
33. Reader's Digest, April 1963, article entitled "Democracy Triumphs in the Philippines".
34. Smith, p. 290
35. House Bill No. 6584, Republic Act No. 1700, approved 20 June 1957.
36. Huks' condition: New York Times, 3 April 1949, p. 20; 30 June 1950, p. 4.
37. Lachica, p. 131
38. Taylor, p. 192

                - William Blum, ZED Books LONDON, 2003


Forwarding the posts to relatives and friends, ESPECIALLY in the homeland, is greatly appreciated. Use emails, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. THANK YOU !!!

U.S. Brig. Gen. Jacob H. Smith: "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States." Major Littleton W. T. Waller: How young? Smith: Ten years and up. --Exchange on October 1901, quote from the testimony at Smith's court martial by the New York Evening Journal (May 5, 1902). General Smith, a veteran of the Wounded Knee Massacre, was popularly known as "Hell Roaring Jake" or "Howling Wilderness".

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