The Hukbalahap Insurrection: A Case Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation in the Philippines

In The Hukbalahap Insurrection: A Case Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation in the Philippines, there’s this concise account of my grandmother’s murder and the aftermath. My own thoughts on my grandmother, and her reinterment yesterday, next time.

In Chapter 4, there’s the following account:

In November, the military wing of the movement changed its name to the Hukbong Magapalaya ng Bayan, the People’s Liberation Army, commonly referred to as the HMB. Drawing on the support garnished during the summer truce, the HMB started a new series of raids on government troops and targets. Throughout the following year, 1949, HMB raids continued against government installations in and around central Luzon. Most of the raids were typical guerrilla operations, hit-and-run, and were usually conducted at night to avoid direct confrontation with AFP forces. Despite their numerous ambuscades and raids on banks and supply depots, the HMB did not participate in the old guerrilla favorite – sabotage. This was not only because they lacked trained demolition men or equipment, but also because the Huks relied heavily on government transportation and communication facilities for their own purposes.

The Huk campaign that began in November 1948 reached its peak in April 1949, with the ambush of Senora Aurora Quezon, widow of the former Philippine president. Commander Alexander Viernes, alias Stalin, took two hundred men and laid an ambush along a small country road in the Sierra Madres mountains and waited for a motorcade carrying Sra. Quezon, her daughter, and several government officials. When the ambush ended, Senora Quezon, her daughter, the mayor of Quezon City, and numerous government troops lay dead alongside the road. Although Viernes claimed a great victory, people throughout the islands, including many in central Luzon, were outraged. Viernes misjudged his target’s popularity. President Quezon left a strong nationalistic sentiment after his death in exile during the war, and his widow represented the spirit of Philippine nationalism and resistance. Feeling the swell of popular indignation about the death of a national hero’s wife and family, Taruc denied responsibility and said that the ambush was conducted without HMB approval. Despite his attempts to disclaim the actions of an overzealous Commander Viernes, Taruc lost a great deal of popular support and confidence over the incident, confidence he never fully regained and support that he would need later, but would not find forthcoming.

…Aided greatly by the horrible conditions that accompanied the 1949 election, Huk strength and influence grew by the end of the year, recovering somewhat from the Quezon ambush episode. HMB regular strength grew to between 12-14,000 and Taruc could rely on 100,000 active supporters in central Luzon. After the elections (fraught with fraud, terror, and rampant electioneering violations), Huk raids became more frequent and widespread. A Huk squadron occupied the town of San Pablo; Police Constabulary posts at San Mateo and San Rafael were attacked and the towns looted; and the mayor of Montablan was kidnapped and held for ransom.42 After most of these attacks, Huks left propaganda pamphlets with the people seeking their aid and support, and playing on their growing sense of disaffection for the government that resulted from election fraud. As the guerrillas strengthened their control in Tarlac, Bulacaan, Nueva Ecija, and Pampanga provinces, most government officials left their offices every day before nightfall, returning to the relative safety of homes they maintained in Manila.

…Dedicated anti-Huk operations by either the Philippine Army or the Police Constabulary remained few in number and insignificant in effect with the exception of the government operation mounted after Huks murdered Sra. Quezon on 28 April.

Ordered by President Quirino not to return to garrison until all the Huks who ambushed Senora Quezon were themselves either dead or captured, 4,000 troops (two constabulary battalions and one army battalion) went into the Sierra Madres mountains. Divided into three task forces, one to block and two to maneuver, the force scoured the mountain-sides. After two weeks of relentless patrolling, a Huk camp was discovered and while taking it, government troops captured a Huk liaison officer who told them the location of Commander Viernes’ base-camp near Mount Guiniat. Five companies converged on the mountain camp at dawn, 1 June 1949, but killed only eleven guerrillas before discovering the camp was only an outpost, not Viernes’ base.

The following day, government forces located the base-camp and attacked immediately. The troops captured the camp, that turned out to be “Stalin University,” and in the ensuing week long search and destroy mission killed thirty-seven additional Huks. Commander Viernes, however, managed to elude the net once again. After two more months of searching the mountains, the Philippine Army cornered Viernes near Kangkong and killed him on 11 September. His death, along with the deaths of many of his captains and several other Huk commanders, ended the operation that had spanned nearly four months. All toll, 146 insurgents were killed, 40 captured, and an entire Huk regional command was destroyed during the operation.

However, after the conclusion of the Sierra Madres offensive, conditions in the Philippine military returned to their old form of normalcy–ineffectiveness, corruption, and no efforts whatsoever to help the local villagers. Army checkpoints became “collection points” where troops extorted money from local citizens. The Philippine Chief of Staff discovered this situation when he (wearing civilian clothing) was stopped by a group of soldiers who demanded money from him. On Good Friday, 1950, army troops massacred 100 men, women, and children in Bacalor, Pampanga, and burned 130 homes in retaliation for the killing of one of their officers.71 In Laguna, fifty farmers attending a community dance were placed before a wall and executed as “suspected Huk.” The Philippine Air Force also contributed to the government’s loss of popular support. It acquired several P-51 Mustangs from the United States in 1947, and used them to strafe and bomb suspect locations. Unfortunately, these aerial raids caused more damage to civilians than to the Huks, and in mid-1950, the government placed tighter controls over the use of the fighter-bombers. In general then, government forces were treating the people worse than were the guerrillas, who while occasionally preying on a village, did try to maintain close ties with the majority of the population in central Luzon.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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