The Philippine Agrarian Crisis

By David Wurfel, in Pacific Affairs, (Winter) 1972-1973.
Review article discussing Eduardo Lachica: Huk: Philippine Agrarian Society in Revolt. Detroit: The Cellar Book Shop (Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House). 1971. 268 pp. $10.75. Also New York: Praeger Publishers, $15.00.

A COMPREHENSIVE scholarly study of post-war leftist dissident movements in the Philippines, their origins and government policy toward them, does not yet exist. In published or unpublished form portions of the story have been told, and assessed, by Renze Hoeksema, Alfredo B. Saulo, Lt. Col. Saturnino Indiongco, Frances Starner, Luis Taruc, Dante Simbulan, David Sturtevant, John Larkin, Roy Stubbs, Alvin Scaff, Jose Lava, Col. Napoleon Valeriano and Lt. Col. Charles Bohannan, Jeremias Montemayor, Oscar Lopez, Hernando Abaya, and others, in addition to coverage in the Philippine press and in U. S. and Philippine government documents.1 But no one has yet put it all together into a tightly reasoned synthesis. Eduardo Lachica, a brilliant and hard-working Filipino journalist trained at the Ateneo de Manila and at Harvard, has not produced that definitive scholarly work. But he has set new standards for scholars interested in this topic. His book is well-written, well-researched and well-balanced in its approach. It will be some research-years before it is displaced by a more thorough coverage. In any case, it will be hard to match the wealth of first-hand experience in this account.

The first half of the book is devoted to a review of the background and causes of agrarian revolt and a synoptic history of the Huks, their friends and their enemies to the mid-1950’s. Though a variety of sources are brought to bear on this subject matter, this is not where Mr. Lachica makes his greatest contribution. His omissions occasionally appear to be the result of more than the strictures of space, e.g. the failure to mention Col. Lansdale’s link with the CIA. Perhaps his wisest comment is, “What may … complicate the analysis is the long time-span of actual Huk history. … What was true at one time … may not be so anymore.” (pp. 9-10). Nevertheless he accepts, even exaggerates, the conclusion of a somewhat superficial RAND report by Averch, Denton and Koehler that the Huks are essentially a Pampangan phenomena, a conclusion of chronologically limited validity.

In attempting to explain why in the late 1960’S most Huks were Pampangos, the author presents sociological data which is by no means peculiar to Pampango society. Without combining his evidence in this way, Lachica nevertheless does provide data out of which a convincing explanation can be made for the birth of the Huk movement in the Pampango linguistic area and its persistent strength there. That left-wing political movements and agrarian dissidence were already important in Pampanga before World War II may be attributed to the fact that Pampanga, like several Central Luzon provinces, suffered from high tenancy, high peasant indebtedness, growing literacy, and a relatively rigid class structure, but benefited less than did the surrounding Tagalog-speaking areas from the safety valve of urban migration, thus social conflict was exacerbated. The availability of arms resulting from the proximity of the military bases at Fort Stotesenberg and Clark Field provided a special opportunity for a guerrilla force. The overbearing American presence, both a source of profit and a stimulus to nationalism, also helped sustain the movement. As Lachica continually reiterates and documents, Huk regional commanders and their deputies, are usually natives of the area in which they operate, enabling them to utilize kinship and neighborhood ties to build their organization and maintain security. This inhibits rapid geographical spread of the movement. Nevertheless, in recent years the appearance of strong Huk units in the cordilleras of Northern Luzon indicate that the Pampango dialect is hardly an insurmountable barrier; on this, as on many other occasions, the movement has broken out to other regions.

Probably the most valuable new dimension in Lachica’s book is his tying together of official sources, journalistic accounts, movement pronouncements and exclusive interviews into a fascinating narrative and sensitive evaluation of the Huk movement in the late 1960s. Conflicting accounts in the foreign and even Filipino press that seem to stress either banditry or Maoism are explained as the manifestations of two types of successors to the Huks of the 1950s. With apparent realism-and without undue respect for military reports-factional struggles within the Huk successor movement are described, and, for the benefit of the reader, simplified. The attempt of the radical student movement in Manila to merge with agrarian rebels, and the short-lived success of that effort, is treated factually and editorially. In fact, if there is any explicit bias in Lachica’s account, it is his disdain for Manila’s “armchair revolutionists.” (The defection of some Philippine Military Academy cadets to the Huks is too recent to have been covered.)

Chapters 12, 13, and 14 deal, in a remarkably even-handed way for one so close to the source, with the linkages between the Huks of the late ’60’S and Central Luzon politicians (a tangled web indeed); with the successes and failures of military policy and the value assumptions behind it and explicitly with the use of terrorism by the government side, embodied in the much-feared hired killers (the “Monkees”), a tactic remarkably similar to that encouraged by the CIA in Vietnam and with the same horrendous consequences.2

For an author so well-informed and so perceptive in his analysis, the final chapter, “The Trials of Reform,” is somewhat disappointing. After brief reference to the faltering efforts at reform since Magsaysay, Lachica concludes, quite convincingly, that accomplishments have been far less than peasant expectations. Nor does he place much hope in Ferdinand Marcos as a reformer. In fact, he blames Marcos for the so-called Huk resurgence! (p. 265). After a period of accomodation under a Pampango president, Diosdado Macapagal, the post-1960 “resurgence” was simply a protective reaction to increased pressure on the Huks by the military, he contends. Thus Lachica recommends a Filipino version of “benign neglect”—let Central Luzon alone! He believes that without military pressure the modernization already taking place will remove the social conditions in which the Huks thrive and they will simply “fade away.” Speeding the pace of industrialization will hasten this process. He sees agrarian reform, defined quite narrowly, as somehow in conflict, in spite of the fact that explicit proposals have been made which link “land to the tillers” with the transfer of capital from agricultural to industrial purposes.

What is nowhere discussed is whether or not the level of demand for social change apparent in the Philippines today can be processed through the corruption, injustice and delay of “Philippine democracy.” A well-buttressed argument that the Philippines is not now faced with agrarian revolution a la Vietnam is, in itself, not an adequate answer. It is clear from Lachica’s own account that while a portion of the old elite in Central Luzon is prepared to deal with Huk leadership, returning for electoral support a curious mix of policy and particularistic pay-offs, that segment of the elite which suffers from such arrangements is always ready to raise the ideological issue and seek armed support from Manila to “crush the Huks.” Even though the 1969 effort of the intellectual left in the capital to make common cause with the Huks failed, their continued articulate presence, and the widespread elite assumption that their liaison with Central Luzon is closer than it really is, makes it even more difficult for national leadership to take a non-ideological approach to the problem.

Lachica himself echoes the view of many Filipino observers that if there were no Huks, the Armed Forces—especially at budget time—would have to create them. If it is true that the Huks provide an essential justification for the continuing rise in military appropriations, then any civilian politician who consistently and openly espoused an abandonment of the “mailed fist” approach would face the undying enmity of GHQ. The political role of the military in the Philippines has long been regarded as minimal, especially in comparison with the rest of Southeast Asia. But if a new constitution is adopted with provision for a parliamentary form of government, then the only effective obstacle to military ascendancy in the past, namely a strong presidency, will have been removed.3

University of Windsor


1 Benedict Kerkvliet’s very recent “The Huk Revolution” (Ph.D. thesis, Wisconsin) is one of the most thorough and insightful studies, based on extensive interviewing.

2 Lachica was apparently unaware of recent reports of clandestine participation of U.S. forces—both ground and air—in military action against guerrillas.

3 The events of the last few months since this review was first written are better understood in the context of Mr. Lachica’s observations. A President unable to win popular support democratically, or to contain the agitation against his actions, used the Huks as his excuse to take over the government, invoking a constitutional provision giving him extraordinary emergency power which had lain dormant since World War II—even during the most intense of the previous battles with the Huks. The prospect now is good that President Marcos will simply have helped create the fact of a serious Huk threat that he himself must have known to be largely a fiction when he proclaimed martial law.

Categories Philippines, Agrarian policy