796.5 MAP/4–750: Despatch

The Chargé in the Philippines (Chapin)1 to the Secretary of State

No. 432.

The Embassy was requested in the Department’s instruction of March 1, 1950 to report any information or comments which it may have to offer in regard to the Military Assistance Program for the fiscal year 1951, which formed the subject of a memorandum transmitted with that instruction.2 The Embassy finds itself in general agreement with this memorandum but would like to comment on portions cited below:

(1) The roots of this (Huk) movement3 stem from the serious agrarian reform problem of the Central Luzon plain. “The leadership, however, has been taken over by the Communists.” (2) “It is important that the Philippine Army be enabled to contain the Huk guerrilla units within their present limits and wherever possible to disarm them.” (3) “The Philippine Government has so far demonstrated a willingness and an ability within the limits of its resources to take the necessary military steps.” (4) Effective use of American military aid is assured by the presence of the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) which has the full confidence of the Philippine Government.

Communist Character of Huk Forces

It is, of course, true that the need for agrarian reform lies at the roots of the problem of armed unrest in the Philippines. However, it should not be forgotten that the Hukbalahaps—now called the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or National Liberation Army—do not pretend to be mere agrarian reformers. The chief points made in their propaganda at the present time are more political than agrarian in nature: it is argued that the Philippine Government is a puppet of “American Imperialists,” that it is a corrupt regime which has maintained its hold through force and electoral frauds, that it is ruining the Philippines, and that it must be overthrown by armed force. To state merely that the HMB has Communist leadership is to run the risk that the true situation will be misunderstood: [Page 1434] the Huk forces are in effect the Army of the Partido Komunista Pilipinas (PKP). While the HMB doubtless is imperfectly indoctrinated, that fact is inherent in the circumstances that it is an apparently growing organization, that it takes time to indoctrinate new recruits, and that some useful fighting men do not have the capacity to understand that which their mentors would teach them. A similar situation existed in China with respect to some Communist-led forces, but those forces nevertheless overthrew Central Government resistance and enabled the Communist Party to set up its own regime.

Scope of Anti-Government Guerrilla Operations

The dissident problem has passed the stage in which the HMB might be described as having been kept within well-defined or reasonably satisfactory limits. It is true that there is little or no Communistled dissidence on some of the Visayan islands or on Mindanao. However, the key island, it is submitted, is Luzon: this island not only is the most populous, but also contains the seat of a government the powers of which are highly centralized.

Whereas Communist forces in China spread from peripheral areas toward the capital over a period of time during which leaders experienced only in hit-and-run operations had to learn how to employ large armies against fixed positions, Philippine Communist forces have been growing on the central island near the governmental center and are spreading their organization up to and into Manila itself. The Chinese Communists had to learn how to convert hit-and-run bands into armies capable of carrying on positional warfare, but Philippine Communist leaders may never have to learn to conduct large-scale operations, as practically all Government armed forces are committed on a piecemeal basis to the defense of a great number of localities, and Government forces themselves are without actual experience in such operations. The PKP might of course defer action of a final nature beyond the time when it might be already possible to overcome Philippine Government forces: unless timed in coordination with events elsewhere, it would invite counteraction by the United States which, though it lacks ground forces in the Philippines at the present time, might nevertheless bring in such forces.

However, it should be emphasized that on Luzon at least the HMB lias not been confined within static limits. Since their organization in Pampanga in 1942, Huk armed forces have in eight years spread until they are now officially reported to have reached the northernmost tip of Luzon and to be spreading southward into the Visayas. Granting that they were at the end of the war present in several provinces of central Luzon, they were for the most part concentrated in the Province which gave them birth. Thus the Embassy files for 1947 contain [Page 1435] a memorandum of February 3 which speaks of the possibility that the “Huks now concentrated in Pampanga” might withdraw to the hills. According to the Embassy’s despatch no. 144 of February 9, 19484 the Philippine Constabulary then reported that over half the estimated 11,700 Huks were located in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga. According to these estimates there were then no Huks in Cavite and only 200 in Batangas. Since then the Crescent of Huk-infested provinces around Manila has been completed: dissident bands have been reported present in encircling Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan. Dissidents are reliably reported even to be seeking regularly to conscript foodstuffs from residents of Novaliches—about ten miles from Manila. While they do not dominate the countryside near Manila, they move about in that countryside and operate therein with apparently increasing ease. This was made evident between March 28 and March 30 when they were able to concentrate several bands each numbering a few hundred men, to take a number of places within a 40-mile radius of Manila (including San Pablo—a town of nearly 50,000 people) and to move away without anywhere being successfully counterattacked.

Principal Defects of Philippine Armed Forces

On the basis of the foregoing, it would appear incorrect to assert that the Philippine Government demonstrates a willingness and ability to take military steps necessary to contain HMB guerrilla units—much less to disarm them. From the military point of view, Philippine armed forces demonstrate at least two defects which may and in all likelihood will prove fatal—unless they are remedied:

They appear unable or unwilling to “fix” and wipe out or capture the dissident units they contact and they are not vigorous in pursuit. (This opinion is expressed in a JUSMAG memorandum of March 6, 1950 entitled “Discussion of the History of Law and Order in the Philippines”; the Embassy’s study of a long series of Constabulary operations bears out this thesis.)
The Philippine Constabulary, instead of winning popular support, has in general so behaved that it has alienated the rural populace. This is the conclusion of the Embassy based upon observation of its own personnel of Constabulary behavior and on the well-nigh unanimous agreement of a great many Filipino and foreign observers with whom Embassy officers have discussed the problem. The Chinese Communists, who started out as a small guerrilla army, won all China principally because they realized that the true base of guerrilla operations is not this or that piece of territory, but rather the base of popular support. They learned how to capitalize on errors of Chinese Government police and troops, large bodies of which until the final year or so of operations on the Chinese mainland could pass through most of Communist-dominated territory at will but which had lost the capacity to control it. (The Communist saying was “The people are [Page 1436] the water and we are the fish.”) The Huks had the benefit of the advice and training of Chinese Communist guerrilla leaders including Huang Chieh, and are applying some of the principles and rules of discipline used by the Chinese Communist armed forces. It is vitally important that the Philippine armed forces be brought under similar rules of discipline with respect to treatment of the populace. If they are, they may win and retain popular support, which now is passing by default to HMB forces; dissident forces may thereby be deprived of the intelligence, the supplies, the shelter from pursuit and the new recruits which a disaffected populace too willingly gives anti-Government guerrillas. So long as the Constabularly seize foodstuffs without paying for them, become drunk and disorderly, extract information by inhumane methods, abuse women, shoot up country towns and generally mistreat the populace, just so long will they continue to lose the Philippines to the HMB.

While a reorganization of Philippine armed forces is in progress and while the HMB probably is not now capable of maintaining for long the pace of operations which characterized the last few days of March, the Embassy perceives few causes for optimism. The shift in command, to another General, of Army and PC forces in the field—with some expansion of Army forces—may improve the situation somewhat without radically altering it. HMB activity may drop off for awhile to be followed by periods of still greater activity: political conditions and economic trends suggest that the future will be favorable to the recruiters of dissident forces.

Question of Effective Use of U.S. Military Aid

The presence in the Philippines of the JUSMAG undoubtedly contributes greatly toward assuring effective use by Philippine armed forces of American military aid. However, the continued and dangerous deterioration of the law and order situation testifies to the fact that the presence of the JUSMAG as it now is constituted is not enough to assure a level of effectiveness adequate to the requirements of the present and prospective future situation. This situation is doubtless due to numerous circumstances, including the following: (1) the JUSMAG is composed of officers who, in the opinion of the drafting officer, are well-equipped to advise with respect to ordinary matters of military organization and operations but who have inadequate knowledge of and experience with political subversion and guerrilla warfare of the type with which the Philippine Government is faced; (2) the role of the JUSMAG is advisory, whereas the Philippine Government probably needs a military mission which exercises more extensive functions; and (3) some at least of the equipment we are supplying the Philippine Government is not well-suited to the requirements of guerrilla warfare. Thus the PAF, which is called upon for ground strafing of guerrillas having no air support of their own might better be given more trainer planes with 30 caliber machine guns installed thereon and fewer fast, high altitude interceptors such as P–51s. Philippine ground forces should probably [Page 1437] also be discouraged from using artillery—in the interests of the civil population and of coming to closer grips with guerrilla forces which now too easily disengage and disappear.

The Embassy believes that our national interest—in view of our special past and present relations with the Philippines and the requirements of our defensive position—require that the Philippines be kept from falling under control of the Moscow-directed Philippine Communist Party. It recognizes that solution of the Communist problem in the Philippines will require action on several fronts: political, economic and military. It considers that the situation as a whole is bad but probably will have to get worse before it may be possible for us to move in the political and economic spheres with sufficient effect to basically alter the peace and order situation. It believes, however, that the national interest requires us immediately to take first steps in the military sphere.


Specifically, the Embassy recommends:

That there be assigned to the JUSMAG a substantial number of officers having actual experience in guerrilla and anti-guerrilla operations, and particularly in operations involving Communist-led forces. Officers having intimate acquaintance with Chinese Communist tactics and discipline might be particularly helpful—in view of the circumstances explained earlier in this despatch—in aiding the Philippine armed forces to improve their own anti-guerrilla tactics and—still more important—to remedy the defects of discipline and behavior which are turning the populace against them. Probably the best equipped man known to the drafting officer is Colonel David D. Barrett, who has the necessary experience, a deep insight into human psychology and a keen political sense as well. Colonel Frank N. Roberts, who has had experience in China and who has served as Military Attachè in Moscow, might also prove invaluable. Some officers having similar experience in the recent operations in Greece should also be assigned to the JUSMAG in the Philippines.
That serious consideration be given to extending the scope of JUSMAG operations. It may prove necessary to conduct in the Philippines an operation similar to that which we carried out in Greece. The decision, for reasons which are described above, may need to be reached and put into effect very quickly, and it accordingly is recommended that necessary studies and plans be made ready as soon as possible and held in readiness for prompt implementation.
That the United States Government consider whether it ought not proceed quietly and without publicity to move moderate-sized Army units onto the Clark Field Air Base. The original removal of Army units therefrom was based on the premise that Philippine Government forces would provide needed ground protection; that premise obviously is now of questionable validity.

The employment of United States troops against Filipinos outside our bases should probably be considered only as a last resort: such [Page 1438] action would provide our enemies all over Asia with valuable propaganda and might be expected to cause many Filipinos to regard us as invaders and to join forces with the Huks. Nevertheless, the presence of American ground troops would alter against the HMB the balance of power situation in the Philippines, thus putting farther into the future the date when the HMB could move beyond the stage of hit-and-run operations. Such United States forces would also form a pool from which necessary forces might quickly be drawn should actual military intervention sometime become necessary.

Vinton Chapin
  1. Vinton Chapin was Counselor of Embassy.
  2. Instruction No. 40, March 1, to Manila, transmitted to the Embassy a paper prepared in the Department of State on the Military Assistance Program for Fiscal Year 1951 for the Philippines, neither printed (796.5 MAP/3–150).
  3. The People’s Anti-Japanese Army (Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, commonly abbreviated to Hukbalahap, or Huks) was established in 1942. Following the end of World War II, the movement, under more overt Communist control, was renamed the People’s (or National) Liberation Army (Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan or HMB). In mid-1949 the HMB was constituted as the regular military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP).
  4. Not printed.