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Fourth International, February 1946


Chris Andrews

American Imperialism in the Philippines


From Fourth International, February 1946, Vol.7 No.2, pp.41-44.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The censorship imposed upon the Philippines after American “liberation” began to be lifted in October. The growing crisis in the Islands, developing toward civil war, made it necessary for the Truman administration to begin to prepare the American public for bloody measures.

Official documents state the issue very clearly. In a letter dated October26, 1945,to Paul V. McNutt, former Philippines High Commissioner, Truman wrote:

In the provinces near Manila thousands of sharecroppers organized some years ago to demand a more equitable division of the product of their labor. For several years there was no effective solution of the problem.

During the war the tenants organized a guerrilla army which Reportedly did good work against the enemy. After the enemy was defeated in their localities, they did not disband, and today they constitute a special problem which threatens the stability of the government.

How threatening, is explained by Limlangen, Governor of Pampanga Province. He confesses that the government could not exist without “the efficient handling of well-trained units of the United States Army assigned to help maintain peace and order.” The peasantry, he added, clearly say they await only the withdrawal of American troops in order to settle past accounts.

What kind of settlement do they want? In the recent Yamashita trial a report of the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps was introduced which describes the agrarian guerrilla movement, the Hukbalahaps, as follows: “It is one of the largest and most powerful guerrilla organizationsin central Luzon. It owes no allegiance to the United States, the Philippine Commonwealth or Japan …. Its policy is definitely Communistic … Its plans include the establishment of a Communist Government in the Philippines after the war on the early Russian model.” (my emphasis—C.A.)

The Hukbalahaps, or Huks, take their name from their formal Tagalog title, Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon—Peoples Anti-Japanese Army. Everyone admits they fought well. Brigadier. General Decker of the U.S. Army calls them “one of the best Fighting units I have ever known.” However, they killed not only Japanese but also rich Philippine collaborators, hated landlords and usurers. Now they refuse to disarm. These men and women trust no one but themselves; their actions make it clear that they fought in their own name and for their own ends.

The Philippine bourgeoisie prospered under 40 years of American rule; the peasants and workers lived in starvation. Illness and servitude. Claude Buss, a former ranking member of the U.S. Commissionin the Philippines, says in the December 1944 Fortune:

At the outbreak of the war the very rich in the Philippines lived on the scale of aristocrats in Spain or in the United States. They had fabulous homes, automobiles, racing stables, fantastic parties, and the virtues and vices of luxury …. At the opposite end of the Social scale were the taos or peasants. They lived in one or two room huts and ate fish and rice. They worked in fields for 30 or 40 cents a day and paid over a good share of their wages to the landlord or usurer.

Buss describes one-half of the population as illiterate. Two thirds of the adults have had no schooling, two-fifths never went beyond the fourth grade.

Wall Street fostered and protected the growth of this parasitic wealthy Philippine ruling class to aid U.S. domination. The Philippine Constabulary, especially trained by U.S. officers, protects the possessing class. The native bankers, landlords, merchants and usurers maintain their corrupt rule through one party—the Nacionalista Party.

The Filipino small farmer and tenant live in the squalor and misery which peasants throughout the whole world know, including those of the United States itself. The Filipinos have been pushed down into increasing poverty. Whereas in 1918 there were 1,500,000 farms operated by their owners, by 1938 the number had shrunk to 804,000. As wealth concentrated at the top, hand-to-mouth tenantry swelled at the bottom. In 1918 there were 435,000 tenants; by 1938 about 575,000.

The tenant or sharecropper must give 50 percent of his crop to the landlord. He has to borrow money when prices of the crops are low. He must pay back at a time advantageous to the landlord—who stores his share of the crop, waiting for the most favorable price.

Monstrous Usury System

The peasant, like all peasants throughout Asia, is in the grip of a monstrous usury system. He pays interest rates from 100 to 400 percent. The landlord, the government official, and the usurer all work together. They all bear arms. Buss describes one region where “30,000 peons (live) at the mercy of one landlord, usurer, official.” This landlord, holding all three posts, incarnates the capitalist class itself, which as a rule does not reveal its domination of property, finance and government so nakedly.

According to Buss, the sugar plantation owners keep three sets of books—one for the government, one for the labor representatives, and one for themselves.

In past years there have been desperate agrarian outbreaks, Crushed by violence while the cries of the victims were stifled by censorship. The Sakdalista revolt in the middle-thirties extended over four provinces. Crowds of starving people broke into the rice warehouses. They were demanding clean politics, tax revisions, tenantry reforms. The Philippine Constabulary shot them down.

But despite persecution, unions and peasant organizations have grown. In Pampanga Province in 1940 the Socialist Party elected the mayors and councils of the eight largest towns. This province is today a Huk stronghold. In the elections of 1941, however, the conduct of the bourgeoisie was so corrupt and illegal, that Pedro Abed Santos, Socialist candidate for President, gave up his candidacy several weeks before the election date, declaring there was no possibility of an honest election.

On December7, 1941 the AMT (General Confederation of Workers) asked MacArthur for arms to defend themselves against the Japanese. They were refused and their leaders and spokesmen thrown into prison. With the breakdown of U.S. rule, the AMT, the MPMP (National Confederation of Peasants) and the PKM (National Peasants Party) set up the Huk movement on March 29, 1942.They were aided by the Socialists and Stalinists who had merged into a single party in 1938.Avisantos, the original leader and a Socialist, was killed fighting. Luis Taruc, described as a former Socialist, head of the General Confederation of Workers, took his place.

Centered in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, and Laguna, the Huk fighters seized their arms from the Japanese. Later, in November1942, a small Chinese force, the Wah Chi, linked to the Stalinist Yenan government in China, aided the Huks.

During the Japanese occupation there were clashes between the Huks and the other guerrilla groups, set up by the American Army. Nevertheless, the Stalinists, through such Huk members as they were able to confuse and mislead, attempted to bring the movement under the domination of U.S. imperialism in line with the Stalinist policy of all-out support of the imperialist war.

Thus, the Daily Worker of September 15, 1945 proudly cites the case of one Huk member, called “Welman,” who “had urged the Huk soldiers on their duty to apply for induction” under the Americans to help carry on the war against Japan. In this same report the Daily Worker protests about the injustice of the Americans who arrested “Welman” the very next day. Huk squadrons were being seized and disarmed, and the Daily Worker again cites with approval the memo sent to the American officers by the Huk leader in Tarlac, E. Aquino, objecting to the arrests and asking that all Huk units be “inducted.” He pleaded that “our common hope is for a speedy victory over Japan.”

The Wall Street imperialists however pursued a brutal and bloody policy toward the Huks. Following plans laid down in advance, the Americans immediately arrested Huk Commander in Chief Luis Taruc, and Castro Alejandrino. They were kept in prison for seven months without trial.

Most sinister is the Malalos incident. The Huk squadrons 77 and 97 fought to the gates of Manila with the American 6th Army. When the Japanese retreated, they were curtly ordered to disarm. “As the disarmed men passed through the rich little town of Malalos which was in American hands (my emphasis—C. A.) they were attacked and liquidated by a guerrilla unit under a Filipino named Maclang, who the Huks claimed was a collaborationist.” Later evidence showed that they were first imprisoned, then led out, 2 or 3 at a time, and shot. 109 were thus massacred. “The Americans arrested Maclang but held him only three days. Later he was made mayor of Malalos.” (Darrill Bernegan, Far Eastern Editor of the New York Post, writing from Manila, December 3, 1945.)

Role of Native Capitalists

Backed by American military might, the Philippine capitalists are now murdering Huk leaders who distinguished themselves in the guerrilla fighting. And what was the role of this native capitalist class itself under Japanese rule? All testimony agrees that they collaborated. Claude Buss, who was interned in the islands for two years, says: “Tokyo has at least succeeded in pasting its label upon practically every well-known leader of the former Nacionalista party.” At the same time Buss puts forward the familiar imperialist alibi for white-washing the wealthy collaborators. “Conceivably the politicos have rendered a service to the Philippine nation that could not have been rendered if the government had been taken over by irresponsible elements or by the Japanese themselves.” (Fortune, December 1944).

This argument is boldly advanced by the collaborators themselves who now dominate the present Osmena government. Three Collaborationist Supreme Court Justices are back in their posts. Brigadier-General Manual Roxas helped draft the puppet government Constitution and was Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet of José P. Laurel, the puppet President. Nevertheless, Roxas is today President of the Philippine Senate. Roxas boldly proclaims: “there is no such thing as a collaborator.” Backed by the support of the Philippine industrialists and landowners, he drove out of office, Tomas Confesor, a liberal guerrilla leader who got a Cabinet Post from President Osmena in the early days of American “liberation.”

Imprisoned Filipinos

The masses watch the return of the collaborationist to power with bitterness and rising anger. By a tremendous demonstration, marching to the Presidential palace 40,000 strong, they forced the release of Luis Taruc and Alejandrino. They further put forward these moderate demands.

  1. Discontinuance of illegal searches, unwarranted arrests and third degree methods used in exacting confessions.
  2. Increase in peasants share of the harvest.
  3. Minimum daily wage of 3 pesos ($1.50) for workers.
  4. Purchase of large landed estates and their sale in small parcels to present occupants.
  5. Prompt prosecution of known pro-Japanese persons in high official and commercial positions.

Philippine economy has been smashed to the ground by successive invasions. The black market rages. Bridges, railroads, all transport and the large cities are destroyed. The American Army is today the largest employer, and thousands are glad to work for their meals alone.

The landlords who were afraid to go to the fields in the past three years are now demanding that the tenants pay 50 percent of their crops for those years – or else suffer ejection. The tenants, who staked their lives, keep their arms, hold to the land, and refuse to be ejected. Thus the Philippines hover on the verge of civil war with only the U.S. Army maintaining a semblance of “law and order.” Meanwhile, the only action of the Philippine Government to alleviate the misery left by the war was to pass through Congress a bill to pay the Congressmen their salaries for the past three years.

The U.S. ruling class secured the Philippines as a by product of the Spanish-American War, with which it formally made its debut into the society of the imperialists. The American public, up to this time, had never even heard of the Philippines. But their attention was centered sympathetically on the struggles of the Cubans for freedom from Spain. Secretly, Theodore Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, sent Admiral Dewey with his fleet to the Far East, to plan his attack upon the Philippines, two months before outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The sinking of the battleship Maine in the Harbor of Havana, Cuba—by nobody knows whom—furnished the pretext. The terrified Spaniards, knowing they were doomed, consented to American demands on April 9, 1898. President McKinley delivered his war message to Congress, regardless, the next day. American imperialism was not to be cheated out of this war.

The war was over in 3 months. In two battles the Spanish fleets were destroyed completely and Spanish imperialism knocked down to a third rate power.

All other sections of world capitalism looked on greedily. The American Ambassador in Berlin reported, “the German government clearly regards the emergency in the East as one from which she must gain something or lose prestige with Europe and even with her own people.” German battleships sailed into Manila Harbor and maneuvered near Dewey’s fleet. But the American imperialists were in no mood to divide the booty. The Germans and all other capitalists were so informed in a blunt New York Times editorial. “We ... acknowledge no overlord to tell us how far we may profit by the excellence of our gunnery and the valor of our troops.”

Now began the five-year war against our allies, the “liberated” Filipinos. Admiral Dewey had refused the first Spanish offer to surrender Manila, because “I had no force with which to occupy the city and I would not for a moment consider the possibility of turning it over to the undisciplined insurgents.” The actual Manila surrender was arranged by the Spaniards holding out the Filipinos on one side and letting the Americans in on the other. General Anderson reported how he kept the Filipinos out of their city by “interposing our troops and placing artillery to command their positions.” There followed a period of diplomatic stalling, because Dewey felt he didn’t have sufficient troops. Individual travelers reported peace in the interior. The people were setting up a Republic. But the Americans spoke of “disorder” and the necessity to “put it down.”

When more troops arrived, the Americans began the conquest. Two years of fighting and three years of guerrilla warfare followed. In the war with Spain the United States lost only 379 men killed in action, although 5,462 died in disease-infected soldiers’ camps, most of them in the United States. In the war against the Filipinos 60,000 troops were used; 4,300 were killed.

American Atrocities

Imperialism degrades both the conquered and the conquerors. The American soldiers were inflamed to race hatred and atrocities by their own officers. The Filipino resistance was finally broken by terror. Censorship covered the reign of massacre and torture until its purpose had been gained. After a later storm of protest in the United States, a face-saving investigation was launched.

L.F. Adams, private in a Missouri regiment, wrote home, “We burned all their houses. I don’t know how many men, women and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners.”

General Bell estimated that in “pacifying” Luzon, one-sixth of the population died. That would be about 600,000.

The official Secretary of War’s Memorandum of February 17, 1901 reveals the conduct of the officers—and their punishment. Some random examples:

The official report further states: “He did give to said Major Waller further instructions that he (General Smith) wanted all persons killed who were capable of bearing arms, and did, in reply to a question by said Major Waller, asking for an age limit, designate the age limit as ten years of age ….”

Japanese General Yamashita, sentenced to hang for the atrocities committed in the interests of his imperialism, should have asked for the punishment of Brigadier-General Smith, who was also found guilty. His punishment—sentenced “to be admonished by the reviewing authority.”

American imperialism had its hands full with the Filipinos. Consequently it struck a typical imperialist bargain with its rival, Japan, then fighting Korean insurgence. In the cynical Taft-Katsura agreement of July 29, 1905, Secretary of War Taft agreed not to disturb Japanese authority in Korea. In return, Premier Katsura agreed not to disturb American rule in the Philippines. This agreement among brigands was kept entirely secret by President Theodore Roosevelt, and by his emissary Taft, who later became President. It was revealed only years later in 1924, accidentally turned up by a historian, browsing among T.R. Roosevelt’s papers.

Independence Question Postponed Again

A puppet Philippine government was set up in 1907 by a restricted election in which only property holders—about 100,000—could vote. An American Governor-General ruled with veto power. Future “independence” was continually talked about; it never came.

After the first World War, the triumphant American bourgeoisie tightened their grip on the Philippines. They sent a new Governor-General, booted and spurred, the true symbol of the colonial administrator. General Wood demonstratively withdrew the minor concessions Woodrow Wilson had previously granted, abolished his Council of State (although it only had advisory powers), took Cabinet Departments away from the Legislature, and used only military men as his assistants.

The weak Philippine capitalist class had previously made use of “Nationalization” to obtain state aid for their growth. They had set up a National Bank, a National Coal Company, a National Development Corporation and operated the Manila Railroad. Wall Street did not want such examples of public ownership; General Wood forced their transfer into the hands of private capitalists.

The Philippine bourgeoisie kept up a continual clamor for independence. By this agitation they kept political influence over their own people who deeply desired it. Investigations and discussions followed. Minor concessions were again made by Stimson who replaced Wood.

But in 1931 Japan smashed into China. World War II began to loom up. Once again the question of Philippine Independence was postponed. The Roosevelt Administration passed the Independence Act of 1934, setting up the Commonwealth Government for 1935 and pledging complete independence on July 4, 1945. This date was later postponed for one year. These twelve years have been ominous ones; World War II has brought all questions and all pledges up for reexamination.

The economic relationship with the United States is most important for the Philippine bourgeoisie. They sell their sugar, hemp, copra, tobacco in the rich tariff-protected American home market. But after the conquest of 1898, Wall Street found the Caribbean and Latin American areas to be of greater profit for itself. A section of the American capitalists are anxious to break the ties. The most eloquent defenders of independence on the U.S. Senate floor have been the Utah beet sugar Senators and the Louisiana cane sugar Senators. Adding their voices are the representatives of the dairy and tobacco interests.

Economic “independence” for the Philippine bourgeoisie would be like amputation. 78% of their exports go to the United States; 67% of their imports come from there. Just placing a 5% tariff on Philippine imports to the United States for 1941, as required by the 1934 Act, caused a crisis. Congress had to suspend the tariff rates which were supposed to steadily increase. Today the world is ruined by the war, and the Philippines itself is ravaged. Where could the Philippine bourgeoisie find customers or markets? It is clear that they cannot survive as an independent capitalist nation. And in addition, they face a raging political and social crisis at home.

Both Paul V. McNutt, now renominated to be High Commissioner in the Philippines by Truman, and Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, issued statements in March 1945, counseling the Philippines against independence. Truman in October spoke guardedly about a “necessary program of Rehabilitation ... a determination of the fundamental problems involved in our mutual relationship after independence.”

The Philippines, of course, cannot gain genuine independence of the mighty economic, financial and military power of American capitalism. The question, however, of a spurious “formal” independence is still open and there is evidently division among the Wall Street masters. Wm. Philip Simms, Foreign News Editor of the New York World-Telegram, goes so far as to write in his column (September 8, 1945), “The Philippines are going to get their independence on or before July 4, 1946, as planned, despite rumors to the contrary. The assurance comes from the highest source.”

Wall Street has certain fixed demands. Secretary of the Navy Forrestal on May 26, 1945 proclaimed that the United States “will continue to bear responsibility for the security of the Philippines and will have bases and strategic areas supporting those bases to carry out that responsibility.” This is axiomatic, for the Philippine bases are needed to form part of a great fortified perimeter extending throughout the Pacific.

It is already clear that whether Wall Street grants a spurious “independence” to the Philippines or not will not make a decisive difference. The day when the colonial struggle could be assuaged by such “concessions” has long passed. The Philippine struggle for freedom has already been merged with its struggle for social and economic freedom. The struggle of the Philippine masses has already merged with the national and class struggles now raging in Indonesia, Indo-China, China. It is only on that broader arena, and united with the socialist struggles of the west, that the Philippine masses will finally achieve their victory.

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Last updated on 8.2.2009