The predominant problem in the immediate post-war period was the question of land reform. Although this was not of direct interest to the country’s politicians it was forced on their attention by the growing unrest among peasants of the Luzon plains. This peasant’s discontent was a consequence partly of conditions inherited from the Spanish period, and partly of the Japanese occupation.
The share-cropping system which had developed under Spanish rule was based on an equal division of produce between the farmer and the landowner, with no allowance for the fact that the farmer contributed his labour and equipment (implements, seed, and draught animals). The high taxes which the peasants had to pay in addition left them no margin for survival, and they therefore laboured under a constant burden of debt which left them bound for life to the landowners and the moneylenders from whom they were compelled to borrow.
After the departure of the Spaniards the land which had previously been held by Spanish owners, and particularly by the church, was taken over by well-to-do Filipinos; and the efforts of the Americans were inadequate to remedy the situation. Unions of discontented workers and peasants were formed under socialist aegis, and in 1930 the Philippine Communist Party was founded, to be banned two years later. The war with the Japanese led the peasants of Tarlac, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija provinces to form the Hukbalahap resistance army, which became known as the Huk movement; and their control of these provinces by this quasi-military organization was perforce recognized by the Japanese. Their reputation as communists, however, led the Americans and the new government to set about disarming and arresting the members of the organization, including its leader Luis Taruc. The leaders of the Congress of Labor Organizations were treated in the same way. In spite of this there were in 1967 some 2000 trade unions with 700,000 members in all fields of economic life.
In 1947 President Roxas unseated and outlawed six Huks who had been elected to Congress; but in April of the following year President Quirino granted an amnesty in an attempt to achieve peace. The Huks refused, however, to lay down their arms, and there was a resumption of violence, including the assassination of Seora Quezon, wife of the country’s first President.
Ramon Magsaysay run for the Presidency in 1953 and took two-thirds of vote to defeat Quirino. Magsaysay, a man of modest origins, was moved by genuine concern for the condition of the peasants. He went in person to see the villages, and established a number of bodies to promote development in rural areas, credit facilities, cooperative associations, housing, road building and the sinking of wells. He also put through a land reform act which allowed peasants to choose the terms of their leases, redistributed publicly held land to farmers, set up a committee to deal with complaints and remedy abuses, and established a social security scheme. Unfortunately, owing to shortage of funds and lack of planning the results fell short of expectations. It was May 1954 when Taruc surrendered to the government, signaling the decline of Huk threat.
After Magsaysay’s death in an air crash in 1957, he was succeeded by the Vice-President, Carlos P. Garcia, who secured re-election later in the same year, with Diosdado Macapagal as Vice President. He continued his predecessor’s policy of social justice in an austerity programmed aimed at restoring the country’s economic autonomy, developing both industry and agriculture and fighting the corruption which had become widespread in the post-war period.
This new trend of policy coincided with a revival of nationalism in reaction against the omnipresent American benefactor, which led to a certain tension between the two partners.