1934-1964: War and Independence
The United States leaves -- twice -- but stays close.
During the 1920s and 1930s, prominent Filipino nationalists
like Manuel Quezon took their case for independence to Washington,
D.C. Their breakthrough came in 1934, when President Franklin
D. Roosevelt signed a bill that made the Philippines a commonwealth
until 1946, when it would become fully independent. Quezon was
elected president of the new commonwealth.
General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on Leyte in 1944, two years after Japan had defeated American and Philippine forces. (photo: National Archives)
World War II interrupted the transition to independence. Within
minutes of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7,
1941, Japanese airplanes bombed Manila and nearby American military
bases. The American forces in the islands, commanded by General
Douglas MacArthur, were unprepared for the invasion that followed.
After escaping to Australia, MacArthur told reporters, "I have
come through, and I shall return."
Japan claimed to have liberated the islands from the "oppression
and tyranny" of American rule, but replaced it with something
far more brutal and exploitive. Guerilla groups formed to harass
Japanese forces and the Filipino puppet government they installed.
The most powerful group was the Hukbalahap, or Huks, a 25,000-strong
peasant army based in Luzon. The communist-influenced Huks not
only attacked the Japanese but also seized land from landlords.
"If I worked in those sugar fields, I'd be a Huk myself," MacArthur
Moro traders approach an American Coast Guard vessel, 1945. (photo: National Archives)
MacArthur and the U.S. army returned to the Philippines in
1944. After a bloody battle for Manila, the islands were declared
liberated once more. More than 1 million Filipinos had died
during the war. As promised, the Republic of the Philippines
became a sovereign and independent nation on July 4, 1946. After
witnessing the handover, MacArthur announced, "America buried
imperialism here today."
The United States, however, was far from gone. It still played
a major military role in the new republic. Under a 1947 agreement,
the United States was permitted to operate a naval base at Subic
Bay and Clark Air Force Base outside Manila -- the largest American
overseas bases in the world, and crucial to the U.S. military's
Cold War strategy in Asia.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with General MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz to discuss war strategy, 1944. Ten years earlier, Roosevelt had signed the law that laid the groundwork for the hand over of the Philippines. (National Archives)
And the United States continued to keep a close watch on domestic
affairs. The Huk guerrillas resurfaced in the late 1940s, fueled
by peasants' continuing desire for agricultural reform. With
military aid and covert assistance from the United States, the
Philippine government quashed the Huks by 1954.
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