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PHILIPPINES - Islands Under Siege, June 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Islands Under Siege"

On the Front Lines in Mindanao

Rebellions, Wars and Insurgencies in the Philippines

Population, Government, Economy

Muslim Rebels, U.S. Presence, Politics




A Conflicted Land: Rebellions, Wars and Insurgencies in the Philippines
1898-1933: America’s Colony 1934-1964: War and Independence 1965-1986: The Marcos Years 1987-2003: Reform and Rebellion

1934-1964: War and Independence

The United States leaves -- twice -- but stays close.

General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on Luzon

General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on Leyte in 1944, two years after Japan had defeated American and Philippine forces. (photo: National Archives)
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.

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."

Moro traders approach American Coast Guard

Moro traders approach an American Coast Guard vessel, 1945. (photo: National Archives)
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 said sympathetically.

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."

Roosevelt meets with MacArthur and Nimitz to discuss war strategy

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)
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.

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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