THE HUKS by Randy Ford
Well, what would justify planting rumors that an asuang lived near a HUKs’ camp? If we weren’t at war with them, there would be no justification for it. It was a tactic we used, and it worked. Called psychological warfare, it was an operation calculated to capitalize on Filipino superstitions, all for the sake of liberty … all because of the atrocities of the HUKs. It was the business of this office, and the freedom of the country depended on it.
Our brashness often shocked our native counterparts. We were often blunt. I know it put them off but … yes, but … no buts and no excuses … and they didn’t like it when we raise questions about their competence, but … as far as these matters were concerned if we weren’t here you could kiss the Philippines goodbye. Without our help, there would’ve been anarchy and chaos and misrule and misery. And once you’ve broken the veil of courtesy that exists here you’ll find that they don’t really like us very much.
Everyone’s aware of how much they owe us. If they don’t know it they should. And I’m sure they don’t like some of the things we tell them, but we feel we have to be honest. We liberated them from the Japanese and the Spaniards and then granted them their independence and we continue to help them. That’s something they shouldn’t forget. We’re still here … helping out. Our tenacity is the one thing I have faith in. And our goodness and generosity is what makes us unique. They can count on us then. They may not appreciate everything we do … our sacrifice. Let’s hope that they understand that we’re fighting a common enemy.
It was the job of the Civil Affairs Office to make sure Filipinos believed, contrary to fact, that the HUKs let the Japanese run all over them. Back in the States, few people had heard of the People’s Army Against Japan, HUK the Tagalog acronym, while those who had (influenced perhaps by the New York Times) called the Hukbalahap movement a communist rebellion. It doesn’t matter whether they were or weren’t communist… there may have been good ones and bad ones: I didn’t care. What’s important was that they were trying to overthrow the government. That was justification enough for our involvement. What would you have us do? Ignore the situation? And there were communist out there, and we didn’t want to face … like we did in China … losing the Philippines.
Had we not been here … let me just say the HUKs came close to winning, but they’re largely contained now. It was very serious, and to think that they thought that a Maoist system would work in the Luzon countryside. But there’s still much to be done. It’s still very much a work in progress. Everyone though can now breathe a little easier. Thank God for it. Thank God the peasants didn’t buy into the Maoist worldview. They didn’t listen when they called us imperialist … listen to all the propaganda about us … about how we caused this and that … caused graft and corruption, overspending and fraud …. caused poverty, unemployment, and exploitation, and were the reason why the rich were getting richer and poor were getting poorer! Most of them had great admiration for us.
The HUK movement was in full swing. The propaganda was relentless. Except the peasants never bought it completely. And faced with an obvious communist threat we had to make sure our brown brothers didn’t lose the gains they made. We’ve never considered it meddling. All we were seeking was peace, so it then became our job to convince the Filipinos that as a piece of real estate we didn’t need or want their country.
Our bases, however, were extremely important to us. The Filipinos kept their promises, and we’ve kept ours. The communist tried to make the case that the bases should be shut down, and it’s easy to see why they would want us out of here. It would be crazy to give them up. From them we launched air and sea strikes against Korea and China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Speaking of real estate, we’ve been accused … or our corporations have been accused of God knows dreadful things, such as dominating strategic sectors of the economy: petroleum, chemicals, tires and rubber, mining, drugs, soap and cosmetics, banking, insurance, and the list continues on and on. Yet I think the HUKs should’ve been more riled up about the Lopezes, the Roxas, the Aranetas, and the Akyalas. Now you didn’t hear me say that.
But would the world’s greatest defender of democracy, the undisputed leader of the Free World, let Central Luzon fall into the hands of stooges of the international communist conspiracy? We weren’t about to be walked over. And they needed to be wiped out, just as all such groups should be.
There were many things to test you. There were many things to get hysterical over such as flies and misquotes, and unsafe water and broken toilets. Throughout the Philippines, there were Americans who loved the Philippines except for the flies and misquotes and the unsafe water and broken toilets, but most of us learned to cope or overlook these things. There will always be those who’ll complain about everything and focus only on unpleasantness. Jack wasn’t one of those. Instead he loved the food and spent a great deal of time exploring Filipino restaurants.
Of all of the restaurants in Manila, not counting the ones in Makati, my friend Jack chose the one he thought would impress his eighteen-year-old date the most, and the young lady wasn’t afraid to go out with an American and risk having people think that she was a prostitute. She acted quite grownup as they walked into a Cantonese restaurant on Mabini Street. She’d been there and knew what to expect but didn’t let on that she had. She acted in a reserve way when she was not, and Jack liked her, though he wasn’t prepared to say he did. He liked her a lot and felt that the best way to show it was to take her to a good restaurant. And apparently she thought it only proper to show as little interest in him as possible, though she wouldn’t have gone out with him had she not been interested, and by then it was clear that they were playing a game.
“I told you already that I promised your dad that I’ll get you home safely, and I will,” he said. And she had nothing to fear because of the relationship Jack established with her father. He’d been living in their home long enough for all them to feel comfortable with each other. Mere accident brought Jack to her family’s home, something in any case that was too ludicrous to explain.
Everything depended on someone’s upbringing, and that was especially true in Anna’s case. She could say with some pride that she was given a good education. She grew up in a household where current events and politics were discussed around the dinner table so she knew who was who. She was alert, kind, fun, and full of playful mischief. She was also reliable, knew how to take care of herself, and could stick with something until she got what she wanted. She took after her father in many ways, idolized him just as he was idolized by almost everyone who knew him. But such adoration hadn’t turned his head.
Jack felt pleased that he had been accepted into the Ramos household. Remember he was an American and was working for the Civil Affairs Office and normally wouldn’t have been living with a Filipino family. And he should’ve known it would cause him trouble, or at the very least place him in an awkward position that he could ill afford. But he and Dr. Ramos had become friends. Dr. Ramos and his wife Cecelia treated him well. They appeared to love Americans and loved and valued Jack’s friendship. Unmistakably, they were friends, and Jack should’ve been leery. He should’ve had access to enough intelligence to know that Dr. Ramos was being watched by the government … that maybe that was why the professor was so friendly … he sympathized with Red China … he enjoyed listening to Russian and Chinese music … but shouldn’t Jack have been more alarmed? Maybe, or maybe not. Yes, maybe, but on the other hand it was an ideal place for an American working (a new-hire) for the Civil Affairs Office to live if he wanted to have access to information about the communist movement.
Jack had not succeeded in getting Dr. Ramos to admit to anything that amounted to treason, and really never expected he would. The stories he told about resisting the Japanese during the war were true and thus made him a hero. He had been a member of the People’s Army Against the Japanese (HUK) organization but said after the war that he dropped out to get his Ph.D. It’s hard to believe that this didn’t catch Jack’s attention.
He said they listened with hope to every promise, promises that were elusive at first, while looking for justice and a vision that gave everyone a fair share of the harvest. They were all young. Never suspected of being disloyal to Elpidio Quirino, who became president after Roxa’s death in 1948, Dr. Ramos turned out to be disloyal to the president. Maybe he couldn’t help himself. The youngest, and perhaps the smartest in his class, he assumed a position on the faculty that allowed him, because of academic freedom, the freedom to study various political movements from around the world. He could take any side, debate any argument, and win. In a sense, he was biding his time, but he was ready, though specifically he didn’t know what he was ready or waiting for.
Intensity and pride punctuated the professor’s words. He regarded himself an educated peasant patriot and talked to Jack about the peasant movement. He spoke of how large landowners treated their tenants as slaves and that the majority wanted to become owners of the land they cultivated.
Glad to have someone to show him around Manila, Jack tried not to act like a tourist. He let Anna take him places that Anna and her father thought he ought to see like the Quiapo Market to inside the walls and ramparts of Intramuros and Fort Santiago. The destruction of the old city in 1949 was still evident. Where thousands were trapped and the Americans bombed and the Japanese refused to surrender, three centuries of Spanish history was destroyed in a few days. You may recall Rizal’s short stay in Fort Santiago and his execution in the Luneta.
With the help of the Americans the center of the city shifted away from Intramuros and the moat around the walled city was transformed into an eighteen-hole golf course. They attempted to turn Manila into an American city. Jack saw evidence of this transformation. Here and there it stood out. But in spite of all of their effort it hadn’t turned out the way they wanted. He didn’t know that recognition of particular facts had become a political act.
It was on one these excursions that he was introduced to the opulent world of the Manila Hotel. It so happened that Dr. Ramos belonged to an elite club there, which also gave him and his family access to the Manila Yacht Club. The US Embassy sat between the hotel and the yacht club, which made it easy to frequent each place. While many people working at the embassy felt it incumbent on them to socialize at the hotel and the yacht club, it surprised Jack to learn that Dr. Ramos was among them. It seemed odd. Before Independence only Americans belonged to the yacht club and the Manila Hotel was MacArthur’s headquarters. By now it had changed. Now by playing rich men’s games such as horseracing, sailing and tennis, the wealthy often copied the elitism of their former colonial masters. These people were in the minority; but that didn’t seem to matter to Dr. Ramos.
The Ramos family rented Jack a room just large enough for a bed, books and a desk. Though small this space met his needs and was important to him. It gave him a place to study, because like Dr. Ramos he had an exceptional appetite for knowledge. Whether Tolstoy or Dostoevski, Nietzche, or Shakespeare, he randomly chose books in English from bookstalls. This appetite seemed to come out of nowhere. While doing things and going places, he asked many questions like “what are those islands over there?” Corregidor and Caballo Islands were examples of places he asked about.
There were a number of reasons why Jack should’ve mistrusted Dr. Ramos, and he should’ve seen a conflict coming, as the two became inseparable. Nothing was said about Jack’s job with the Civil Affairs Office, just as the American didn’t seem alarmed over the professor’s socialist leanings, while both men weren’t naïve. Dr. Ramos knew what Jack was about; perhaps was more aware than Jack ever knew. And while both men were often self absorbed, they found time for each other. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they were intellectually equal, and that was what attracted them to each other. They talked about everything from politics to religion, and as Jack struggled with his own sentiments (first his love for country and then his love for action), Dr. Ramos created his own reality.
Witness Jack’s willingness to do classified work, first in the Philippines and later in Laos and Cambodia. Vowing to never go home except for short visits, he found himself faced with contradictions. Concerning home, his was a love/hate relationship that would last a lifetime. Then came a marriage that he couldn’t avoid; the death of his wife, and a daughter he raised. This world, a domestic one, merged with another world filled with gangsters, rabble-rousers, demagogues, and politicians. And he’d die as he lived and without questioning whether his counter-subversive activities were justified. Freedom and democracy were precious to him, or else he wouldn’t have gone to the Philippines in the first place. Not many people can say, like he did, that he died the way he wanted to die, while knowing his fence-building paid off and earned him a great deal of gratitude from a succession of administrations.
The family he left behind didn’t understand him, didn’t understand why he stayed away, but were ultimately proud of him, though he never told them what he did. They never knew what he did for freedom and democracy. They only knew he worked for the US government and didn’t know that until after he was gone and read letters of commendation. But one can’t honestly tell this story without remembering the ruthlessness of the enemy.
Unimpeachable patriotism didn’t come easily for Jack. In 1950, a conversion seemed unlikely. Back then his sympathies placed him somewhere in the middle. There wasn’t a satisfactory explanation for why he accepted the risks.
Jack soon became Dr. Ramos’ son-in-law. He hadn’t anticipated it. Before he knew it he found himself in over his head and hadn’t realized how much was assumed when he and Anna started touring Manila alone. Jack didn’t know Filipino customs, Filipino mores, nor anything about his own feelings. Unsuspectingly he walked into a well-laid trap.
Thus Anna couldn’t resist his charms. She misinterpreted his smiles, but Jack’s feelings never equaled her romantic intensity. Holding hands to her meant one thing and to him something else. Nor did he ever suspect that in the public eye he had her father’s permission to marry her or that they were already sleeping together. Great Scott, Jack, with his sex drive, didn’t stand a chance! Then as Jack congratulated himself, she took his friendliness for love.
He thought that she expected him to make love to her, but never thought of marriage. Instead, he took pride in his sexual prowess. Her constant attention and her response to his touching were definitely flattering. Then he and Dr. Ramos had their talk. With plenty of camaraderie, he found himself engaged; all because of Anna’s condition, which Jack admitted was entirely his fault.
A marriage hastily was arraigned. Because of his sense of integrity, Jack married Anna. Rather than shame her and her family, he married her. And then Anna perished before Jack fully appreciated her.
On March 29, 1950 the HUKs created havoc by launching simultaneous raids on two towns and fifteen barrios. A hundred of them swooped down on San Pablo City, killed an army officer, looted stores, and raised the hammer and sickle. On the same day, Manila was strewn with propaganda leaflets describing the collapse of the economy. Free trade had caused a massive federal deficit; that and a lack of economic development led to a deteriorating economic situation.
With his father-in-law’s approval, Jack went to Central Luzon, with no other credentials than his marriage to his daughter. He still worked for the Civil Affairs Office and knew that if the HUKs found it out that he could lose his life. With his bosses unable to guarantee his safety, it was clear that he was willing to take great risks. He wanted nothing from them. He had that special quality. He initiated the mission and got their approval only after he agreed to report back to them when he got back.
There were significant omissions on the printed list of US government activities in the Philippines. Some things only the Ambassador knew. The activities of the Political Section were never listed. Jack was hired by an attaché he met in a small corner office on the second floor of the embassy. They first talked over glasses half-filled with rum, but Jack thought the small talk they engaged in was unnecessary.
However, the small talk was useful to the attaché, who used it to size Jack up. He told Jack that he came from Cleveland, a great capitalist center. He explained how it was the home to a lot of working men and women, and how the Russians adored it. The Terminal Tower there, with its spire of neo-Gothic design and fifty-two stories, reminded Russians of the tower of Moscow University. Had the communist party in 1934 not held its convention in Cleveland it wouldn’t have attracted the attention it did in Moscow. Then the attaché explained how the HUKs were trying to do what the Russians did in the Soviet Union. “But look at Russia, a so-called democracy ruled by a dictator. Take the average worker over there. Do you honestly think that they can afford a washing machine?”
In an arrogant way, the attaché slouched in his chair. With a red face from drinking too much, he reminded Jack of an Ukrainian peasant (though he’d never met an Ukrainian peasant), as they were “forced to sow the fields with the aid of hoes and baskets made of bast.” He looked more like one than an embassy attaché. He sat there rough-hewn, formidable, calculating, or like a member of the Moscow gorkan and enjoyed his position as much as having a winning lottery ticket.
Beating around the bush might’ve been more appropriate at some other time. They spent more time discussing the fate of the Cleveland Indians than talking about business. This didn’t bold well. It became pretty clear to Jack that he’d have to pretty much operate as a lone wolf.
Everything said then would soon be irrelevant. Jack would be culpable, but he was never ashamed of what he did. He never had to walk around with his head down. He always walked with confidence. Never brand him in the same way that you would brand anyone else. He always knew where he was going and how he would get there. But at anytime he might’ve jumped over to the other side. Then why would he choose to risk everything?
Did Jack see then that the HUKs would soon be on their knees? Because of his report there was every reason to be optimistic. From then on the government had the momentum, while the morale of the rebels diminished.
With the help of his father-in-law, Jack infiltrated the heart of Huklandia. He wasn’t easily discouraged and gave a full account of his travels.
Two hours north of Manila, he entered the insurgent zone. He traveled dusty roads where naked children played with chickens, pigs and goats. He made a beeline for the jungle-covered slopes of Mount Arayat and kept pace, step by step, with his guide. Early milestones encouraged him and led him to believe he lived a charmed life.
Crowds greeted him. By nature Jack was gregarious, but while enjoying the crowds, no one was fooled. With little difficulty, Jack joined a small group of men heading for the hills, fifty or so who were still willing to give up farming. They were also willing to die, while other, coming the other way, were worn out and just wanted it all to stop.
Always on the move the rebels spent most of their time avoiding government troops. They didn’t waste ammunition and if their time came hoped their deaths would mean something. Determined to avoid capture, experienced guerrillas knew that the government couldn’t be trusted, that the articles of war wouldn’t be adhered to, and that they would be tortured, if captured.
How much of this did Jack know about? He saw the excitement he caused, as a rich Americano going through poor villages where children yelled, “Hey Joe!” The same children often touched him. Generally people smiled, people who were polite to everyone. They seemed to forget that they were living in a war zone.
Sooner than later, rain made Jack’s life miserable, and the misery brought the rebels’ situation home. But what could he say about it? “Oh dear me, between Cecing’s surrender, Legasipi’s death, and Mabini’s wounds, all old friends,” said the Huk commander, “a little rain isn’t worth mentioning.” Would you believe that they got so hungry that they fought over scraps of food? That is, ate anything to stay alive, even grass and rats. Those were American planes and pilots dropping American bombs, and the insignia on the wings were painted over to hide it.”
“Where did the others go?”
“What others my friend?
“You might as well get use to leeches, our blood-sucking friends.”
Initially ignorant of problems of exploitation and poverty, Jack was also ignorant of the significance placed on these conditions by the HUKs. To the insurgents Jack seemed naïve and foolish.
After lengthy debates about the need for collective action and social justice Jack remained unconvinced. Not that they expected to have him for a friend. He shook his head as a sign of regret and wished the situation could’ve been different. Over all there was a feeling of uncertainty. Some of them called for restraint; others didn’t. Many of these men were considered criminals, even killers, by the government. It would’ve been unrealistic to expect Jack to support the Hukbalahap.
He and the guerrilla leader had a long talk on the porch of a nipa hut. Jack told him that his father-in-law sent him in order to educate him. The commander chain-smoked and never appeared hostile. The rebels Jack got to know never gave up their claim to the masses. He admired their bravery and ability to strike and retreat and strike again, and how they then melted into the countryside. They justified their robbing American arsenals and ambushing government troops by saying that they were leading a populist revolt. However their enemies viewed them as an incarnation of the Red menace. Many of them honestly, however, didn’t know what communism was, or why as disciples of Marx they subsequently had to be wiped out or forced to surrender.
On March 4, 1936, two American teachers by the name of Sutherland and Miles brought their baseball teams to Manila to play each other for the championship of Rizal. Both teams practiced long and hard. Dr. Ramos remembered that they spent more time on batting and tricks than catching and sliding. Tricks were added to make the game more interesting. Mr. Miles didn’t relax until his team learned to anticipate curves and drops and mastered batting. Often frustrated he never seemed satisfied, and the hardest practice always came immediately after a lost. Amazingly Mr. Miles somehow survived his own harshness. Even in this country where smooth interpersonal relationships were so important, his students loved him. Early on it convinced Dr. Ramos that he could get along with Americans.
Perfection on the practice field carried over into the classroom. Young Ramos aced all of his examinations and earned the right to play baseball. And before Mr. Miles allowed them to play a game, they practiced for almost four months. But winning made it all worth it; and in the end the players forgave their coaches and accepted harsh treatment as part of their lessons. Though he often instilled terror in them, Mr Miles was very kind to those who were serious about the game. These two teachers, Miles and Sutherland, missionaries of goodwill, captured the love and sympathy of their students. Their coaching and teaching left an indelible mark. Feelings of appreciation for them lingered over the years.
Dubbed an Amboy, he was sent by Mr. Miles to a Texas college, where he joined a fraternity, played more baseball, and went to football games. He dated American girls and became as American as any Filipino could. He could recite Hamilton, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Lincoln, and with the Gettysburg Address as his absolute favorite. For him American history was an intellectual excursion.
His old teacher started him on this journey. More often than not, the conversations between the two continued well after the bell. Who would’ve suspected a benign American schoolteacher? Mr. Miles was critical of U.S. colonial policy, but by all accounts loved his country. How could that be? How could an American have something good to say about communism?
Everyone knows what happened when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. The teachers were dragged out of their beds and separated from their families and interned in concentration camps. With the loss of liberty, they learned to survived and learned to hate. Who were these captives? Wasn’t the war incredibly long for them? And why did Dr. Ramos risk seeing his old teacher?
As Japanese flags went up in front of Fort Santiago and Malacanang palace, officers of the Imperial Army began canvassing Manila for American and British citizens. An order went out for people to report to designated places for registration; but instead of simply recording names, they detained them. The Japanese wanted to create an Asiatic Asia but were astounded and irked by the loyalty and affection Filipinos showed Americans.
Among the crowds that formed just outside the iron picket fence of Santa Tomas Internment Camp, in the heart of Manila, stood young Ramos. Wanting to hear of his former teacher, he wasted no time getting there. He brought bedding and food and shouted out Mr. Miles’ name, which was permitted at first because the guards didn’t know how to stop it. Ramos later went inside, in through the front gate with packages, but couldn’t find his former teacher.
Continuing his search he volunteered for the Philippine Red Cross. He was one of hundreds of volunteers needed to supply various camps. Soon he found himself in a truck loaded with medical supplies heading for the mountain town of Baguio. None of these supplies were allotted to the camps. A small amount however went to a camp hospital and was tagged in such a way as to show Japanese benevolence.
By the time Ramos found Mr. Miles communication between people on the inside and outside of the camps had been suspended. When caught passing a note, Ramos said, “I couldn’t ignore my old teacher. And there isn’t anything you can do to me to make me regret it.” The Japanese stuck Ramos in a tiny cage in Fort Santiago for passing this note to Mr. Miles: “In the last few months, you’ll be pleased to hear that we’ve had a socialist marriage and various baptismals. Unfortunately the ceremonies were sparsely attended but the authorities must’ve known about them because they have spies everywhere. I helped out where I could.”
Jailed in Fort Santiago with four others in one of eighteen cages in a completely darkened hanger-like building, Ramos was treated like a traitor. He spent five months there eating a daily diet of rice with a fish head thrown in every once and while. He survived by quoting Hamilton, Jefferson, Paine, Henry and Lincoln, especially Lincoln.
And when did he make the quantum leap to Marxism? When did Ramos memorize the following quote? “If a man is simply a worker, and as a worker his human qualities only exist for the sake of capital, what is his value? If he exists only as a worker and not as a human being, he might as well let himself be buried and starved.”
When he was interrogated and tortured, Ramos said nothing. Make the little Filipino traitor confess and give him what he deserves. He was hung by his thumbs and repeatedly flogged. Indispensable was this continued torture, without it the criminal would forget that refusing to talk was a crime. Now the Japanese knew that communists who joined the guerrillas were responsible for most of the resistance in the provinces.
Delirious, Ramos saw his friend Mr. Miles everywhere. The teacher might’ve been killed because of the student’s stupidity and his trying to gain a few extra points.
The torture administered by a more and more exasperated colonel couldn’t have been more expertly done. The colonel was a professional. He had no equal and became more and more savage. For a crime that didn’t seem very serious, Ramos received a broken nose, a cracked skull and a blood filled mouth. But they never broke his spirit. Then why were the Japanese so relentless? Nothing was certain except the certainty of their suppression. Afterwards Ramos rarely talked about his war experiences. He saw that it was impossible to escape, so he tried to convince his jailers that they needed his cell for a more valuable criminal.
Anna’s intense, romantic and sentimental passion for Jack was theoretically permissible after he took hold of her hand. Seen was a rare sense of bliss, and that was likely to continue for as long as she lived.
Jack wanted to make the best possible impression, so he tried to impress Dr. Ramos with what he knew about the ocean. Anna watched then as her father challenged him with information about the currents, winds, clouds, waves, temperature, and etc. She felt ashamed of her father for it. When it came to showing off their intelligence, they both were relentless. She listened with interest and was fully aware of the putdowns. Frustrated with her father and perplexed by Jack’s amicability, she thought she’d go nuts. Anger fostered more anger and naturally cast a shadow over an otherwise happy occasion. She thought, “Nothing is settled by side stepping something.” But all of the unpleasantness evaporated every time Jack had Anna to himself.
They rode jeepneys all over the city and drank tuba from coconut shells. In many ways their courtship was no different from any other. They frequented the Manila Hotel because it had a dark bar where they could drink and smooch. After kissing her Jack couldn’t possibly escape. The woman knew before the man that they were heading for matrimony. Nevertheless when he asked her it surprised her.
The Philippine Constabulary gave the HUKs two choices: unconditional surrender or annihilation. With the end of amnesty, Jo-Jo (identified by authorities as an American and recognized as a threat) found himself in the thick of it. Jo-Jo pledged loyalty to his childhood friends and that in return for their continued friendship. Hence he shared their fate.
His parents were known as kindhearted and honorable, for they had been Methodist missionaries in Pampanga for as long as anyone could remember. When he joined the rebels, Jo-Jo told his parents not to be disappointed in him and hoped that they’d respect his decision. He talked to them about social justice, giving examples of how Philippine Independence hadn’t rid the country of injustice. This only scared his mother. The last time he was at home, they talked about violence in the province. They agreed both sides were guilty of it. On the whole, while his parents never liked their son’s communist connection, they conceded that something had to be done for the barrio people they knew and loved.
A long and bitter struggle now lay ahead. As government interdiction increased, the HUKs strengthened discipline and increased their influence over a wavering population. Those who sat on the fence often received handouts from both sides. In the mountains, and in key areas where they found support, the rebels established camps and, whenever fighting was unavoidable, put up a good defense.
Jo-Jo thought he could help the most by supervising educational and propaganda work. This he took over when he reached Mr. Arayat. Once there he renewed old friendships. But why was he there? He said he wanted to serve mankind, as Christ commanded. He had to act, and anything less wouldn’t have been like him. Remember the emergency policy, the main links and key tasks? Even if it was too little too late.
Welcome appalling difficulties. Jo-Jo proved he could take it. They called it a first installment. But here’s how they were tested, and how Jo-Jo was tested. To use Stalin’s words, “Communists are people of a different mold.” During sessions of criticism and self-criticism, each person was subjected to a roasting and had to confess their weaknesses. Then having been condemned and severely criticized, they’d often wept and expressed their shame in acceptable ways. The long discussions gave an opportunity to ferret-out potential opportunists, or actual traitors, some of whom were executed for crimes against the revolution.
They all knew the need for revolution and the problems that came with living the old way. Jo-Jo used riddles and questions to challenge fellow comrades. “What would happen if American capitalists no longer made a profit?” The tiger shark symbolized the American capitalistic imperialist. This analogy served its purpose but never totally worked, anymore than totally embracing Marxism did. But formalities broke down when old friends recognized each other and indoctrination was put on hold.
Jo-Jo liked to sit on the high ridges of Mount Arayat, which dominated Central Luzon. It gave him a view of busy Clark Air Base. From these heights, he also saw rice and sugar-cane fields, a vast sea of green broken only by a network of roads and towns. The American airplanes that came and went fascinated him; but he knew that neither the planes nor the base assured peace to the only home he ever knew.
His parents were the ones who gave him a social conscience. His mother took him with her throughout Pampanga as she called on the sick and delivered babies as a midwife. Faith helped them survive the war and the political seesaw that followed.
In the mountainous forest, Jo-Jo collected edible ferns for meals. It was impossible to imagine the hunger and the other hardships they endured. The rain always made for a night of misery. Tom fools in the rain and always wet, stabbed by thorns and bitten by leeches, their feet were raw and swollen. Everyone was weak and numb to the bone. Faced with attacks, often backed by air raids, they were always on the move. The forest didn’t offer them a sanctuary. It became the same as a sieve, and government troops pour in at will, and the government had its informers. And some rebels died from fighting among themselves, the same as children fighting over rats and snails.
The sheer will power it took to survive, the unexpected capacity to endure, this test gave them strength to hang on. It took more than courage. It was tenacity and knowledge of having made it before. The struggle kept the revolt going. In swashbuckling fashion, they clambered up huge boulders and this for them was the same as joining the people of China in their fight against capitalist dogs. The truth emerged when they looked at America, touted as a showcase, and saw how America masqueraded as a benevolent society. Most HUK cadres would say “cut an American down to size and what’s left is a conquistador in jockey shorts.”
HUKs had their most precious possessions…. life, honor, children and wives….wantonly desecrated. The government should’ve anticipated a reaction. Its scorched-earth policy of looting and burning created hatred and drove affected peasants into the arms of the rebels. The HUKs organized barrios in an area of over 40,000 square kilometers, which extended across the borders of four provinces. People pretended loyalty to the government while they secretly worked for the liberation movement.
Fighters attacked from the mountains and slipped around during the night. Villagers were willing to take considerable risks, and close friendships emerged. Of course, no leader could stop their men from having love affairs with local women. None really tried, though they knew that men needlessly died because of carelessness.
Jo-Jo asked nothing for his participation and didn’t want to be treated differently than anyone else. Had he not objected, his friends would’ve made his life easier. He, who should’ve been rejected, was soon given rank. Determined not to shirk his load, he picked up a rifle, but it shouldn’t be assumed then that he shot Americans. He unavoidably, however, became entangle in precisely the cruelty and the ruthlessness he deplored. The ruthless demands of the struggle hardened him. Rotten to an extent, it was glorious in other ways.
Jo-Jo made the HUK struggle his war. He wouldn’t be able to extricate himself from it, nor did he ever repudiate his socialist convictions. His flirting with communism was his way of grappling with the problems he saw. Friends of his since childhood had clearly been victimized, and he saw and understood it, understood imperialism from the Filipino point of view. He hated imperialism and saw how it affected everyone.
The army used trench mortars and 75-mm. guns to soften the resistance. Before they entered an area, people knew what to expect. The villages were caught in the crossfire. Shelling peasant houses preceded each assault. They covered up their mistakes and blamed the looting and the burning on the HUKs.
There was panic everywhere. Few people stuck around; and the army rarely captured anyone. Generally guerrillas couldn’t easily be identified. Peasants (who never had enough for themselves) supplied the army with rice, vegetables, and cigarettes, and so on, hoping then wrongfully that they’d be left alone. Whether they called this stealing or called it taxing, it amounted to the same thing: highway robbery.
The success of the spectacular attack of San Pablo City made the HUKs think that the tide had turned in their favor. They thought that they had the government on the run. But soon victory led to defeat, because Manila engineered a dazzling coup. The revolution soon suffered many setbacks. Many HUKs were killed.
Jo-Jo never understood their defeats. To fight discouragement, he told the men the Russians or the Chinese were coming. No one really believed him. Instead the peasants were afraid that their landlords wouldn’t let them back on the land. As uneasiness grew many of them obtained permission to return to their families. To avoid shame, no request was denied. Had they asked for the moon, they probably would’ve gotten it.
Government troops controlled all of the water holes. Water had to be collected drop by drop from stems and vines. With artillery, armored cars, and foxholes, a ring of steel left few gaps. Clashes were inevitable. Jo-Jo insulated himself by falling for a communist gal.
This aristocratic beauty served as a courier between the mountain and Manila. Intelligence gathering required freedom of movement, so they kept her on the move. Faced with ever-present danger, Jo-Jo’s communist girl was perfectly willing to have sex with him. Following revolutionary concepts, she engaged in sex without attachment or love. But Jo-Jo with his Christian upbringing had a problem with this. He had a hard time. His sense of decency got in the way. Rather than accept human nature, poor Jo-Jo became angry when she gave herself to several other men. Yet he believed in the communist dictum that said only class enemies try to mold women into preconceived niches and a profession of love often is a form of slavery.
Jo-Jo slowly moved forward with the men. They broke camp before daybreak. Intuition was all they had to go on. The decision seemed risky, but they stuck to the plan. Danger was ever present. No one balked. In hope of somehow breaking through, they left the hills and tried to cause pandemonium. They learned from experience. There was no rhyme or reason why one person died and another lived. One could never explain why he or she was spared when a grenade exploded a few feet away and blew away a comrade or two, or why some lived only to surrender and spend ten years in prison.
Jo-Jo’s eulogy could’ve been repeated for every friend he lost. “Our cause is so deeply compromised and our struggle so far from over that the Philippines might’ve been better off if we’d simply loved one another.”
“Are you aware of the plight of the peasant? How they’re victims of oppression? About a system in which the people own only nine percent of the land who work it? About a people who have to borrow rice from their landlord … rice that they planted and harvested in order to feed their families? It had to have been bad for them to abandon a legal, parliamentary struggle. President Roxas relied on an iron fist policy.”
“Then came insults, and at the same time the US played a role. And meanwhile, this idealist who some call a fool sits in a maximum-security cell and is aware of his crimes. If convicted, whether he’s judged fairly or not, he could be sentenced to death.”
“But if you weren’t there how would you know? If you hadn’t seen friends suffer and die…. recognized the indignity of a mass grave…. and summoned to this…. back to our camp and the fresh grave of a lover, of those who never had a chance once we abandoned them…. will anything I say ease the pain? The real injury was, that some people interpreted my dissention and my hostility to mean that I embraced communism, worshipped as an idol Marx, but nothing could’ve been further from the truth.”
“We needed to keep close track of our enemy’s movements. We were in the middle of the darkest days of our struggle. More than anything else it was the support of the people that kept us going. What were the mistakes that led to the loss of friends and orphaned children?”
“My girl’s death was only one of many deaths. Filomena died during a fierce fight in a sugarcane field. Even before the full impact of the loss hit me, I had had enough. And yet I didn’t dare surrender. To give teeth to discipline, before I could surrender, I was shot.”
“We had to compromise people who weren’t directly involved. While hiding in a barrio, they entertained us in a way that was impossible to conceal. We bought bread and other things and paid the poor for all the rice, the vegetables and the fruits we could carry. We knew we exposed law-abiding and peaceful citizens. It not only cost them their freedom but crops, houses, and property, and too often also their lives. It was a policy of madness that led to an all out war.”
“As an American (since I still describe myself as one), I’m critical of my country. Long ago I stopped being an observer. I’ve seen human heads bobbing in rivers. Sirs, many of my comrades were shot in the back. The government, while announcing that I was dead, kept looking for us and warned people not to aid any bandit without risking execution.”
“Evidence at the camp confirmed what we heard on the radio. We found, however, little evidence of the resistance we all expected. We dug graves by hand. I grieved as I dug. I was knocked off my feet by the outrage. After burying the remains, we said a few words and sang the Filipino national anthem as a commemoration.”
“Oh my love, hear my cry, without thee….”
Instead of complaining, Jack accepted his bride. He came to adore Anna for her beauty and poise. He thought he made a good husband; and with emancipation Anna blossomed. She wore a veil and a long white dress with a train ten yards long.
Now that she could do what she wanted, Anna set out to prove that her husband couldn’t tie her down. She felt equal to him. The dowry Jack paid the bride’s mother was smaller than what he gave her father. He compensated them both for raising Anna.
Jack never intended to make trouble for his wife or her family. “I can’t bare to think that I could’ve been even partially responsible.”
Letters written to his parents in 1957 describe the tiny love of Jack’s life. He also wrote about his relationship with Filipinos. ”The more I’m with Filipinos the more aware I am of my arrogance. They’re too docile and imitate us too much. Nothing beneficial can come from it.” And he wrote about keeping busy but omitted most of the details. ” I know you pray for me. Mother, if I didn’t like the people here, I wouldn’t stay. So don’t worry.”
His hope was, “that the impossible was indeed possible: not that the world would ever be ready for universal fairness. That will never occur until all men and women receive the dignity they deserve.” And then he ended with a plea for understanding.
Who would’ve thought Jack would take such a stand? It was pretty clear that he never sided with the masses; but how could he betray his father-in-law? There came a point when he had to act; but did he ever hold himself accountable. Jack definitely believed in democracy. How could he have opposed his country then? Neither Jo-Jo or Dr. Ramos could indoctrinate him.
During the time they spent on the mountain together, Jack and Jo-Jo became close friends. They had more in common than they expected. A shared love for basketball was one important factor. Everybody knew that come March nothing stopped a runny-nosed kid from Indiana from shooting baskets and getting all juiced up over someday playing for the U. Suppose Jo-Jo lived on the margins of society in the Midwest and owned a motorcycle he loved to ride or suppose Jack grew up under the thumb of missionary parents in the Philippines, how different were they really?
So thoroughly they shared experiences, life in Indiana and life in Central Luzon that barriers that might’ve existed broke down. Sharing assured their friendship. Not a HUK, but a fellow American was what Jack saw, when he allowed himself to forget where he was. A welcoming smile helped him forget that he had entered the enemy’s lair.
But how could you compare Indianapolis with Cabanatuam? Clean, paved streets to dusty, dirt ones? The Indy 500 was not just an automobile race, not just speed and danger, but a huge television event. Jo-Jo couldn’t have known how it felt being a spectator and becoming tearful when thirty-three amazing machines battled for position going into the first turn.
Talking about General Douglas MacArthur, as to why he sailed with the fleet during the Inchan invasion and how he never intended to let his six sitting-duck destroyers retreat. “If not victory, yet still hopeful; if not absolutely defeated, yet realistic, and counting the days….” this was how Jo-Jo tried to explain how he felt. He said that he would never give up. He could yet bask in idealism. Ideas often dismissed as rhetoric kept hope alive. His stubbornness, from the “pacto de retroventa” to the dispossessed peasants wasn’t bullshit to him. But the discussions pointed them in opposite directions.
Jo-Jo’s keen interest in the United States and Jack’s never ending questions about the HUKs seemed inconsistent with each of their orientation. It illustrated confusion that too often led to mistakes. While foraging for food in torrential rain, what did Jo-Jo want to talk about? ”From where does Marlon Brando get the courage to play a role without a script? ’On the Waterfront’ (another example)…. tense and tough….in that story lurks a overbearing sense of wrong.” Conversations that were for Jo-Jo essential. Popcorn and bubble gum, as part of the movie going experience, had long ago reached the bigger cities of the Philippines. Hollywood shaped many of Jo-Jo’s ideas about America, and checking them out became an obsession for him. In the Paramount picture “The Lawless,” a mob wrecks Carly’s presses. For both of them, this journey was never completed; nor did they ever have a coherent picture of each other.
It was unknown how many people died as a result of Jack’s activities. The deaths of Capadocia in Panay, Nick Pamintyan in Manila, and a whole group of commanders who were undergoing training in a cadet school, probably none of these deaths could’ve been attributed to him. For the role he played in his wife’s death, Jack felt riddled with more guilt than he’d ever admitted. One thing was for sure though: counterrevolutionary work was messy.
Did Jack acquire and turn over to handlers documents from the Secretariat? And did he give the names of his father-in-law’s frequent guests, as members of the Politburo came and went? Some of these members were already preparing themselves to become governors, mayors, councilors, and chiefs of police. And did he do all he did without the HUKs catching on? And when did Dr. Ramos realize that many of his guest and comrades were unfortunately captured within a few weeks after visiting his home?
But there was more. Jack’s wife, who was so smart, always sat next to her husband and helped him reconstruct it all. If she ever suspected Jack she never let on. She knew her role. Whenever they had guests, she and her mother were expected to be gracious hostesses.
Many of the guests were obsessed with themselves and obsessed with power, toke to heart the Chinese Communist maxim “the people are water and we are the fish.” Jack listened as they planned attacks on all the major installations in the city and realized the folly of thinking that they could catch everyone sleeping. They were inspired by the victorious revolution of their comrades in China. They used quotations from Lenin and Stalin. To the Marxists sitting in Dr. Ramos’ living room, the revolutionary crisis had certainly arrived, but the big question was were they ready to lead? Had Dr. Ramos known of his son-in-law’s duplicity, he would’ve turned him over to the party’s discipline committee.
Unfortunately, instead of Jack Dr. Ramos attracted the attention. His opponents realized that he was one of the few ideologues in Manila to have charted a mainstream course and survived. He consequently made many enemies. They were suspicious, and characterized him as a villain with a smile. But there were those who also worshipped him.
The assassin team struck without warning. Tommy-guns and Sten-guns were fired at Anna even after she appeared dead. Her father remained conscious but was unable to speak. Wanting to be mistaken for government solders, the assassins were dressed in green khaki. Witnesses got the number plates of the get-away jeeps. These, it was true, belonged to the army but had been stolen. The police were already looking for them.
A break in the case soon came. It was an essential lead that came out of the blue. From an unexpected source, it was also a break that the investigating team couldn’t have come up with on their own. Such breaks police count on. But don’t belittle their efforts. Cases of this magnitude were often complex, and the people involved…. the police, the judges, the witnesses, and the accused….all become involved in high drama. And the press doing its job echoed the clamor of the public for answers. The public then decided the guilt or innocence of each assassin based on the evidence and corroborated by various witnesses.
Jack found himself tormented with grief and guilt. No one knew what he was going through, how he was involved, or how he felt. Or the unfairness of the tragedy, or that he bore any blame for it.
To right the wrong Jack went after the killers himself and turned to Jo-Jo. Together, among antagonist, they represented a link between foes, a link that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. But given the circumstances, was it treason or heroism? If caught, either one of them would’ve face death. They both struggled; but regardless of their differences, they helped each other out. Friendship overrode other obligations. However framed, friendship was paramount to men who fought on opposite sides of the war. Each of them paid a terrible price.
Around noon, on February 12, 1952, the murders occurred on Roxas Boulevard, near the Rizal Monument and not far from where Rizal died. Newspapers ran the story on the front page. ”Murder Hold-Up” was one headline; and accordingly all of them, except the respectable Manila Times, went with the presumption that the murders were the work of a gang of hoods. Fiction seemed real; facts were deliberately distorted. What the Philippine public hungered for was a mixture of exaggeration and fact. Photographs of the bodies took precedent over the printed text; and the number of wounds (13) Anna received greater play than descriptions of the assailants. Government involvement would’ve been less sensational because of daily arrests and killings associated with the protracted rebellion.
Facts challenged the publicized version. None of them ever forgot that morning or the bullets that shattered the windshield. No one would say whether or not guerrillas were suspected. All of the witnesses, however, said all of the killers wore bush hats. They remembered the hats but not the jungle green uniforms. A young Filipina lay dead in the front seat, not some whore, but a person of good repute. The gray-headed man behind the steering wheel was wounded, but all of his injuries weren’t apparent yet. This was wrong, all wrong, and it tied up traffic for a long while, as honking intensified and became unbearable. It was stop and go all the way down Roxas Boulevard, but it was nothing when compared with the violence hundreds of people saw that day.
While the constabulary and the police followed every lead, Jack began his own inquiry. For him it was part of the healing process. He wanted to catch the killers himself. The constabulary and the police were too slow for him.
The jeeps that carried the gunmen were found abandoned near the scene. Fingerprints didn’t match any known criminal. It seemed silly to dust for prints, when the attack had obviously been meticulous planned. Even petty crooks knew not to leave prints. Any fair person would’ve been perplexed by the arrest, by a rough count, of some 800 suspects. Though as passions cooled, most of them were later released.
Secret memos and documents in the U.S embassy revealed who orchestrated such a huge roundup. It was clear that the killings were more than a murder holdup. For the first time one was faced with an admission that Jack, or the victims (or someone close to them) were valuable assets of the U.S government. It was at this point that the constabulary and the police were given reasons for using their authority to the fullest.
On page three, of the trial transcript, case number 02125212, the record showed that the police picked up empty cartridge shells and spent bullets from the pavement near the victims’ vehicle. Forensic experts matched them with guns taken during a raid of a safe house. Other incriminating items were seized there too. The transcript went on to say, “but the prime suspects were long gone.” It was remarkable that the constabulary and the police had information that led them to the correct house.
Brick by brick, the case was built. Once caught, the mastermind was shown no mercy, nor were any of the others who took part in the crime. No doubt they were brave men. But they had to face the consequences. Yet the constabulary and the police showed an affinity for them. The assassins wanted to make people believe that they would’ve rather spent more time with their families, but trying to make themselves seem more human didn’t help them. Whether they had families or not was immaterial.
Even before any arrests were made, the police prepared a list of seventy-eight witnesses. Hearsay was certainly admissible; but with as busy a street as the crime scene was securing it was impossible.
Could the suspects be identified? Would their confessions stand up? Mistakes were obviously made, but none of the mistakes made a difference. Perfection was impossible. But the main problem with so many mistakes was the loss of time, and the more time that was lost, the more the trail to the killers cooled.
There were many questions left unanswered. Was there a connection between the killings and Dr. Ramos’ connection with the HUKs? How well known were his activities? Was there a conspiracy? How many people were involved? There were men posted with radios in front of the professor’s house who gave the trigger men last minute instructions. They weren’t worried about how they would stop a moving vehicle. Why didn’t they strike at the professor’s home? Obviously, they were after headlines and killed the innocent along with the guilty. They raised the anti by striking in the heart of the capital. Before then traitors were quietly executed.
The public demanded revenge. No one accused the constabulary and the police of mistreating the witnesses. They quieted the uproar by detaining so many people and forcing some of them to confess. The long interrogations gave each suspect ample opportunity to confess. There were many discrepancies. The constabulary and the police were able to crack the conspirators. But honor and a fidelity oath sealed their lips, which made their confessions seemed inconceivable. The success of the investigations depended upon trickery, which the Americans had taught their Filipino associates.
It was hard to imagine a more desperate group. To assassinate, to gun down, to decapitate, to stab, in other words exterminate their enemies, inside or outside their organization, to mitigate with vengeance all the wrongs of the past, was a tall order. The very principles of the HUK struggle (not merely their words or deeds but their heart and soul) gave them strength. Yet they reportedly begged for mercy.
Most of the contagion in Greater Manila could be found within the colleges and the universities. In them professors and students engaged in doctrinal disputes. They often connected with Maoism. Being at odds with authority was attractive, but don’t call them leaders of the movement. With the assassinations their loyalty was put in question. Weak, ineffectual, squeamish, stripped of their slogans, and altogether disillusioned by the sudden turn of events, some of them subsequently betrayed comrades.
There were breaks in the case that led to the arrest of a tall man and a short one, who witnesses pegged as leaders. With Jack’s help, the constabulary and the police seized important exhibits: as mentioned, weapons and then disguises traced to a specific market vendor. Immeasurable grief and pain galvanized Jack even more, and he couldn’t have stood the ordeal had he simply sat idly by. He couldn’t disguise his bitterness and the hatred that he shared with mothers and wives, fathers and husbands, brothers and sisters, and orphaned children who also suffered the loss of love ones. He couldn’t cry. He would if he could; only he couldn’t. Given his grief, the opposing forces within him weren’t surprising.
In the middle of the rainy season, Jack trooped through Kandala swamp and up Mount Arayat. He knew his picture had been printed on leaflets and distributed throughout the region. Similar notices spread falsehood about Jo-Jo, who pleaded his case to his parents in a letter. He told them that he finally decided to surrender. He said he hadn’t foreseen the rash of crimes that followed in the wake of Jack’s appearance and damaged the movement beyond repair. Why couldn’t they stop the hemorrhaging? On a long list of crimes, betrayal ranked high; and given the chance, both sides practiced it.
Given the confusion and passions following the assassinations, the blame couldn’t be placed squarely on anyone. Jo-Jo never supported the policies of his country, much less her imperialistic agents. Therefore, his betrayal was based purely on an emotional response.
Enduring foul weather and trudging barefooted through knee-deep mud, the two friends were drenched and with each step their feet became heavier. In the mud, discouragement came easily. In the mud, Jo-Jo realized his reputation was destroyed. Never in his life had Jack seen so much rain, causing so much mould, mush, rust, and mildew and then, revulsion. A few days of rain would be followed by several hours of steam. Nothing escaped the ooze. On the other side…. scolding, cursing, and threatening to kill one another….there were men stalking the two Americans who were completely at home in the swamp. The highest ranking rebel leader, Jose de Leon, offered a thousand pesos for their capture. The Secretariat then held an emergency meeting and more than doubled it. A peso equaled a half a dollar, which would’ve been the preferred currency. In those days a thousand dollars represented a small fortune. Many men tried to cash in. During their trek through the Candaba Swamp, Jack would’ve given his friend anything. But all they had to swap were stories about growing up.
Surrender then! It was made possible; and surrender to Jack’s horror led to the maximum sentence for his friend. No one was going to let the crimes go unpunished. Even though Jo-Jo helped solve Dr. Ramos’ and his daughter’s murders, they insisted that he plead guilty and told him that his conviction was just a formality. They evidently didn’t appreciate the sacrifice he made for a friend. He expected too much; and even so, he had few regrets.
After his surrender, for security sake, Jo-Jo was placed in a solitary cell with a heavy steel door. He was sent to the New Bilibid Prison in Rizal, some miles outside of Manila. It was a tough place. Murder and riot were common. Here was incarcerated a son of a couple, who lived with the HUKs and taught them and never acted unkind, or expected special treatment. Recently returning from fighting, these peasants loved Jo-Jo’s parents as if they were family. Their boy now couldn’t come home. In order to protect him, Jack was frequently moved around, but officially the U.S. embassy never helped him.
The two friends sadly joked about squandering their lives away for filthy politics. Nothing seemed right except the status quo. Fighting for democracy where even the birds and bees voted seemed to require repression and toughness. All the king’s men couldn’t fully explain why these two boys ever chose sides.
Jesting took over. The two friends searched for something embarrassing to say about each other. The last thing they did together was to sit and wait, as their time ran out. Braving the flies and the mosquitoes, they sat on the seawall that night with two smiling women. In particularly Jack displayed anguish. The murderers were caught; but with the confusion in the country, some of them were soon set free.
Both of them lived to regret Jo-Jo’s surrender. In order to publicize the impending collapse of communism, the right-wing press widely covered the American’s duplicity, while the left wing denounced Jo-Jo as a traitor and a class enemy. For the sake of peace, national unity, and reconstruction, Jo-Jo was promised amnesty but was instead given a life sentence by a court influenced by a skeptical public. (See court documents for the judge’s rationale.)