Fortunato Padunan recounts his life growing up in Huklandia (Central Luzon) in the 1950s, the epicenter of Huk activity in the postwar Philippines
Fortunato Padunan recounts his life growing up in Huklandia (Central Luzon) in the 1950s, the epicenter of Huk activity in the postwar Philippines. In particular, he discusses a personal encounter with Huk members as a child. Padunan had family members who served in the Philippine Army opposing the Huks, and speaks of the authorities’ use of violence against Huk rebels and their suspected sympathizers. His account also notes the rise of red paranoia, as police and military forces used violence and harsh repression against civilians even without proper evidence that they had assisted the Huks, which only came to an end under President Magsaysay. He does not view the Huks as purely Communist, and instead points to real socioeconomic hardship as the galvanizing force behind them.
Padunan does not identify as a Huk, nor as an active supporter of the rebel movement. However, he acknowledged that the early rebels were principled, and did not seek to cause undue harm to the community. The guerrilla forces were dependent on the community for support, especially in gaining access to food supplies; and at least in the beginning, they were mindful not to steal food from children. His personal encounter with the Huks was one occasion when he was asked to bring them shoes; he noted that they largely treated the community well if they received the help they needed. He remembers hearing of Huk leaders such as Taruc, who had a good reputation in the area.
Huk rebels, in Padunan’s view, were not communist ideologues, but rather fellow citizens who were opposing the widening inequality of wealth in rural Philippine society. He contextualizes the Huk uprising against the backdrop of widespread poverty amongst the farming masses, and their reliance on the wealthy landowning class for loans at exorbitant interest rates of up to 500%. The Huks, he finds, were not motivated a grand vision of communist revolution but were primarily concerned with securing their “rights” to a stable livelihood; resorting to guerrilla warfare only because the landowners were unsympathetic to their plight.
The military, on the other hand, viewed the Huk and their reliance on community support as a growing security threat and began suspecting civilians, inspecting people visiting the bazaar for any signs of colluding with the rebels. Padunan suggests that the primary difficulty for the civilians was the danger of being caught in between the Huks and the authorities. He recalls that the early Huk forces would retreat when authorities closed in upon farming communities to prevent conflict, and civilians in turn would deny having any knowledge of or connections to the Huks to preserve order in their daily life. He too, was falsely accused of being a Huk and organizer in the community, as Huk fighters were indistinguishable from government soldiers.
Finally, Padunan does note that there were exceptions to the general trend of police and military brutality. He mentions that government soldiers would let civilians pass unharmed if they cleared inspections, and that there were friendlier police officers who treated his community well. The pattern of blunt and unwarranted use of violence was ended under Magsaysay’s term as Defense Secretary.
Padunan’s testimony shows how Cold War conflict in the Philippines did not fall neatly along the lines of communist and anticommunist political persuasions. The civilian public in the rural communities of Central Luzon were instead caught in the middle, having grounds to agree with the Huks’ objectives, but needing to keep themselves safe from authorities that held the opposing view.
Interview with Fortunato Padunan, November 2, 2020. Conducted in his home at Sta. Lucia Old (Hacienda), Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija.
V: What is your name again?
F: Fortunato Padunan.
V: What year were you born?
V: How was your experience with the Huks?
F: I experienced them asking me to provide them with something. They asked me to get them shoes, well one pair each, they will pick up there, we meet there.
V: Would you know who is Rodel?
F: Oh Rodel, what we know is unsure, that’s why we have the most difficult situation here. Even in my dreams, I didn’t expect that they will build roads here. I swear, even in my dreams I can’t really believe they will erect roads here. Back then we only use boats, so we bought one. We could only reach this place using boats. We used to pay 30 cents per pax for the transportation.
V: When you were young, did you encounter the Huks?
F: Beyond there, close to the dike. They had a rice pounder. The Huks were really nice. If they ask you something and you give it to them, they’re good.
V: Do you have relatives who were Huks back then?
F: No. The reason why we attempted to farm here (despite the unfavourable factors, distance and security) because it was hard to ask for loan. When you loan for 1 rice cavan, you have to return 5 cavans in return (500% interest rate per harvest). That’s why my stepfather [Guillermo Matutino] and I chose to farm here. During the time of late-Sidreng when we started farming here, it was in 1950.
V: Who do you go to when you need to loan? The wealthy [landowers]?
F: The wealthy, yes.
V: Do you borrow money or rice?
F: Rice. When you loan one cavan of (refined) rice, they will charge you and you have to return 5 cavans instead, just for one cavan!
V: How did the Huks help your situation?
F: In the early days, the Huks usually leave this place if they see the enemies coming. They don’t want us to be caught in the middle of the conflict. They have very good principles back then. When the civilian get caught in the crossfire, they will not fire back, they will only retreat. That’s because if they aggravate the situation for the civilians they will have no one to support them with their food source.
V: Were the soldiers scary back then?
F: Very scary! The late godfather Sandeng? His surname is Nieves, he was my godfather during my baptism, he asked me “Do you want some cocounuts?” when he showed us, bwisit! [mild annoyance] seven decapitated heads of the Huks in the sack, some are even dilated! open-eyed!
V: Where did they get them?
F: There in the swamp area, between Sta. Barbara, San Antonio Nueva Ecija.
V: That’s my place!
F: That’s why in those days, it was very difficult. Even if we worked (plant rice) in the fields, earning 30 cents was considered an okay wage. That’s why if you were a kid, don’t put your food in a pole [tulos] dont put them in the grassy area otherwise the Huks... If the food is hanging by the pole, the Huks know they belong to the kids. But when they see that the foods belong to the old workers, they will take them and eat them. Sometimes if they know the packed lunch belongs to a child, they will only get a spoonful amount. It was difficult because back then you only eat different varieties of camote or boiled corn.
V: What do you know about the Huks? Why do they fight the government?
F: Based on what I observed back then... Even though I was a kid, I know that the Huk members had a very difficult life. They ask for food all the time; the wealthy were snobs and if the Huks ask from them they will immediately report the Huks to the authorities.
What’s good about the Philippine Army back then, when you pass by the bazaar, so long as you show your suwiki and tie it to your shoes, you have to turn it upside down from the distance (in advance, before you reach them). They will let you pass the bazaar.
V: Where is the Bazaar located?
F: The path to Tarlac, on your way to Valdez (present day Sto. Rosario Old]. You’ll have to make a turn back then.
V: Did the Army behave well during the time of-?
F: I can’t say much because the Army back then whenever they ask you if you spotted some Huks, you saw them around, but you will deny seeing them. It was difficult to be caught in the middle. Even my stepfather was interrogated once: are you supplying the Huks? Are they asking you for food? We answered them no. But if you happen to supply them with shoes (like his case) you could only bring them one pair each, you don’t tell the authorities of course. When I’m bringing a shoe, they will shake the suwiki, they will turn it upside down; the Army will inspect it.
V: The Huks were based in Sta. Lucia, Hacienda? Were they local residents or outsiders?
F: From different places I think.
V: What about Kumander Rodel where was he from?
F: What I know of Rodel, he was killed in Sta. Rosa. The group was called Luningning, they had a lot of “passwords” [might be talking about secret names] back then. When Rodel was killed, he was picking tomatoes. There was a beautiful lady, they were helping her pick tomatoes.
V: Have you heard of Luis Taruc?
F: I heard of Luis Taruc back then, but with God’s mercy, he has a good reputation here. You can’t blame the situation … Back then when the Huks know you’re old or poor, they will not harm you. You will find rare living witnesses like me. I’m already 80, my brother-in-law Kuya Turing Anday, he’s the remaining senior here and Idiong Bumanlag of San Rafael or San Vicente… there’s no remaining senior here (who knows about the Huks) aside from me, my in-law, Turing of San Vicente, Idiong is from Del Pilar.
V: Your godfather Nieves where did he work then? Army or Constabulary?
F: Nieves, his nickname Sandeng, he was my godfather from the Army, i forgot which BCT. I know he was an Army man back then.
V: Do they always decapitate heads?
F: Just one time, they have a lot of decapitated heads back then. When we were herding around “putot” then Sagingan [present-day Conception East, Zaragoza] because back then it was possible… there were no houses there... it was undeveloped with no roads. The road was built around 1957 or 59.
V: But it was before?
F: No, the only pathway you’d find there was the path created by carabaos.
V: Oh, so you will find the Huks there?
F: Back then, the Huks were close friends with Aling Nena and a commander. When Aling Nena whistles, [the Huks would know about incoming outsiders] you will know since it’s so loud it reaches a few kilometres.
V: Were the farmers sympathetic to the Huks?
F: Sympathetic with the Huks, we support them, if they don’t also side with us who will bring them food. If they go against the farmers ...then their fight is over.
V: But the police, were they scary?
F: The police from San Isidro that we know, whose names are de Leon, they’re not [abusive] that’s why it’s hard to say … even Adalem, the senior chief, he was really nice to us back then. They will ask us if we have spotted the Huks, of course, you will deny, even though you saw them yourself, you won’t tell them. It’s difficult to be caught in the middle. The police, they didn’t torture the people.
V: But what about the military during Magsaysay?
F: Very nice. They were nice during Magsaysay.
V: How nice?
F: Because the police back then, [we were here when President Quirino died], when we harvest our rice, they were here, lined up, you will pass them, and they were nice to us.
V: Unlike the early policemen
F: Unlike the ones before them, when they spotted you, they will accuse you that you’re a supplier. Well, it happened when we were farming here in the 1950s, I was ten years old.
V: What do the policemen do when they caught you supplying?
F: They won’t see it. How will they know that you’re supplying for them?
V: They didn’t punish anyone? Just very fierce?
F: They know nothing, they’re just cruel.
V: When did the BCT leave this area?
F: I can’t remember when they left this area. 1957 (apparently during liberation) when the Americans passed the town proper. No Americans remain. They all left.
V: Do you believe that the Huks were communists?
F: In my belief, no. The Huks are not communists. They want to fight for… their rights.
V: Which one?
F: They were fighting for their rights. Like what we are doing now. Huks were just like us farmers. Life back then is not like what you have right now, pretty relaxed, then you criticize Marcos. If it were not for Marcos, we won’t have the land we are tilling. We won’t have it. So [mild annoyance] when they say that Marcos is evil, when you go to Isabela to herd Peking ducks, and you tell them you’re against Marcos you won’t make it home alive. Like what happened to Bongbong he won in a landslide in Isabela but in Manila, he lost. He also won a landslide in Vizcaya and Isabela when he ran for Vice President back then.
V: Do you have something to add about the Huks?
F: Huks were really nice back then.
V: What do they fight for aside from the poor?
F: I’m not sure myself. It’s very hard to know. Back then, it was hard to raise your problems with the people in the town, you tell them that farmer’s situation is very difficult here. Just because you discuss the hardship of the farmers here… they will call you a Huk. Later on, I became a councilor here. They said I was creating my own barangay here. They said I was a Huk. To prove them wrong I asked them to sleep [live] here to see themselves. It’s hard to be accused as a Huk.
V: They were not like the civilians in attire?
F: The Huks wear the same uniform as theirs, how would you say if someone is a Huk? since they always wear what the soldiers wear. During the time of Rebolledo, they accused me of creating my barrio, I denied it. Back then they used to call the position for a barangay Teniente del barrio now we call it Capitan.
V: Do you have something to add?
F: No more.
V: Thank you.
Interviewer: Veronica Sison
Interviewee: Fortunato Padunan
Cavan refers to a traditional Philippine measurement of dry capacity instituted during Spanish colonialism. Though used to measure mass, it was based on volume - a cavan of rice would have a different weight than a cavan of cocoa, for instance. The specific numerical value of the Cavan has fluctuated across the 19th and 20th centuries and is no longer in use.
Suwiki is fishing equipment made of rattan or bamboo that looks like a pot. It is tied to the torso when fishing or farming.
Barangay is the smallest administrative unit of local governance in the Philippines, and is the native term for village, district, or ward.
How can the concept of being “in-between” opposing sides in Cold War Philippines/Asia enrich our understanding of the Cold War?
What does Padunan’s testimony reveal about generational differences in the lived experiences of the Cold War in the Philippines? How useful is “childhood” as a category of analysis for Asian social histories of the Cold War?
How does Padunan’s characterization of the Huk forces challenge traditional understandings of the communist movement and guerrilla resistance in the postwar Philippines?
To what extent were Cold War conflicts imagined/manufactured in the Philippines, and for what purpose(s)?