Isabelita Basilio discusses her understanding of the Huk Rebellion in the 1950s, and its echoes in the present Duterte administration.
Born in 1944, Isabelita Basilio only began understanding about the Huk rebels when she reached the age of 10. However, she recalls having to evacuate from her hometown of Kamawan to La Paz, to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between Huk rebels and the police.
Even in La Paz, she experienced a clash between the police and Huks at the local cemetery, and had to hide in the foxhole. The next day, they found the corpses of both rebels and police officers, and serving Huks were arrested and interrogated at the town hall. The scattered remains of the dead were buried in a single grave for those who suspected that it might include their relatives. There were also many reports of suspected Huks being killed under mysterious circumstances.
Her father chose to return to La Paz for its fertile soil, continued to farm, and would bring home produce such as mangoes when the harvest seasons came. He later moved the family back to their hometown, as it continued to provide them with livelihood. Civilians were afraid of the police and the Huks alike. Her father too, encountered Huks, by then re-organized into the New People’s Army. He had to present a certificate of identification to the police to enter La Paz.
She admits to having very little understanding of the Huks, and largely draws her views from the official state narrative of the Huks as communists and enemies of the government. In her view, the Huks were seeking to usurp the right to govern the Philippines, which the military was responding to. She sees a possible parallel between the suppression of the Huk Rebellion and President Duterte’s orders to have suspected communists killed in current times.
Name of the respondent: Isabelita Fajardo Basilio Place of Birth: La Paz, Tarlac
Veronica: With Isabela Fajardo Basilio. Grandma, when is your birthday?
Isabelita: 1944. My birthday. Veronica: Which month? Isabelita: June 17, 1944. Veronica: Okay. Isabelita: I experienced it when I was 10 years [old]. The Huks and the police fought each other in the cemetery of La Paz as we lived there. Just beyond that. I felt for the first time [a harrowing experience] that my chin kumapak [phonetic] because of fear. We went to Lungaw. The Lungaw, the Teniente del barrios are building something [dug out/foxhole]. You will dig. We ran to Lungaw, called Dug Out. Shots were fired. The Huks and the police are fighting in the cemetery, and we live near the cemetery. I was 10 years [old] back then. At that time, I experienced my chin (kumapak). The fight goes on. Since then, I have not experienced anything. Just that time only. Today, the Huks, the police.
Veronica: Grandma, were you scared of the Huks back then? Isabelita: Heh. Of course. People were not free to wander around because of the Huks. Veronica: Are they good, Grandma? Can you tell?
Isabelita: I don’t know if they are good or what, but they were scary and they wanted to conquer and govern here. They will subjugate the police, the government, and they will be the ones to rule. Veronica: Why do you think, Grandma, that they will fight [the police], why would they want to rule?
Isabelita: They want to seize the Philippines, to rule over. Veronica: Were they fighting for something back then? Isabelita: That’s what I know. They were fighting to change and take hold of the government. Veronica: Why do they say, Grandma, that the Huks were the police of the poor and the rich were the constabulary?
Isabelita: I was a child back then, that’s why I don’t know anything yet. The period of fighting, I was still a child during the period of fighting and that was a long time ago. Veronica: What did Ingkong (her father) think back then? Isabelita: They were also scared. That’s why the people here in Kamahon moved away. They evacuated and went to Zaragosa. However, we went to La Paz. They evacuated because the Huks were occupying this place.
Veronica: Does that mean the people hate the Huks here?
Isabelita: They were afraid. Maybe they loathe them. Maybe there are also Huks here---but they’re outsiders. Entering here is banned [though many people used to live here].
Veronica: How about you, Grandma, did the police do something to you? Did they…
Isabelita: I was a child during those times. Veronica: You don’t remember anymore? Isabelita: Ah yes, I don’t… I was very young then. Veronica: But the way you remember the police then, constabulary and soldiers…
Isabelita: When we ran to Lungaw, called as Dug Out, Lungaw in Tagalog. We were there… the Huks are entering, attacking there in La Paz when we were still in La Paz. The next day, there were dead police and Huks, and the captured Huks were brought to the town hall. They were imprisoned there. Then interviewed. I was still a child during those times when there were fights. Since then, I did not experience anything. The time came, I was studying in high school. My father said that many people are living here now, in Kamawan. However, they go home at night. They are farming here and there are numerous mango trees here, several trees. My father visited here once, he said that a few houses were there, with people residing in. Then, my father said, since we get our livelihood there, let’s go back there. Because we get bamboos there, for the construction of our house. Wood was transported by a cart. If it is the season of mango, cotton fruit, soursop, my father brings it home from here. Not long after, my father said, let’s go back there since we get our livelihood from there. Since my father cultivates cassava, kamoteng baging, corn here, in that wide yard over there. We came here, with one big pack of rice, and there’s seven of us siblings, plus my father and mother. We can finish one big pack of rice in a short time. Veronica: But Grandma, were there no Huks when you came here? Isabelita: None. There are no Huks left by the time we came back here. It’s really quiet.
Veronica: Grandma, why do you think the Huks want to conquer this place?
Isabelita: Yes. Veronica: Why? Isabelita: I don’t know why they want to seize this place. I don’t know. The people were really scared. They left. There were no people left in Panabingan. Uninhabited. Veronica: Grandma, why are they afraid of the Huks? What do you know about the Huks then?
Isabelita: I don’t know how they are but there are several who were found, as I was young then, maybe 13, 14 [years old], there was a person when filtering the rice was still done. They cover the person… they don’t know if [inaudible] what that is, they will cover it alive [inaudible].
Veronica: That means, the ones who were killed in Iting were Huks
Isabelita: Yes. I don’t even know who they are. I don’t know who they are if they are outsiders or not.
Veronica: Those who were buried in Panabingan? Isabelita: Yes, they were buried there, together. Veronica: Those were Huks?
Isabelita: I don’t know. They found several dead bodies there. Bodies were burned.
Veronica: How many of them, Grandma? Isabelita: I don’t know. Some are just bones already. Some are taken by the dogs. The people here are scared to go out.
Veronica: But how many do you estimate, the number of dead bodies? Isabelita: The bones are taken when people saw them. Veronica: Ahhh. But there’s a lot? Isabelita: The dogs took it. Maybe there are around five or six. They took the bones away. Veronica: Who killed them, Grandma? Isabelita: It is not known what killed... those people... Of course, the people are scared even if they know something, they will not reveal it. They’re afraid. Something might happen to them.
Veronica: My past interviewee said that Sta. Barbara then was the location of the massacre of the Huks. In Dalagot, the remains were there. Isabelita: That’s just it, those bones that were talked about when it was found that there were bones of the dead there, the dogs took the bones.
Veronica: Skulls. Isabelita: And now, the people here saw it, led by the Teniente del barrios, as we call them then. Veronica: [agrees] Mmm. Isabelita: Teniente del barrio. Through their leadership, the bones were gathered and were buried in a single grave in Sta. Barbara. Veronica: In Panabingan. Isabelita: Yes. It was buried there. Single grave. Later on, for those who thought that it was their relatives, a tomb was made, together in a single tomb. That’s why when it’s the time of what… in Sta. Barbara, maybe at the front of… Veronica: Panabingan. Panabingan (San Antonio, Nueva Ecija) Isabelita: Yes. Veronica: You said it’s Sta. Barbara. Isabelita: Panabingan. Veronica: Ohh. Isabelita: In Panabingan. Maybe it’s at the front of the chapel.
Veronica: Yes, it's on the side of the church. Isabelita: Yes, beside the… [still thinking] Veronica: It’s near Ma'am Ukol [beside the chapel] Isabelita: Yes, there. The tomb is there, buried together.
Veronica: Do you think the police are nice then? What did Dada tell? Isabelita: To the police? The people are also scared of the police. Maybe if you are an outsider [pertaining to the police], they will also be cautious [of them]. If you’re an outsider [like the Huks], they will catch you. Veronica: Are there no land here owned by a rich person then? Isabelita: There is. It’s Dr. Belmonte, from Manila. he owns these lands [rice fields]
Veronica: Oh Belmonte? [confirming] Isabelita: Yes Veronica: [agrees] Mmm Isabelita: He owns all those lands. I don’t know maybe it’s a hundred hectares. It’s starting from the visita.
Isabelita: Until you reach Valdez (Sto. Rosario Old, Zaragoza Nueva Ecija]. He is the richest landowner here though he lives in Manila.
Veronica: Grandma, they are the mayor of Quezon City today. Isabelita: Belmonte? Veronica: Yes. Isabelita: That’s not the old Belmonte here.
Veronica: Of course, it’s the children and their grandchildren.
Isabelita: They might be the grandchildren … Great-grandchildren.
Veronica: Grandma, what do they cultivate? Rice [back then]
Veronica: Is the reason why there are so many Huks here is that they don’t have their own land? Isabelita: Who? Bel--- ahh the people.
Veronica: The people. Isabelita: Because they monopolized the lands. Maybe because they are educated, right. Maybe they’ve done it that way. But when I’m not sure if it’s Marcos or Magsaysay, I don’t know maybe it’s Marcos. You will only own ten hectares. They will get the excess. So, ten hectares. That’s what I only know. Those rich people, I don’t know [inaudible] exceeded ten hectares. If you exceeded that, they would take the excess lands. It’s the government. They will distribute it to those who do not have their own land.
Veronica: But Grandma, do you think the Huks are communists?
Isabelita: That may be the perception. The Huks [perhaps], are communists.
Veronica: What do they think of communists then?
Isabelita: Communists are enemies of the government.
Veronica: Ahhh. Isabelita: From what I understand, by my understanding, they want to conquer this place. They want to rule.
Veronica: What do they get when they rule?
Isabelita: Example, if you are the president of the Philippines, maybe that’s it. They will be the ones to lead.
Veronica: Ahhh. Do the people want it or not?
Isabelita: Of course, if they… won, they will rule, the people will eventually vote for them. Even if you want it or not.
Veronica: It is said that the Huks won then in Zaragosa and San Antonio, but Roxas did not let them rule.
Isabelita: Maybe that’s what happened. Those Huks. Veronica: It is said that they won. Isabelita: Then Roxas is cunning. Veronica: Just like Duterte. He does not let his… [laughs] opponents sit on their position. [implying that he barred them from taking their seats] Isabelita: But aren’t Duterte’s enemies communists?
Veronica: Today? Currently, he ordered to kill them. Isabelita: Communist? Veronica: He said that if you’re a communist, you will be killed. Grandma, how about the NPA that Ingkong met with?
Isabelita: Of Ingkong? Veronica: [agrees] Mmm. Isabelita: Ohh those--- those are police they will check on you if you come here. If you’re going to enter here, you should have… that thing… [inaudible] from the town hall?
Veronica: Certificate. Isabelita: In Tagalog?
Isabelita: Cedula. That’s it. You should have a cedula. They required everyone to obtain a cedula [for identification] when you enter this place. That’s what you will present. There are lots of police here. Veronica: Did Ingkong not keep any of his cedula? His copy of cedula? Isabelita: During those times, they don’t.
Veronica: Seems like they already burned it [laughs].
Isabelita: When cedula is not used, then, it’s gone. When it’s not used, you need to bring identification with you, proving that you are this person, your name, and where you’re from.
Veronica: I wish I had met Ingkong. Isabelita: [laughs] Veronica: I was already born then but Ingkong, Ingkong died when I was four years old.
Isabelita: Ahh your mind was still young then... Your Ingkong lived here right in front of the school. There they are [inaudible]. But they are from Bulacan, Calumpit. Their old relative from Calumpit purchased their land here. They said to your Ingkong, since they are in Caluluan, because your Ingkong is from Caluluan. There in Caluluan, they ginanyak [phonetic] that someone so you will live there [inaudible] in my field there [inaudible]. [inaudible] In the front of the school is the house of your Ingkong. That’s why when--- Ate Soleng, studied there. Before she died, she wished to visit this place.
Veronica: Is that the one who visited then, Auntie Soli--- Lola Soleng, the one accompanied by Kim? Isabelita: By Kim? No. Veronica: Hmmm. Grandma, what’s the difference between a soldier and a Huk then?
Isabelita: A soldier [inaudible] in government. A Huk is an enemy of the government.
Veronica: That’s what you understood back then? Isabelita: That’s what I understand. A Huk always fights. Veronica: [agrees] Mmm. Isabelita: That’s what I understood. The Huks are defensive/ they always fight
Interviewer: Veronica Sison
Interviewee: Isabelita Basilio
Dug-Out is the colloquial term for foxholes, to hide in during conflicts.
What does Isabelita Basilio’s understanding of the Huks suggest about the narratives that were circulated about the conflict in Philippine society at the time? How might that have been shaped by the Cold War?
In light of your answer to Q1, discuss the extent to which the Cold War in the Philippines was real, and/or imagined.