Personally, I am tired of the broken record that uses Viet Nam as an example.
One side insists that one cannot fight insurgents and the other side insists that the only alternative to American power is a murderous civil war

Actually, both sides ignores history.

You see, several other major communist insurgencies in South East Asia existed after World War II, and few Americans realize that the communists lost in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Each country had it’s own variation of the fight, but what makes the Philippines experience interesting is that it was not fought by Americans, but by Philippinos themselves. Yes Americans helped, but the main person who instituted the policies that broke the rebellion was Ramon Magsaysay.

He intensified the campaign against the Hukbalahap guerillas, waging one of the most successful anti-guerilla campaigns in modern history. This success was due in part to the unconventional methods he employed, namely utilizing soldiers to distribute relief goods and other forms of aid to outlying, provincial communities. Where before Magsaysay the rural folk looked on the Philippine Army if not in distrust, at least with general apathy, during his term as Defense Secretary Filipinos began to respect and admire their soldiers.

The parallels of how this was done closely parallels the tactics now being used by American and Iraqi soldiers in Iraq, especially in Anbar province. This is probably not a coincidence, since Major Greenburg’s book on Magsaysay’s tactics are part of the military’s history.

Although he (Magsaysay) had originally favored large-scale conventional sweep operations, he changed his mind as he examined the results from these operations on both the guerrillas and the local populace who seemed to suffer the brunt of such large actions. He was willing to try something new, something not in “the book.” When he approached the president with his proposal to change their tactics, Quirino responded: “I have never heard of such tactics.He decided to base government military tactics on small-unit operations,

Above all other considerations, Magsaysay knew that government terror tactics had to be stopped. From his days as a guerrilla leader, he understood that the campaign depended on gaining the people’s support and allegiance. In the past, government attempts to provide relief for the people were destroyed by just a few acts of barbarism against the villagers. He told the military that their function was to protect the people from the Huks and to assist them in whatever ways they could. Each soldier was given two duties: to act as an ambassador of good will toward the people and to kill Huks.

Fifty years later, the left is alive and well and active in the government, with those few still devoted to attacks more an annoyance than a danger, especially now that Europe has decided to cut off their funds and has recognized that political murder is still murder.

Is the Philippines paradise? No, there are still many and deep problems, including two smoldering insurgencies. But if one believes a slow evolution and a noisy, imperfect democracy is better than refugees, massacres, religious persecution and reeducation camps, then perhaps one should  recognize that there are alternatives.

The template might indeed be “Iraq as Viet Nam”, but it also might be Iraq as Luzon.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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