Ramon Magsaysay, a member of Congress from Zambales Province and veteran of a non-Huk guerrilla unit during the war, became secretary of defense in 1950. He initiated a campaign to defeat the insurgents militarily and at the same time win popular support for the government. With United States aid and advisers he was able to improve the quality of the armed forces, whose campaign against the Huks had been largely ineffective and heavy-handed. In 1950 the constabulary was made part of the armed forces (it had previously been under the secretary of the interior) with its own separate command. All armed forces units were placed under strict discipline, and their behavior in the villages was visibly more restrained. Peasants felt grateful to Magsaysay for ending the forced evacuations and harsh pacification tactics that some claimed had been worse than those of the Japanese occupation.
Nominated as Nacionalista Party presidential candidate in April 1953, Magsaysay won almost two-thirds of the vote over his opponent, Quirino, in November. Often compared to United States president Andrew Jackson, Magsaysay styled himself as a man of the people. He invited thousands of peasants and laborers to tour the Malacañang Palace--the presidential residence in Manila--and encouraged farmers to send him telegrams, free of charge, with their complaints. In the countryside a number of small-scale but highly visible projects had been started, including the building of bridges, roads, irrigation canals, and artesian "liberty wells"; the establishment of special courts for landlord-tenant disputes; agricultural extension services; and credit for farmers. The Economic Development Corps project settled some 950 families on land that the government had purchased on Mindanao. In the ensuing years, this program, in various forms, promoted the settlement of poor people from the Christian north in traditionally Muslim areas. Although it relieved population pressures in the north, it also exacerbated centuries-old MuslimChristian hostilities. The capture and killing of Huk leaders, the dissolution of Huk regional committees, and finally the surrender of Taruc in May 1954 marked the waning of the Huk threat.
Magsaysay's vice president, Carlos P. Garcia, succeeded to the presidency after Magsaysay's death in an airplane crash in March 1957 and was shortly thereafter elected to the office. Garcia emphasized the nationalist themes of "Filipino First" and attainment of "respectable independence." Further discussions with the United States on the question of the military bases took place in 1959. Early agreement was reached on United States relinquishment of large land areas initially reserved for bases but no longer required for their operation. As a result, the United States turned over to Philippine administration the town of Olongapo on Subic Bay, north of Manila, which previously had been under the jurisdiction of the United States Navy.
The 1957 election had resulted, for the first time, in a vice president of a party different from that of the president. The new vice president, Diosdado Macapagal, ran as the candidate of the Liberal Party, which followers of Magsaysay had joined after unsuccessful efforts to form an effective third party. By the time of the 1961 presidential election, the revived Liberal Party had built enough of a following to win the presidency for Macapagal. In this election, the returns from each polling place were reported by observers (who had been placed there by newspapers) as soon as the votes were counted. This system, known as Operation Quick Count, was designed to prevent fraud.
The issue of jurisdiction over United States service personnel in the Philippines, which had not been fully settled after the 1959 discussions, continued to be a problem in relations between the two countries. A series of incidents in the 1960-65 period, chiefly associated with Clark Air Base, aroused considerable anti-American feelings and demonstrations. Negotiations took place and resulted in an August 1965 agreement to adopt provisions similar to the status of forces agreement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization regarding criminal jurisdiction. In the next four years, agreements were reached on several other matters relating to the bases, including a 1966 amendment to the 1947 agreement, which moved the expiration date of the fixed term for United States use of the military facilities up to 1991.
Philippine foreign policy under Macapagal sought closer relations with neighboring Asian peoples. In July 1963, he convened a summit meeting in Manila consisting of the Philippines , Indonesia, and Malaysia. An organization called MAPHILINDO was proposed; much heralded in the local press as a realization of Rizal's dream of bringing together the Malay peoples, MAPHILINDO was described as a regional association that would approach issues of common concern in the spirit of consensus. MAPHILINDO was quickly shelved, however, in the face of the continuing confrontation between Indonesia and newly established Malaysia and the Philippines' own claim to Sabah, the territory in northeastern Borneo that had become a Malaysian state in 1963.