Demoralized by the war and suffering rampant inflation and shortages of food and other goods, the Philippine people prepared for the transition to independence, which was scheduled for July 4, 1946. A number of issues remained unresolved, principally those concerned with trade and security arrangements between the islands and the United States. Yet in the months following Japan's surrender, collaboration became a virulent issue that split the country and poisoned political life. Most of the commonwealth legislature and leaders, such as Laurel, Claro Recto, and Roxas, had served in the Japanese-sponsored government. While the war was still going on, Allied leaders had stated that such "quislings" and their counterparts on the provincial and local levels would be severely punished. Harold Ickes, who as United States secretary of the interior had civil authority over the islands, suggested that all officials above the rank of schoolteacher who had cooperated with the Japanese be purged and denied the right to vote in the first postwar elections. Osmeña countered that each case should be tried on its own merits.
Resolution of the problem posed serious moral questions that struck at the heart of the political system. Collaborators argued that they had gone along with the occupiers in order to shield the people from the harshest aspects of Japanese rule. Before leaving Corregidor in March 1942, Quezon had told Laurel and José Vargas, mayor of Manila, that they should stay behind to deal with the Japanese but refuse to take an oath of allegiance. Although president of a "puppet" republic, Laurel had faced down the Japanese several times and made it clear that his loyalty was first to the Philippines and second to the Japanese-sponsored Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere.
Critics accused the collaborators of opportunism and of enriching themselves while the people starved. Anticollaborationist feeling, moreover, was fueled by the people's resentment of the elite. On both the local and the national levels, it had been primarily the landlords, important officials, and the political establishment that had supported the Japanese, largely because the latter, with their own troops and those of a reestablished Philippine Constabulary, preserved their property and forcibly maintained the rural status quo. Tenants felt the harshest aspects of Japanese rule. Guerrillas, particularly those associated with the Huks, came from the ranks of the cultivators, who organized to defend themselves against Philippine Constabulary and Japanese depredations.
The issue of collaboration centered on Roxas, prewar Nacionalista speaker of the House of Representatives, who had served as minister without portfolio and was responsible for rice procurement and economic policy in the wartime Laurel government. A close prewar associate of MacArthur, he maintained contact with Allied intelligence during the war and in 1944 had unsuccessfully attempted to escape to Allied territory, which exonerated him in the general's eyes. MacArthur supported Roxas in his ambitions for the presidency when he announced himself as a candidate of the newly formed Liberal Party (the liberal wing of the Nacionalista Party) in January 1946. MacArthur's favoritism aroused much criticism, particularly because other collaborationist leaders were held in jail, awaiting trial. A presidential campaign of great vindictiveness ensued, in which Roxas's wartime role was a central issue. Roxas outspent and outspoke his Nacionalista opponent, the aging and ailing Osmeña. In the April 23, 1946, election, Roxas won 54 percent of the vote, and the Liberal Party won a majority in the legislature.
On July 4, 1946, Roxas became the first president of the independent Republic of the Philippines. In 1948 he declared an amnesty for arrested collaborators--only one of whom had been indicted--except for those who had committed violent crimes. The resiliency of the prewar elite, although remarkable, nevertheless had left a bitter residue in the minds of the people. In the first years of the republic, the issue of collaboration became closely entwined with old agrarian grievances and produced violent results.