Elections were held in April 1946, with Manuel Roxas becoming the first president of the independent Republic of the Philippines. The United States ceded its sovereignty over the Philippines on July 4, 1946, as scheduled. However, the Philippine economy remained highly dependent on United States markets– more dependent, according to United States high commissioner Paul McNutt, than any single U.S. state was dependent on the rest of the country. The Philippine Trade Act, passed as a precondition for receiving war rehabilitation grants from the United States, exacerbated the dependency with provisions further tying the economies of the two countries. A military assistance pact was signed in 1947 granting the United States a 99-year lease on designated military bases in the country (the lease was later reduced to 25 years beginning 1967).
The Roxas administration granted general amnesty to those who had collaborated with the Japanese in World War II, except for those who had committed violent crimes. Roxas died suddenly of a heart attack in April 1948, and the vice president, Elpidio Quirino, was elevated to the presidency. He ran for president in his own right in 1949, defeating Jose P. Laurel and winning a four-year term.
World War II had left the Philippines demoralized and severely damaged. The task of reconstruction was complicated by the activities of the Communist-supported Hukbalahap guerrillas (known as "Huks"), who had evolved into a violent resistance force against the new Philippine government. Government policy towards the Huks alternated between gestures of negotiation and harsh suppression. Secretary of Defense Ramon Magsaysay initiated a campaign to defeat the insurgents militarily and at the same time win popular support for the government. The Huk movement had waned in the early 1950s, finally ending with the unconditional surrender of Huk leader Luis Taruc in May 1954.
Supported by the United States, Magsaysay was elected president in 1953 on a populist platform. He promised sweeping economic reform, and made progress in land reform by promoting the resettlement of poor people in the Catholic north into traditionally Muslim areas. Though this relieved population pressure in the north, it heightened religious hostilities. Nevertheless, he was extremely popular with the common people, and his death in an airplane crash in March 1957 dealt a serious blow to national morale.
Carlos P. Garcia succeeded to the presidency after Magsaysay's death, and was elected to a four-year term in the election of November that same year. His administration emphasized the nationalist theme of "Filipino first", arguing that the Filipino people should be given the chances to improve the country's economy. Garcia successfully negotiated for the United States' relinquishment of large military land reservations. However, his administration lost popularity on issues of government corruption as his term advanced.
Diosdado Macapagal was elected president in the 1961 election, defeating Garcia's re-election bid. Macapagal's foreign policy sought closer relations with neighboring Asian nations, particularly Malaya (later Malaysia) and Indonesia. Negotiations with the United States over base rights led to anti-American sentiment. Notably, the celebration of Independence Day was changed from July 4 to June 12, to honor the day that Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence from Spain in 1898.