Taruc was born to peasant parents from San Luis, Pampanga. He went to the University of Manila from 1932 to 1934 but did not finish a degree and instead he returned to his hometown to set up a haberdashery. He was influenced by Pedro Abad Santos and Juan Feleo, two leaders of the budding communist movement at that time.
In 1935, Taruc, by then drawn to Marxsim, became a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. On 29 March 1942 Taruc, together with Castro Alejandrino, Bernardo Poblete, and Felepa Culala, founded the Hukbalahap, of which became commander-in-chief. Later, Taruc led approximately 30,000 guerillas in revolt against the Japanese.
In 1946, Taruc was elected to the Philippine House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic Alliance. However, he along with five other winning Democratic Alliance candidates, were denied their seats by the Commission on Elections due to their alleged crime of election fraud and terrorism. In late 1946, Taruc went underground after failed negotiations with President Manuel Roxas. Another failed negotiation attempt followed from June to August 1948 with President Elpidio Quirino, which led to the reorganization of the Hukbalahap into the Hukbo Magpalaya sa Bayan or the Army to Liberate the People. The Huks' control over most of Central Luzon, the rice capital of the Philippines, alarmed Quirino that he assigned then minister of national defense Ramon Magsaysay to subdue the rebellion. On 17 May 1954, Taruc surrendered unconditionally to Benigno Aquino, Jr., then a journalist assigned by Quirino as personal emissary.
Taruc then was brought to court for revolt and terrorism and was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment. He petitioned President Diosdado Macapagal for executive clemency and amnesty to political prisoners in exchange for support for the President's social welfare program but was rejected.
On September 1968, Taruc was pardoned by President Ferdinand Marcos who gained Taruc's support. After his release, he continued his work for agrarian reforms.
Taruc wrote Born of the People in 1953 and He Who Rides the Tiger in 1967 under the pseudonym Alipato, meaning “spark that ignites a fire”. It is believed Born of the People, Taruc's autobiography was ghostwritten by Leon Pomeroy.
Several Huk veterans organizations and critics claimed that Taruc joined the movement only after several prominent Huk leaders were captured and executed by the Japanese. According to some, Taruc was not among several Huk movements operating in concert, under Castro Alejandrino, Eusebio Aquino and Mariano Franco among others.
Taruc was honored as Most Outstanding Kapampangan for Social Justice in 2001.