Drug mule

March 30: Day of Hijacking and Execution in China

March 30 appears to be an inauspicious day in Philippine-China relations. On March 30, 1971, six young Filipino leftists hijacked a PAL jetliner and head it to China. Forty years after, on March 30, 2011, three Filipinos would face death penalty in China for drug smuggling.
Ricardo Malay, a respected and veteran Filipino journalist who covered the incident wrote a piece on Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2004 recalling the hijacking incident. He wrote:
“Fired by idealism and a sense of adventure, six students of the Mindanao State University (MSU) boarded a Philippine Airlines BAC-111 flight on March 30, 1971 and ordered the pilot to head for China. Their mission: to seek revolutionary truth. The players in the drama — the only successful hijacking of an aircraft to the People’s Republic of China — were Glen Rosauro, then 20; Edgardo Tigulo, 18; Domingo Baskiñas, 19; Edgardo Mausisa, 19; Daniel Lobitaña, 25, and Fructuoso Chua, 28. ”

In late 1970, Rosauro and Chua had been spending sleepless nights wrestling with the demons of graft and corruption, the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, the country’s colonial relationship with the United States, and the Marcos regime’s festering neglect of their native Mindanao.

“We wanted to learn the theory and science of revolution, to train in military warfare so we could match the wits of graduates of the Philippine Military Academy and West Point,” says Rosauro, then a political science student.

“We saw victory in the battlefield as the final solution to the nation’s crises, not the demonstrations and protest marches. The time had come to stop barking and start biting. Our vision was to see the Filipino people liberated from poverty, injustice and foreign domination.”

In late-night talks, Chua, the son of an MSU dean, brainstormed the idea and considered a menu of options to achieve their objective. Their decision: hijack a plane to the Soviet Union, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba or China — socialist countries that fired their imaginations. Rosauro eventually settled for China for “its proximity to the Philippines and besides, nababasa namin ang Cultural Revolution (we were reading about the Cultural Revolution).” The two plotters recruited four schoolmates, who also happened to be casting about for “revolutionary truth.”

Four months after hatching the plan, the six headed for Cebu province, where their measly budget bought them three Danao-made revolvers, a balisong (fan knife) and a pair of scissors. The last item was for cutting up rope in case they needed to tie up any uncooperative passenger — “kung meron mang papalag (in case anyone resisted).”

Arriving in Manila, the six purchased tickets with their dwindling funds for a PAL jet flight to Davao City. As soon as the team boarded the plane, they fanned out into three groups occupying the front, middle and rear sections. Twenty minutes after takeoff, as the plane caught the sunrays of the Romblon skyline, Lobitaña barged into the cockpit and ordered pilot Captain Antonio Misa at gunpoint to turn around and hightail it to China.

If the veteran pilot felt any apprehension, he showed none. Instead, he good-naturedly executed a 360-degree turn as Rosauro announced over the intercom: “We are going to China, but please be calm and cooperative. We will do you no harm.” The hijackers told the flight attendants to hand out snacks and blankets and allow the awe-stricken 40-plus passengers trips to the toilet. Mindful of their conduct, they used “ho” and “po” — expressions of respect — as they talked with the hostages.

Misa bargained with the students to allow him to refuel in Hong Kong. They agreed. At the Kai Tak International Airport, Rosauro espied British commando helicopters approaching the refuelling jetliner. He ordered the pilot to warn the assault team not to come near the aircraft. The Britons understood that the young Filipinos meant business, and backed off. Meanwhile, half of the passengers were allowed to disembark, mostly women and the elderly.

The plane entered China’s airspace after a few minutes and was guided by Chinese Air Force jets to White Cloud Airport in Guangzhou (Canton). A military team came aboard and confiscated the hijackers’ firearms, as well as those of three other passengers.  When the jubilant young Filipinos stepped onto the tarmac, a People’s Liberation Army officer, accompanied by aides and an interpreter, shook their hands and said: “So young, so brave.” The PAL jetliner was allowed to return to the Philippines the next day.

After spending the night in a military barracks, the hijackers were brought to the Hengyang state farm in the south-central province of Hunan for their orientation to “socialist life.” They joined the peasants working the paddy fields and raising fruit trees.

Before long, one of them (“the most undisciplined among us,” says Rosauro) breached the local hospitality — he easily seduced a comely high school student who was working at a nursery. The five comrades were aghast when the Chinese discovered his nocturnal trysts with the girl.Following the Maoist practice of criticism and self-criticism, they extracted a promise from their errant member to behave properly in a society where sex offenders were dispatched with a single shot to the head.

Recalls Rosauro: “The Chinese handled the incident with tact and diplomacy, as if our companion’s crime meant nothing to them. They told us, ‘We know you come from a capitalist society and we understand that these things happen. But you are young and idealistic. Maybe it will do you good if you saw our tourist attractions, museums and cultural presentations.’ It was their first taste of problem solving, Chinese style.

After a year of laodong (physical labor), the six, sporting baggy proletarian clothes and crewcuts, were brought to Beijing for their ideological “remolding.” Party-screened teachers conducted lessons in Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought in the morning and basic Mandarin (putonghua) in the afternoon. The classes followed the instruction template of discussing the Selected Works of Chairman Mao, the importance of linking theory with practice, and the relevance of proletarian internationalism.

Their request for military training was turned down with the explanation that “China does not export revolution.” Instead, having acquired fluency in Mandarin, they could further their education in fields of their own choosing. “We had different interests,” Rosauro says. “I enrolled in a formal language course.” Chua trained in an electrical factory, Lobitaña took up medicine at Beijing Medical College, Baskiñas studied machine design engineering at Tsinghua University, Mausisa pursued electrical engineering at Fudan University, and Tigulo went to the Beijing School of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In the mid-seventies, Mausisa and Tigulo were invited by their Palestinian classmates in Beijing to join the progressive forces in the Lebanon civil war. Mausisa was assigned to the technical department of the Palestine Liberation Front, “reporting directly to Yasser Arafat,” says Rosauro. Tigulo, who had been joined by University of the Philippines activist Rey Tiquia, another traditional medicine graduate, tended to the sick and wounded as Red Crescent members. The three volunteers wound up their service after two years and returned to the Chinese capital, then experiencing a short-lived “democratic space” under Deng Xiaoping’s tutelage. Their other comrades, meanwhile, were honing their newly minted skills working in various professions.

In the late seventies, the six began preparing for their return to the Philippines. Then President Ferdinand Marcos’ son Bongbong had offered to secure their safe passage home but they would have no luck with the regime. In batches, they tried to sneak into the Manila International Airport, where intelligence agents arrested Rosauro and Chua, the first arrivals. They spent four years at the Bicutan detention facility with other political prisoners. Tigulo was captured in Bicol as a suspected New People’s Army medic and later released.

Rosauro reflected: “We have no regrets. We had a headful of dreams for our suffering people. But after our China sojourn, we came to realize that we could better serve our people, not necessarily through a violent revolution, but by sharing our learning curves with them.”

“Our experience, however, imbued us with a socialist perspective — to serve our country and people wholeheartedly.” Filipinos, he adds, can learn many lessons from Chinese history. “But not all food on the banquet table is meant to be eaten. We must apply what is useful to our specific condition and reject what’s not.”

Rosauro, his hair now thinning, makes a living as a Mandarin tutor to workers bound for Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. He also gives language lessons to departing businessmen eager to prospect the China market. He also did a lecturing stint at the University of the Philippines Asian Center. Tigulo is a consultant of the Department of Health, specializing in traditional Chinese medicine. He is based in Cagayan province, where he conducts seminars on “tuina” massage.Chua sells low-cost products from his farm in Davao del Sur province. Lobitaña is an OB-Gyne specialist in Australia serving the Filipino community. Mausisa is in Belgium doing international work for the Philippine Left. Baskiñas is unaccounted for.

Forty long years had passed since the six young Filipino leftists have had made the extraordinary and infamous record of being the first and sole successful aircraft hijackers in both China and Philippines history. In the past four decades China has changed a lot. Gone were the days when you would see young people holding The Little Red Book and jubilantly shouting “Long live Chairman Mao!”. Surprisingly in the Philippines it appears like nothing much has changed. In its campuses and in jungles, there are still many young Filipinos indoctrinated in Maoism and dreaming of a socialist/communist revolution.
Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the infamous hijacking, on March 30th, three Filipinos – Ramon Credo, Elizabeth Batain, and Sally Villanueva would be executed by lethal injection. The three are among the 72 Filipinos sentenced to death penalty for drug smuggling in China. The three were actually schedule to face the death penalty last month but was postponed following a high-level plea from the Philippine government to the Chinese government.

Although it is true that some Filipino convicts have willingly took part with the dreaded West African Drug Synidicate (WADS) in smuggling drugs to China, I am so convinced that there are many Filipinos who were simply used and duped by international syndicates like WADS. Just as in the case of Credo, Batain, and Villanueva who decided to leave the Philippines to escape unemployment and poverty.

With the looming death of the three Filipinos, the blood of the innocent would be in the hands of WADS, the Chinese government, and the Philippine government. Surely, God who is a God of justice will dispense His mighty justice in His own time to those responsible for the death of the three Filipinos.