Behind his small house, Fructuoso Chua Jr. squats as he cleans his backyard where his cacao trees grow. Living in solitude, away from the noise of the neighborhood, his only witness are his dogs. He is 73 years old and he can barely stand straight, but he can still endure the heat of the afternoon sun as his soiled hand grips the grass hook, removing the weeds around his cacao tree. It was the same hand that held the Danao-made pistol forty-five years ago, when he was still 28 years old, the day he and his peers fearlessly hijacked a plane.
On this same day, March 30, six students from the Mindanao-State University (MSU) Marawi, Chua being one of them, hijacked a Philippine Airlines jetliner from Manila bound to Davao and headed it to China. Fuelled by courage and curiosity, they did it to ‘seek for revolutionary truth.’ Little did they know that they will not only achieve this desire, but they will also leave a remarkable trace as one of the first and the very few successful hijackers in the country. This occurred in 1971, when Ferdinand Marcos was fulfilling his second term as the president of the Philippines. At this time, the country had already seen a large leftist unrest against the Philippine government.
Chua was still in first year high school when he became interested in communism and its principles. Unlike other students, he said he used to spend most of his vacant time inside the library, reading and researching about the said ideology.
“Whenever I read about communist China or communist Russia, I really want to go there and observe the kind of government they have,” he said in his dialect.
Even when he reached college, studying Political Science, he maintained the same longing. This was when he found friends who shared the same interest with him, and who later on became part of the hijacking incident.
Chua chuckled as he confessed that he was actually afraid of riding airplanes, and to hijack one was never part of their plan. They planned to rent a yacht, steal it, and head it straight to China. But it was too dangerous.
Using the money they earned from conducting a weekly film-showing activity in the campus, they were able to go to Manila and buy plane tickets for all six of them.
Chua narrated the money they had was just enough for the plane tickets that they even starved in the airport as they waited for their flight.
“Perhaps our plan was really destined to succeed,” Chua said, as he expressed how, minutes before their departure, they did not lose their strength and enthusiasm despite the hunger, nervousness, and fear they felt.
When they embarked the airplane, however, several instances threatened the “success” of their plan.
“Our original plan was not followed,” Chua said, adding that they were supposed to carry out the plan five minutes after the takeoff.
However, when two of the hijackers were about to enter the cockpit, they came across two stewardesses who were about to distribute snacks to the passengers. They instead pretended that they were looking for the lavatory before the stewardess would suspect them. It was around 20 minutes after the take-off, when all the passengers were busy eating, that the two unnoticeably stood up and entered the cockpit.
Chua then noticed that the plane made a 180-degree turn. He was later on approached by a stunned flight stewardess named “Elizabeth,” who Chua remembers so well even now, as someone from the cockpit wanted to talk to him.
Minutes after, Chua and three of his companions stood up, pulled out their pistols, and told everyone to sit down and remain calm. Chua, however, secretly feared that they might end up crash landing before they even reach China due the insufficiency of the aircraft’s fuel.
“But as we were approaching Hong Kong, Captain Misa asked if we could refuel there,” Chua said.
The hijackers agreed after they were reassured that as they land, only the fuel truck and one crew would approach the aircraft. They indeed landed peacefully in Hong Kong without the threat that someone would interfere their plan.
After thorough negotiations, the hijackers allowed around half of the passengers to disembark, especially children and old people, before they departed to China.
At around 12:00 A.M., they landed in Canton, China – in the country where they spent six years of their lives.
Chua said that after explaining their intentions of flying to China, the Chinese government supported and accommodated them.
“We shamelessly finished all the food they put in the table,” Chua said, laughing as he narrated how some officials stared at them with surprise as though they were starving rebels.
The Chinese government allowed them to experience how living in a communist country was like, after they were toured around Canton. For a year and a half, they experienced working in a state farm in the province of Hunan and at the same time studying Chinese in the afternoon until evening.
“Our first work in the state farm was to harvest peach,” Chua explained, admiring how disciplined the workers of the state farm were.
After being integrated to the socialist way of living, they were asked to choose a specific field they wanted to master and skills they liked to develop. Chua decided to work in an electronics factory while the others chose to study medicine, take language courses, and pursue engineering.
“Based on my experience, the workers there were even less pressured compared to our workers here,” he said.
Years before the hijacking incident, he was just reading about communism, but after series of risk-taking, he was able to experience the things which he thought he could only read in their high school library.
It was in the late 70s when he and one of the hijackers, Glen Rusauro, decided to go back to the Philippines. Leaving the country was even more difficult than going there. As illegal immigrants, Chua said the Chinese government could only take them to Macau. After asking for help from a church in the said region, they arrived in Manila and were soon arrested and jailed in Bicutan for four years.
“They filed a case for robbery against us,” Chua said, laughing over the fact that they were arrested for something they did not do. “We never stole anything.”
Chua said they cannot be convicted for hijacking since R.A. 6235, the Anti-Hijacking Law, was approved only on June 19, 1971, around two months after they hijacked a plane to China. Chua even claimed that the said law was crafted because of the said incident.
Now, Chua spends most of his days tending his small farm, but he said he always recalls the seemingly unimaginable crime they committed when they were still students. But he never regrets, even if he recognizes that what they did was wrong, as they found their wisdom from the experience. Chua shows the fire of taking risks to vanquish ones doubts and questions.