March 30: Same date 40 years ago
(Editor’s Note: The author covered the 1971 Philippine Airlines hijacking for the then Manila Chronicle and became a longtime resident of China.)
THE EXECUTION of three Filipino drug mules takes place Wednesday, the 40th anniversary of the hijacking of a plane to China by six adventurous students of Mindanao State University.
The date is etched on the history of Philippine-China relations for the way it has deeply impacted the bilateral ties of the two countries.
Forty years ago, the student activists who pulled the first ever airborne hijacking to China were treated with leniency and even subtle admiration by Chinese officialdom. (“So young, and so courageous” was their remark to the triumphant hijackers.)
After forcibly diverting the Davao-bound Philippine Airlines jet to Kwangtung (Canton) Baiyuan airport, the six hijackers were received at the tarmac by ranking Chinese officials who allowed them an indefinite welcome to the People’s Republic of China.
They were given comfortable overnight accommodations and the plane was allowed to return to Manila the following day.
The absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries was no deterrent for the Chinese government to exceptionally accommodate its unexpected visitors, who had seriously breached its laws and committed acts punishable by death in what was then, as now, perceived as a police state.
Instead, the incident provided China a gambit to show the world that it was ready to rejoin the international community after years of Cold War isolation by the West.
Late in 1971, or several months following the hijacking and a few months after US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to Beijing, China’s seat was restored in the United Nations.
Its long march to international recognition came to an end, aided in no small way by its act of clemency toward the six obscure Filipino hijackers.
The case of the Filipinos on China’s death row for drug trafficking takes place in a scenario changed by time and historical circumstances.
Forty years ago, China was struggling to evolve from its hardline Maoist ideological mold and to bring its impoverished society in step with a modern world through capitalist pathways.
Its transition to a capitalist state, albeit with a Chinese face, was not without political and social costs.
Corrosive bourgeois culture has seeped into what was once the pristine proletarian fabric that Chinese society was known to represent. Today, the drug menace counts among the most serious threats to its national security and social wellbeing.
Where 40 years ago China extended a welcome to the hijackers, today it is way past time to thumb its nose at capital crime offenders, especially foreign drug traffickers, as it marches to superpower statesmanship and prominence.
But it should not be lost on the Philippine government that China affirmed its traditional affection for the Filipino people when it granted a short reprieve to the Filipino convicts following Vice President Jejomar Binay’s mission to the Chinese capital.
It marked the first, and probably last, time the Chinese would bend their sovereign laws in the interest of the growing special ties between the two countries.
So, in viewing the prism of Philippine-China relations, think of March 30 as its most auspicious day.