Pratas Island. Photograph from www.np.cpami.gov.tw
Culture Spotlight

How one ship might have changed the course of the Marcos Regime

The Top-secret Mission and tragic fate of the MV Andrea
Rolando Peña | Dec 11 2018

Editor’s note: Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army, asked for arms and monetary support from China’s communist Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. Famed geologist and left-wing revolutionary Rolando Peña navigated the MV Karagatan, a wooden-hulled boat consigned to carry arms from Fukien to the Philippines in 1972. The arms landing was intercepted by the Philippine military. A second arms landing was undertaken in 1974, this time aboard a ship called the MV Andrea. Peña was aboard the ship when it hit the Pratas reef near Hong Kong and Taiwan, and a series of almost comical misfortunes befell the beleaguered crew. Below is his account of events as they unfolded.

(Rolando Peña, arguably the country’s most important geologist and a key figure in the Communist movement against Ferdinand Marcos, passed away on November 30, 2018.)

We were on a boat towards the Asian Mainland, this reef on the South China Sea. There were strong winds, and gray skies. The captain got seasick on the second day, and we were left on our own to steer the boat to its destination, but were told especially not to touch the reefs. But there seemed to be a siren song borne by the winds that blew us smack into the Pratas reef, 170 nautical miles southeast of Hong Kong. Only a siren song—no sirens. Ulysses would have been disappointed. This jolt engineered by the gods was probably meant to cure the captain of his seasickness because he was suddenly up and about.

We were advised not to touch the reefs. Especially not the [Pratas] reef, a dot on the map! The boat was tilted precariously on the edge of the reef—we could hardly walk fore and aft, starboard and port.

As fate would have it, a scavenger ship from Hong Kong came by to get steel plates from a big wreck on Pratas reef. So, we were installed in a corner of the Falcon while the Hong Kong crew cut the steel plates away. One day, as they cut away with an acetylene torch, they ignited a fuel container and a gust of wind set a fire whirling through the hull. We all scampered to safety. When the fire subsided, a few of us went aboard to check our things. But another gust of wind set off corridors of fire. I ran across and hid in what used to be a bathroom. When the wind died down, we all fled back to safety. No injury, but I lost my eyelashes and I was spitting black mucus for a couple of days.

When the Hong Kong crew was nearing the end of their work, a ship appeared into view. There was a flash, and then a thud. They must be taking pictures. Then another flash, and another thud. They were firing cannons! As the Falcon neared, the ship started firing its machine guns. The Hong Kong crew panicked. As they tried to run for their lives, one or two got wounded. The incoming ship was the supply vessel of the Taiwanese Navy which has a base on the other side of the Pratas reef. They were doing target practice, so we were told to hoist a white sheet aboard the Falcon to let them know that there were civilian people in the wreck. The incoming ship turned back and the engineer and interpreter of the Hong Kong ship went to the Taiwanese naval base to complain. On their return, they started packing up and told us to wait for them, as they would be coming back for us. As the sun went down, we took down a lifeboat and let the sea currents take us somewhere—maybe Vietnam. But the Hong Kong crew came back and we were taken to Hong Kong.

The story for us to tell was that we were adrift in the sea because our vessel sank and we were picked up by a rescue ship. We stayed in Victoria Detention Centre in Hong Kong for a few days and were later taken to mainland China as asylum seekers.

 

Notes

Other sources identified Edwin Alcid as the captain of the ill-fated M/V Andrea.

Because of the failure of the first arms landing that was undertaken by M/V Karagatan on Palanan, Isabela in 1972, China’s Deng Xiao Ping refused to fund a second arms landing to the Philippines. But Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung approved the proposed second arms landing to be undertaken by a ship called MV Andrea, said Dr. Mario Miclat, former dean of the Asian Studies of the University of the Philippines.

Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army asked for arms and monetary support from China’s communist Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. At the time, China was sending arms to Vietnam and other Third World countries that embraced the leftist ideology, said Dick Malay.

“Mao approved the coming of the CCP mission to China (to ask for arms) in a letter to Sison (which was) relayed through Kang Sheng, the most powerful member of the Chinese Communist Party’s politburo,” said Dick Malay, adding he was part of that mission.

Geng Biao, the minister in charge of China’s relations with global revolutionary movements, was behind the approval of Sison’s request for arms from Mao, said Malay. 

Peña’s account was shared by Alberto Lesaca, Peña’s batch mate, UP High School, class 1957 with Barbara Mae Dacanay.