Hukbong Panghimpapawid ng
Comprehensive History of the Philippine Air Force
parts from 'Flight to the Future', Infinit-1, Philippine Air Force, 1997 and 'Expanded Storyline of the PAF History and the early years of Philippine Aviation History', by Maj. Eduardo B Diano PAF.
The life of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) cannot but reflect the realities of the larger society. For this reason, its history can be likened to a subplot within the bigger saga of the nation itself, with the theme of one equally recognizable in the order. That recurrent theme is the struggle between two impulses: one, to stay in the convenient lap of dependence on a "big brother"; the other, to venture into the unknown region of freedom and chart one's own destiny.
The dynamics of these twin impulses have lent irony to many an episode in the story of the PAF and the nation's ambivalent relationship with the United States of America. The nature of these "special relations" has not been lost on Air Force officers and men across three generations. Some have viewed it as a blessing and a privilege, others have lamented it as a bane and a burden whose dire consequences persist to this day. Whichever side is correct, that unique relationship, begun at the turn of the century, continued for nearly nine decades and has been the biggest shaping influence on the birth and growth of the PAF.
The Early Years
The history of military aviation in the Philippines dates back during World War I, when America entered the war. With hardly any air power to match the Germans - who, through the services of Dutchman Anthony Fokker, had already fitted fighters with synchronized machine-guns - the Americans set out to produce 366 airplanes and to train a pool of pilots.
On March 17, 1917, American General Francis Harrison approved the establishment of an Air unit in consonance with militia Act No. 2715 sponsored by then Senate President Manuel Quezon. Volunteers from the Philippine National Guard were accepted for flight training at Fort Mills on Corregidor Island, home of the 1st Company, 2nd Squadron of the US Army Signal Corps.
Volunteers from the Philippine National Guard were accepted for flight training at Fort Mills on Corregidor Island, home of the 1st Company, 2nd Squadron of the US Army Signal Corps. Unfortunately for these brave, adventurous men, colonials could only fly on borrowed wings. In early February 1918, Maj. Joseph EH Stevenot, commander of the National Guard's aviation section, advised Governor General Francis Burton Harrison that the Filipino aviation students had completed their ground schooling and were ready for flight training. On learning this, Harrison promptly cabled the US Army adjutant general and requested flight training in the United States for 35 of the students who would then compose a Filipino squadron. On March 15, the reply came: No planes were left for use by Filipinos, as thousands of Americans had already been accepted for training.
As a result, the aviation section had to be disbanded. The pilot trainees were instead assigned to the Artillery Corps at Fort Stotsenberg (later renamed Clark AB) in Pampanga, as part of the Philippine division of the National Guard. After the war, the National Guard itself was deactivated, as the United States no longer had any immediate need for military manpower support from the Philippines.
The end of World War I also found the US Army and Navy with surplus aircraft and equipment overseas, which they were reluctant to ship back to the States. In another of those painful ironies in the history of the Air Force, these surplus aircraft and equipment were sold instead to the Philippine Militia Commission, which at that time still had no pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel to speak of.
To the credit of the Militia Commission, it seized the opportunity to begin building a Filipino air unit by accepting the US offer. At the same time, it hired the services of the Curtiss School of Aviation (established by Major Stevenot) to provide flight training to 33 students at Camp Claudio (named after a Filipino soldier killed during World War I) in Parañaque. The class started on January 12, 1920 with the first batch of aviation students composed of ten officers from the Philippine Constabulary (PC), led by topnotcher 1st Lt. Porfirio Zablan; and 23 recruits from the National Guard, with foreign instructors and four JN-4 biplanes, one 'Seagull' hydroplane and F-52 biplanes. Aviation cadet Lt. Leoncio Malinao, a 25 year old Cebuano soloed in the morning of April 26, 1920 and became the first Filipino military pilot to go on a solo flight.
The professionalism forebears of today's Air Force officers and enlisted personnel could only have been a remarkable breed. After all, to be one or the other, pilot or pioneer of any endeavor is a feat in itself. To be both is twice so. For pioneers and pilots are assumed to possess exceptional daring - that distinct blend of uncommon bravery and a highly developed taste for adventure and risk-taking. In the case of pilots, the qualities that count must include lightning reflexes and a mastery of what one retired ace military pilot calls the "geometry of flying." In the case of pioneering pilots, one must marvel even more at the extra daring it takes to pursue a high-risk profession where no kin or countryman ever ventured before.
The Philippine Air Service (PAS)
In June 1920, the Curtiss School decided to hold an air exhibition at the Luneta to show off its students. The exhibition, which demonstrated the brand-new pilots' flying skills as they executed stalls, spirals, slips and tailspins, so impressed the spectators that the idea of an inter-island air service caught fire. On July 7, 1920, the Council of State approved the establishment of the Philippine Air Service (PAS) to provide air mail and passenger flights between Manila and the ports of Cebu, Iloilo and Zamboanga.
On January 1, 1921, the idea of Philippine Military aviation begun to materialize with the creation of the Philippine Air Service, with the primary mission of training prospective pilot officers and to carry mail and passengers. The PAS was disbanded after a year due to lack of funds and Philippine Military aviation idled for 15 years.
The Philippine Constabulary Air Corps (PCAC)
Another 14 years passed before a Filipino would revive the dream of Philippine aviation. In 1934, by virtue of Act No. 4194, the Philippine Constabulary Air Arm was organized and tasked to provide reconnaissance support for the PC in carrying out its peace and order mission, of assisting the customs and immigration authorities. After taking his oath of office as PC chief, Brig. Gen. Basilio Valdez declared his intention to create an aviation unit within the Constabulary. On January 2, 1935, he formally organized the Philippine Constabulary Air Corps (PCAC) primarily to lend reconnaissance support to the PC's peace and order missions.
The Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC)
On December 21, 1935, Commonwealth Act No. 1 known as the National Defense Act was passed by the National Assembly. This organized the Philippine Army and provided the incorporation of the PCAC into the Army and on January 11, 1936, the PC with 6,000 officers and men formed the nucleus of the Army as regular force the PCAC was subsequently redesignated as the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC). The Philippine department of the US Army lent the Commonwealth government the services of four other officers Maj. Prosser and Lt. Lee with Lt. Parker were made to train the officers and personnel of the budding Air Corps, making it one of the earliest independent Air Forces in Asia.
On May 2, 1936, Lt. William Lee successfully test-flew a locally assembled plane - a Stearman 73L-3, ushering the PAAC into actual air operations. The PAAC started operating a small flying school in Zablan (named after Lt. Porfirio Zablan, who died in the US while undergoing advance flight training), with students coming from the PC Academy, Philippine Military Academy and from the civilian sector. Among the first graduates were notable airmen like Lt. Orobia, Lt. Pelagio Cruz, Lt. Edwin Andrews, Lt. Basilio Fernando, Lt. Benito Ebuan, Lt. Pedro Molina, Lt. Jonas Victoria, Lt. Cesar Basa, Lt. Godofredo Juliano, Cadet Jose Ramos and Cadet Jesus Villamor.
With the first five months of 1939, the PAAC had some 28 rated pilots, five non-rated personnel and 300 enlistedmen. For air defense, the budding air force has about 60 medium bombers and the Boeing P-26 'Peashooter', which figured prominently during the World War II. Most of those American P-26s that had been stationed in the Philippines had been sold to the government of the Philippines by the time of the Japanese attack. The Philippine government acquired 12 P-26As beginning in July of 1941. Some of these P-26s were serving with the 6th Pursuit Squadron of the Philippine Army Air Force based at Batangas Field at the time of the Japanese attack.
Over the next six years, the PAAC would concentrate on training pilots and acquiring aircraft and facilities. Local flight instructors quickly learned the ropes and provided quality training to both Filipinos and Americans. One prominent pupil was a certain Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower, who took special flying lessons during his Philippine tour of duty as part of the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Shortly before the war broke out in 1941, the PAAC was inducted into the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). By then, the Corps had 142 pilots, 1,700 enlisted men and four airfields: Zablan (now Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City), Maniquis in Nueva Ecija, Batangas and Lahug in Cebu.
Brig. Gen. Felix T. Pestana (Ret.), 78, was a law student at the University of the Philippines (UP) when he took the entrance examinations at the PAAC Flying School in 1940. "I took it on a dare," he recalls. A classmate at UP had passed the exams earlier and the young Pestana said, "Napasa mo yan, maipapasa ko rin yan (You passed it, so can I." Little did he know how dramatically so innocent an impulse would change the course of his life. "We were wondering why so many of us were being trained," General Pestana says. "Eventually we found out why: war was impending." In September 1941, less than a year since they entered the Flying School, his batch graduated; in a few months they themselves were appointed instructors in the Advanced Flying School's Maniquis Field in Camp Tinio, Nueva Ecija.
World War II
The rapid growth of the PAAC came to a sudden halt in 1941, when the war broke out in the Pacific, and PAAC personnel got their baptism of fire. "The early morning of December 8, 1941, we heard over the radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. (While in flight over the camp shortly after 10 am), we saw a plane with a sign on its side that said: "Land now." We did, and on the ground we learned that war had broken out. We were caught flatfooted. We still did not have the required amount of preparation for combat. It was at that point that the gallantry and heroism of our comrades came to the fore."
Twelve hours after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, its air armada of 108 bombers and 84 Zero fighters attacked Clark Field. Arrayed like sitting ducks on the ground were two squadrons of B-17 bombers, one squadron of P-40 fighters and other aircraft. Only two of the 20 B-17s based at Clark were off the ground. The day after, the PAAC's 6th Pursuit Squadron, based at Batangas and commanded by Capt. Jesus Villamor, was virtually the only aviation unit of the USAFFE left intact. Despite their total obsolescence, the Filipino P-26s succeeded in scoring some victories against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero during the first few days of the Japanese attack. One of the Philippine P-26s is credited with shooting down the first Japanese plane destroyed during the early attacks on the islands. The best-known action took place. Captain Jesus A. Villamor led the P-26As of the 6th Pursuit Squadron, the only ones of their type to see action in World War II, and they were flown with great courage by their Filipino pilots. On December 12, 1941, Villamor brought down a Mitsubishi G3M2 of the 1st Kokutai over Batangas. Lt. Jose Kare even managed to shoot down a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero with his obsolete Boeing on December 23. Generally, however, pitted against overwhelming numbers of superior enemy aircraft, the Peashooters proved as ineffectual as their name implied. Overmatched in number, firepower, speed and quality of aircraft, Villamor's gallant squadron - flying six obsolete Boeing P-26 fighters - managed to stall the Japanese air offensive, with all but one of the amazing Filipino pilots, 1st Lt. Cesar Basa, survived the epic aerial battle.
Villamor, who went on to do crucial intelligence work in preparation for the return of the Allied forces from Australia, would receive the Distinguished Service Cross; his men, the US Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. After the war, the Philippine government would honor Villamor with the Medal of Valor and bestow the Gold Cross with Bronze Anahaw Leaf on the valiant pilots of the 6th Pursuit Squadron. Notwithstanding such heroics, Japan's air superiority eventually reduced the air assets of the PAAC and the USAFFE on the islands to a handful of fighters.
General Pestana recounts: "Shortly it became clear that the Japanese had landed in Lingayen and had bombed Clark. We were at Camp Tinio, digging trenches for defense purposes - our hands became full of calluses. When the Army asked for volunteers, I was one of those who volunteered, because I felt useless just digging trenches. Six of us were made to go on air liaison and flying missions between the headquarters and the divisions, to bring orders and messages. We moved to Rosales, Pangasinan, but we were transferred to the headquarters of Gen. (Jonathan) Wainwright. From there we were asked to bring our aircraft to Clark. When we got there, everything was burning."
On December 24, 1941, the PAAC received the order to join the retreat to the Bataan peninsula, with eleven of their aircraft decimated and rendered unserviceable, had to be destroyed along with the other operable aircrafts, materiel and installations. Pilots, mechanics, clerks, and cooks were then grouped into a provisional infantry battalion which later become popularly known as the 'Flying Infantry', under Maj. Pelagio Cruz. Later they were attached to the 71st Infantry Division and were assigned to the defense of Agloma point.
The first week of March 1942 saw the defense sector of the PAAC Regiment in Bataan caught in the final drive of the Japanese. The defenders were soon overrun by superior Japanese ground forces supported by tanks and planes. Bataan fell on April 9, with its gallant defenders, except those who evaded capture, were taken as POWs and experienced the infamous 'Death March' to Capas, Tarlac.
The remnant of the PAAC who had survived Bataan evacuated to Corregidor, regrouped anew and were taken to the various units of the Allied forces. The rest of the PAAC regiment under Maj. Cruz stayed at their battle positions along the beach throughout the enemy siege of the fortress island. Many of them perished in the tunnels of Malinta, with the wounded dying due to inadequate medical personnel and supplies. Corregidor finally fell on May 6, but not all Allied defenders surrendered, with many that succeeded in escaping the Japanese, joined different guerrilla units.
Gen. Pestana recalls how one evening Rogers (then a lieutenant whom he remembers fondly as "a very,very nice guy") showed them something he had picked up at Clark Air Field after it was burned down. "They were shoulder boards," says the general with amusement. "We asked him why he picked them up and he said, 'We're going to wear these at the victory parade when this war is over!'" The incident demonstrates something that Air Force men take pride in. "The morale in the Air Force is always high," says Gen. Pestana. He attributes this to the particularly close sense of fellowship from which its members draw strength. And that strong bond he ascribes to a heightened sense of mortality among members of the service, because of the extraordinary risks that come with the profession. As he puts it, "I think one of the reasons we are so close to one another is the thought at the back of our minds that we may be talking (with one another) this minute, and the next time one of us may no longer be around."
Col. Joe Rogers, now 82, served in the (would be) Air Force from 1940 until his retirement in 1970. He recalls how Filipino and American prisoners of war, emaciated from starvation, exhaustion and disease, hobbled along for days during the infamous Death March. "The Japanese would order us to stop every two hours and those who were wounded, sickly and could not keep up with the march were bayoneted and left to die by the roadside." At the concentration camp in Capas, Tarlac, he recalls a time when "as many as 500 died in one day from malaria, dysentery, hunger, and these were simply dropped in well to prevent the spread of disease." Through all the hardship, however, the men of the "flying infantry" and their comrades in the resistance never lost hope. As long as they were alive, they could fight. As long as they could fight, they could still turn back the invaders.
The plight of the "planeless" Filipino airmen, many of whom learned to handle guns for the first time, typified the Philippines' ill-preparedness for war in spite of America's much-vaunted aegis. The fall of Bataan and Corregidor punctuated the failure of the US-designed national defense plan, forcing the Filipinos to rely on their own resources in the ensuing guerilla resistance. Meanwhile, the captive nation endured the war's darkest years.
After Gen. MacArthur landed in Leyte, surviving PAAC pilots and troops were shipped to the island where the Philippine Army had set up provisional headquarters. They were subsequently sent to the United States for refresher flight training.
After the Liberation
After the war, the PAAC underwent a major reorganization and its pilots were sent to the US for refresher courses. Before the end of 1943, the streamlining of the PAAC was underway. Pilots who undertook the refresher courses in the US started arriving, with new concepts and techniques gained abroad, these officers introduced modern trends in restructuring the PAAC.
Undergraduate cadets belonging to Class 42-B and 42-C of the PAAC Flying School were also sent to US flying schools to earn their wings. Following their return to the Philippines, the PAAC was reorganized by Lt. Col. John Ryan of the US Army Air Corps, who served as its acting chief until Lt. Col. Edwin Andrews returned to the country from his own training in the US.
The refresher flight training in the US did not turn out well for everyone. One high-ranking casualty was Lt. Col. Basilio Fernando who died in a B-25 crash at Enid Field, Oklahoma. (Lipa AB would later be named after him.)
The PAAC regained its flying status with the activation of the 1st Troop Carrier Squadron in September 1945 at Lipa Army AB in Batangas. The squadron was organized by Capt. Roberto Lim, a Filipino US Army officer detailed with the PAAC. As the squadron's first commander, Lim focused on building up its aircraft fleet. Starting out with only two C-47s, the squadron had a standing fleet of 22 "Gooney Birds" by the time he left the service in January 1946. On May 1, 1946 the 1st Fighter Squadron, the first tactical component of the PAAC, came to existence. This unit later became the nucleus of the famed 6th Fighter Squadron.
Following the inauguration of Philippine Independence on July 4, 1945, the PAAC acquired various types of aircraft from the US under the RP-US Mutual assistance program. These included the workhorse C-47s, P51 'Mustang', L-4 and L-5 liaison planes. The acquisition of these planes found PAAC pilot activity engaged in flying. The arrival of the C-47 transport plane named "Lili Marlene" with the first postwar batch of aircraft from the United States bore symbolic significance. The plane's landing on Philippine soil was hardly remarkable except that "Lili Marlene" was part of US military aid, which came shortly after the restoration of Philippine independence on the Fourth of July 1946. As aid, "Lili Marlene" could be considered a gift of sorts from the Americans. On the other hand, its massive presence helped breed a shortsightedness that would stunt the growth of independent strategic thinking on the part of the Air Force for many years to come.
On May 18, 1947, barely a year after first gracing Philippine skies, "Lili Marlene" flew its last. The military transport plane was flying over Mt. Makaturing in Lanao with its passenger load of high-ranking government officials when it crashed. Among the fatalities was Col. Edwin Andrews, the amiable chief of the postwar Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC), precursor of the PAF.
The PAAC mourned Andrews' death as a son would his father's passing. And not without cause. For the colonel's devotion to the Corps was well known. Less than two years earlier, shortly after his appointment as its first postwar chief, he had begun working single-mindedly toward one goal: the Corps' eventual separation from the Army as an independent service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
During a PAL flight to Naga, Camarines Sur, in July 1946 Lt. Rogers met Naty Crame, a flight attendant whom, barely five months later, would become his wife. Their relationship provided a quaint picture of the symbiosis between the Air Force and the civilian aviation sector. Like Joe and Naty, the PAF and PAL were inseparable during those early years - with adjacent stations in every airfield.
The Philippines' postwar dependence on the United States was ordained by the Americans themselves. In March 1946 the Truman Doctrine was proclaimed, stating that the United States would "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The doctrine defined the main thrust of US foreign policy in the face of an emergent rivalry for global power with what was then known as the Soviet Union.
The Truman Doctrine launched the United States' foreign military aid program for its allies and satellites in Asia, among them the Philippines. As a colony, the Philippines would receive military hardware, including aircraft and equipment sorely needed by the PAAC at the time. The same day that the Military Police was formed in anticipation of the aircraft that would be coming from the US.
In addition, three documents - the Bell Trade Act, the Military Bases Agreement and the Military Assistance Pact - would render Philippine independence virtually meaningless.
The Bell Trade Act, approved by the US Congress in October 1945, provided for free trade between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines (RP) until 1954, after which imports from either country would be taxed progressively until the full levy was reached in 1974. The same Act granted Americans equal rights and opportunities as Filipino citizens in disposing, exploiting, developing and utilizing "all agricultural, timber and mineral lands in the Philippines," along with the right to operate public utilities in the country.
The RP-US Military Bases Agreement, signed on March 14, 1947, gave the United States the right to "retain the use of bases in the Philippines" for a period of 99 years and to permit the United States to use such bases as it saw fit. (In 1966, the term of the agreement was changed to expire in 1991.)
Under the Military Assistance Pact, signed a week later, the United States promised to furnish the Philippines with arms, ammunition, equipment and supplies. It also provided for the establishment of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG). Mandated to reorganize the AFP and train its officers and personnel, the Group had free rein to influence Philippine military policies. In fact, as the clearing house for US military aid, JUSMAG was more powerful than the Philippine Congress which for many years would feel no need to appropriate funds for defense purposes. Part of military aid was the grant of scholarships to military schools in the United States. Beneficiaries of such schooling got more than just military training: they became virtual advocates of American doctrine, tactics and culture.
Together, these three documents assured the United States a secure grip on her "former" colony in the post-war years. History would later reveal that the Philippines, prostrate after the war, was left with little choice but to accept the strings attached to the grant of "independence."
Among the pilots in the new squadron was Col. (then lieutenant) Rogers who made it back from USAFFE squadron training at Randolph Field, Texas. He not only lived to see the victory parade that he envisioned amid the ruins of Clark - his sunny disposition would carry him through the tough early postwar years. After training as a transport plane pilot, Lt. Rogers got his Lipa assignment, ferrying people and cargo to and from Australia. This experience qualified him for a secondary - civilian - role, which many military pilots assumed at the time. With not enough trained aviators to go around, the PAAC and the early PAF airmen doubled up as pilots for Philippine Air Lines (PAL), Asia's first commercial passenger air service.
With that perspective, President Roxas could not have countenanced any opposition to the grant of parity rights to Americans as provided by the Bell Trade Act. But six newly-elected Congressmen from the Alliance party - which espoused the interests of peasants, workers and intellectuals - were expected to block the proposed amendment to the Philippine Constitution which would make the grant possible. President Roxas therefore engineered the passage of a resolution to unseat these oppositionists, led by erstwhile anti-Japanese guerilla leader Luis Taruc, on the grounds that they had won the election through fraud and terrorism.
What muddled the situation was that "GI Joe" was perceived to have "liberated" the Philippines from the Japanese by most Filipinos who thought little of America's failure to adequately strengthen its colony's defenses before the imminent war broke out. Ironically, the heroic efforts of the Philippine underground - including the "planeless" air force - enabled the Americans to save face and emerge as the war's main heroes.
The Filipinos' inordinately high regard for the US was reflected in the inaugural address of Philippine President Manuel A. Roxas in 1946. "The world cannot but have faith in America. For our part, we cannot but place our trust in the good intentions of the nation, which have been our friend and protector for forty-eight years. To do otherwise would be to forswear all faith in democracy, in our future and in ourselves."
President Roxas' ploy only created worse problems for his administration. Unseated, Taruc went underground and regrouped the peasant guerilla movement called the Hukbalahap, short for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (People's Army Against the Japanese) into the Hukbong Magpapalaya sa Bayan (People's Liberation Army) - or Huks. Agrarian inequity in Central Luzon stirred peasant unrest, spawning an insurgency that would prove increasingly intractable. The Huk rebellion would give the Air Force an added - some say, distorted - mission. North American P-51D Mustangs and other Air Force aircraft were enlisted in the fight against the dissidents. The anti-Huk enclaves and actual air support missions. At the height of the campaign, the Air Force flew as many as 2,600 bombing sorties against the dissidents. While these sorties would contribute to the eventual success of the military effort against the Huks, they would also sow the seeds of an internal orientation that would cost the PAF dearly in the years to come.
With the presence of American military bases as an external defense crutch and with the availability of US military aid, the "culture of dependence" was hard to resist. Apart from providing the convenience of foregoing the need for Congressional appropriations, the US card offered a pair of advantages. American arms could be acquired at a discount and bilateral agreements made US counterpart aid available for every government peso spent for military needs.
In practice, however, it was simply a continuation of the "hand-me-down" arrangement, which commenced after the First World War. The US managed to dump decommissioned (i.e. outmoded) war material in exchange for virtually unrestricted use of massive military bases in the Philippines.
Birth of the PAF
At the time of Colonel Andrews' untimely demise, the PAAC already had a base headquarters composite group at Nielsen Field (where the heart of the Makati business district is now located), air squadrons for combat, depot supply, air material, air engineering, troop movement and communication; and nine airways aviation detachments.
As it turned out, the passing of Andrews, a Filipino-American, would be a fitting symbol of the end of an era. Barely two months after his death, the Corps stepped out from under the wings of its parent organization. Under the leadership of a dynamic and equally dedicated Filipino officer, Maj. Pelagio Cruz, the PAAC came into its own as the PAF - two months ahead of the birth of the United States Air Force from the US Army Air Corps. Independence, however, would prove to be as much a process as a state. On July 1, 1947, the PAF became operationally and administratively independent of the Philippine Army and placed on an actual footing with the other services of the AFP. In another, larger sense, the PAF merely began a new leg on its long flight to real freedom.
The Pacification Campaigns
The rise of a recalcitrant group known as the HMB or 'Huks' in central Luzon in the early 50's found the PAF engaged in numerous strafing and bombing operations against the dissident force. The P-51's proved its usefulness in such well-known local operations as OMAHA, COLUMBUS, FOUR ROSES and WALING-WALING. With the sustained operations, the PAF contributed greatly in crippling the Huk movement, with most of the Huk followers surrendered voluntarily. In 1951, the Sulu Air Task Group (SATAG) was organized to support ground forces in the campaign against outlaws led by Kamlon. PAF fighter planes in the area contributed largely to the early termination of hostilities, where aircraft enlisted in both campaigns combined psychological warfare flights and actual air support mission. SATAG participation was so effective that many followers of Kamlon, either abandoned, surrendered or escaped, after experiencing the strafing and bombing operations.
The anti-Huk campaign defined the predominant nature of military tactics. The country was divided into military area commands with counterpart PAF detachments that would presage the concept of composite air support forces decades later. With forward deployment and air mobility as key tactical elements, PAF squadrons were detached from mother units and equipped to operate autonomously in the war zones.
That the Philippines under Pres. Ramon Magsaysay opted for a military solution to what was essentially a social problem betrayed strict adherence to American doctrine. The country would be trapped in this mindset in dealing with the subsequent Muslim uprising led by Hadji Kamlon, another former anti-Japanese guerilla leader, who resented, among others, the grant of Mindanao land to Huk surrenderees and enterprising Christians. The followers of Taruc and Kamlon succumbed to superior military force - best manifested by the PAF's air supremacy - but new insurgencies would surface later on due to unresolved social ills.
Transition to Jet
The Air Force began its transition to the use of jet aircraft in 1954. That year, Brig. Gen. Pelagio Cruz went on an observation tour of US Air Force installations in the United States. During that trip, he proposed the modernization of the PAF to USAF officials, who promised to present the plan to the US Congress for aid appropriations. The proposed program was approved, the following year, Col. Godofredo Juliano (one of the war heroes from the 6th Pursuit Squadron), Major Pestana, Maj. Jose Rancudo and Capt. Jose Gil - flew in an initial batch of T-33 jet trainer planes from Japan. The gleaming jets first landed at Clark AB, as nearby Basa AB could only be reconfigured to accommodate the new aircraft with additional American funds. Later more pilots were sent to the US to undergo training in various USAF schools and by 1957 the PAF acquired several F-86F MiG-killers, better known as Sabrejets, which were turned over to the government through FMS. Flight proficiency training continued in earnest and at a fast pace. After several joint aerial exercises with the USAF 13th Air Force at Clark AB, the PAF pilots proved their mettle as 'jet jockeys'. Evaluation of these aerial maneuvers showed that the PAF jet squadron' was 'combat-ready'. The 60's saw the PAF take major strides: activating an extensive radar system to monitor the air space over the archipelago and boosting its arsenal with a fleet of supersonic F-5A/B "Freedom Fighters" armed with AIM-9B missiles. The PAF entered the supersonic jet age with Northrop F-5A/B 'Freedom Fighter' fighters on August 29, 1965. The PAF received 19 F-5As and three F-5Bs for use by the 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Basa AB. The first aircraft arrived on October 25, 1966 to replace the F-86 Sabre in the air defense role. The aircraft all retained their USAF serial numbers, which were 64-13310/113313, 64-13320/13324, 65-10499/10507, 66-9148/9150, 64-13379/13380, and 65-10589. Indeed, the PAF then was probably the best in the region. To augment this force the PAF bought 35 retired USN F-8H 'Crusader' in the mid-70's, which LTV refurbished about 25 units, but corrosion, unserviceability and lack of spare parts forced their retirement in 1986. The PAF dominated the sky not simply because it had more jets than its neighbors, but because if flew them with precision and a daring spirit. This skill was distinctly illustrated in the PAF Blue Diamonds.
The quality of the hardware was matched by the superb flying skills of the Air Force pilots, as epitomized by the Blue Diamonds. Formed in 1953 by 1st Lt. Jose Gonzalez and other ace pilots from the Basa-based 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 5th Fighter Wing, the Blue Diamonds excelled in precision aerobatic flying. Maj. Gen. Pedro Q. Molina, a hero of the Bataan resistance who became PAF Commander in 1958, described the Blue Diamonds as the team that "symbolizes the degree of professional competence, air discipline, teamwork and proficiency which are essential requirements of a potent and effective combat-ready air arm. The precision of the Filipino airman's capacity to adapt himself with the rapid change in modern aerial warfare."
Shifting from P-51s to F-86s to F-5s with consummate and deceptive ease, the Blue Diamonds were deemed Asia's answer to the renowned Thunderbirds of the USAF by the 60s. At one point, the team consisted of an astonishing 16-plane formation with the same facility for turns, rolls, loops, "bomb bursts" and mid-air re-groupings as the conventional four-plane diamond formation. That particular team was led by then Capt. Angel Mapua, whose equal facility with words showed the quality and well-rounded training of Filipino airmen in those years. Describing their unprecedented 16-plane salute in his memoirs, Gen. Mapua wrote: "We regrouped at 1,000 feet like a flight of birds seeking the stream of warm air among the clouds before heading back to the coastline. I was the only one with the full view of the panorama; the rest were totally focused on me and my extensions, maintaining our diamond pattern through countless small fractional adjustments. Held tight by a quickening excitement and bursting pride, we passed, screaming behind the grandstand at low level, briefly acknowledging the applause from the rising audience, briefly relishing a photographer's quick-silver moment of catching 16 Sabrejets storming in formation over the Domestic Airport, briefly knowing that, at last, we were doing it precisely as we long wanted it done."
Lt. Gen. Antonio Sotelo (Ret.) candidly sums up how it felt in those days: "The Air Force was at its peak in the Sixties. I was a young captain then, and even the fuel, my uniform, my helmet - everything - was paid for by the Americans. When I commanded an F-5 squadron, I had 22 brand-new F-5s. Our maintenance personnel were also trained by the Americans. You could say that it was United States Air Force run by Filipinos."
The United States' paranoia over communist insurgencies - particularly in light of developments in China, Korea and Eastern Europe - would keep the PAF fairly well equipped at the height of the Cold War. At one point, the Air Force had more P-51 Mustang fighter planes than it had pilots. In fact, the PAF would lead the way among air forces in the Southeast Asian region for nearly three decades. Its top-flight reputation made the PAF a welcome volunteer to a number of United Nations (UN) missions.
In June 1950, North Korean troops supported by Soviet tanks and artillery poured across the 38th parallel and quickly overwhelmed the lightly armed South Korean forces. So explosive was the Korean situation that the newly created UN Security council appealed the assistance from UN members to help South Korea repel the armed attack. Responding quickly to this appeal, the AFP organized the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) to fight along with other UN forces. The PAF participation consisted of a small unit designated as an air-to-ground liaison section. This unit was composed of Capt. Josefino Parenas, Sgt. Carlos Toralba and Sgt. Dominador Jimeney. The latter was captured during an engagement and was held as a POW until the truce at Panmonjon. Col. Benito Ebuan served as a military observer, flying his aircraft close to enemy lines.
In 1962, UN Secretary Dag Hammerskjold asked for support from the Philippine government in the form of an air tactical squadron to help neutralize airborne secessionists in the troubled Congo (later Zaire), in Africa. Early in 1963, the 9th Tactical Squadron, better known as 'Limbas' was thus activated with Col. Jose Rancudo as commander. The 9th TFS thus became the first Philippine air unit to be assigned in a foreign nation. The crack Filipino pilots flying Sabrejets, in tandem with Swedish and Iranian fighter units, was attached to the UN forces for cargo for several months and ably secured the air space over the African rebel province - earning the UN Service Medal for every member of the 'Limbas Squadron'.
That same year, the PAF distinguished itself in a mercy mission to the remote town of Tjulik in Bali, Indonesia following the eruption of Mt. Gunung Agung on March 17, 1963, causing extensive damage to property, and death and suffering to thousands. Air Force paramedics joined a team of doctors and nurses from the Department of Health in treating and vaccinating thousands of evacuees at a makeshift field hospital. During the entire duration of the mission, the PAF team operated by administering inoculations of anti-typhoid, cholera, dysentery and small pox vaccine in a massive medical drive. The teams inoculated an estimated 10,785 people. Seven PAF C-47s ferried the team, along with medical supplies and relief goods, to Tjulik, earning the admiration and gratitude of the Indonesian government and people.
In 1966, the South Vietnamese requested the Philippine government for assistance. The government decided to send the Philippine Civic Action Group to Vietnam (PhilCAG-V). A large number of PAF personnel volunteered to serve and about nine officers and a hundred airmen were chosen. Lt. Col. Isidro Agunod, Chief of Air section of HQ, PHILCAG-V distinguished himself by flying 1,700 flying hours to help locate and destroy the mortars and rockets which frequently harassed the PHILCAG-V base camp in Tay Ninh.
In the mid-Sixties, the PAF activated civic action centers as a component of the fight against insurgency. These centers were set up to help civilian communities near Air Force facilities in running and benefiting from community development projects ranging from food production to adult literacy classes. In addition, all PAF tactical units - realizing that victory did not lie solely in the battlefield - took part in social amelioration projects in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the masses.
At the same time, the PAF's material acquisition increasingly took on a counter-insurgency bias. In 1969, the Air Force acquired a fleet of Vietnam War-vintage UH-1H 'Huey' helicopters which would be instrumental in taking ground troops to and from mountain and jungle battlefields.
The decline of the Huk movement and the suppression of the Kamlon-led Muslim uprising in the 50's afforded the PAF - and the rest of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) - the opportunity to develop a true external defense orientation and to use international benchmarks as its guide for further modernization. However, the basic issues of social inequity and uneven development raised by the dissidents remained largely unresolved despite the land reform initiative of President Diosdado Macapagal. This led to the rise of twin insurgencies - one led by the Maoist New People's Army (NPA), the other, by Muslim secessionists in Mindanao. This, plus the convenient presence at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay of US troops armed to the teeth for Vietnam War action, pulled the PAF further inward.
In June 1972, a U-17 reconnaissance plane confirmed the presence off the coast of Digoyo Point in Isabela of a fishing vessel (MV Karagatan) loaded with high-powered firearms and ammunitions for the NPA. Intercepted by the AFP's Task Force Palanan, MV Karagatan gave the Armed Forces a measure of the growing strength of the insurgency. The Air Force organized the Composite Air Support Force (CASF) under the 1st Air Division to assist Task Force Palanan in terms of comprehensive airlift, communications equipment, personnel and medical air evacuation support. Using jet fighters, Hueys, U-17s and converted T-34 trainer planes, Air Force pilots went on bombing and strafing sorties, and daily reconnaissance missions.
By the 1970s, the PAF had a full complement of bases and airfields, including landing strips in the archipelago's outermost fringes, including Sulu and the Kalayaan Islands. The years that followed found the PAF not only engaged in sustained training but a dynamic partner in nation building in such activities as aerial photography, rainmaking/cloud seeding, infrastructure, airport development and supervision and airlift of relief goods for victims of natural calamities, air evacuation of patients, civic action including the conduct of courses for out-of-school youths, SAR missions, peace and order drives and myriad other projects the most important of which is its Self-Reliant program. Several months prior to the proclamation of Martial Law, the PAF undertook massive aerial support to AFP troops engaged in operations against dissidents in the Cagayan valley, particularly in Isabela. It has also given maximum support to relief agencies during the disastrous floods which hit central Luzon in July 1972.
In September 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed martial law, claiming that the insurgents had put the state in grave danger. Far from suppressing the pockets of armed rebellion, however, the dictatorship only succeeded in further fanning insurgent flames. Over the next 14 years, the Air Force would give government troops the mobility and firepower to keep the well-entrenched rebels at bay despite often-heavy casualties on both sides. The cost of the long counter-insurgency war to the PAF would go far beyond human lives, misplaced strategic priorities and rapid depletion of meager resources. It led to a steady decline in the external defense capability of the Air Force.
"We almost lost that war," recalls Brig. Gen. Ciriaco Reconquista (Ret.), who as a transport plane pilot flew hundreds upon hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers from the battlefields of Mindanao and ferried troops repeatedly from NPA-infested areas in Luzon to the MNLF front. "The (Muslim) rebels were better-armed." In terms of firepower, the military had only one sustainable advantage: the Air Force. At no time was this power wielded more dramatically than in November 1972 at the battle of Sibalu Hill in Sulu near the southern tip of the Philippines. By dawn, wave upon wave of F-5 and F-86 fighters, as well as T-33 jets and C-47 gunships, took off for Jolo every minute - bombarding the enemy camp accurately and relentlessly. After each sortie - some pilots flew three sorties during that attack - the aircraft would dart back to Mactan to reload. Before the morning was over, helicopters landed at Sibalu Hill to extricate the Marines that narrowly escaped a massacre. A few months later, the Air Force would again play a vital support role in the massive military counter-offensive in the central Mindanao province of Cotabato. By early 1973, the MNLF forces had virtually surrounded Cotabato City and the Awang airport complex. With overseas support for training and arms, the rebels were gearing up for riverine and land attacks to seize the seat of government in Central Mindanao. This would complete the first step in their grand plan to turn Mindanao, Palawan and the Sulu chain of islands into the Bangsa Moro Republic.
Gen. Reconquista - then a lieutenant in charge of A3 (Operations) - remembers having been on duty that Sunday at Villamor AB. Shortly after noon, he received the first of a series of frantic calls from Jolo, Sulu, requesting air support to extricate a battalion of marines trapped within the MNLF strong-hold. Lt. Col. Reconquista immediately alerted Basa AB to make available all aircraft and sent transport planes to load armaments. By the time Gen. Rancudo, then PAF chief was located to give the deployment orders, no less than 60 planes and choppers were ready to fly to Mactan - the staging area for the air assault. Air Force Col. Pompeyo Vasquez was flown in from Jolo to brief the pilots on the situation at Sibalu Hill. The marines and the rebels were within shouting distance of one another: it was imperative to determine their exact positions. That same evening, Col. Vasquez flew back to Jolo where he would orchestrate the attack as air controller the following morning. To thwart the Cotabato rebel attack, the Central Mindanao Command (CEMCOM), headed by Brig. Gen. Fortunato Abat of the Philippine Army, enlisted the support of every branch of the Armed Forces, as well as paramilitary civilian home defense forces. Aside from airlifting troops from Manila and Cebu to the war zone, the PAF swooped into the thick of battle. Composite Air Support Force Cotabato (CASFCOT) fielded Huey choppers, rocket-bearing U-17 aircraft and C-47 gunships as CEMCOM troops advanced to recapture town after town from rebel hands. The liberation of the town of Maganoy on April 2, 1973 hinged on a risky air mobile operation in which six Hueys had to execute a tight spiral - one after the other - from 5,000 feet to a marked landing spot at the town plaza to insert elements of the 22nd Infantry Battalion. From March to August 1973, the PAF provided air cover and tactical support to ground forces, interdicted waterborne rebel reinforcements, broke up rebel concentrations and blasted fuel and ammunition dumps. The military attack culminated in the two-month campaign to destroy the well-secured rebel logistics base in Barrio Tran, Lebak and to restore government control over the town. Secondary explosions following a series of air strikes heralded the success of the mission. From there, CEMCOM gained the initiative and shifted to unconventional warfare as the rebels, in Gen. Abat's assessment, began resorting to "harassment, limited attacks, depredations, sabotage and terrorism...to keep their image of strength."
In the mid 70's, The PAF received armed T-28 'Trojans' which were used in COIN operations, Nineteen SF.260WP 'Warrior' were allocated for training and light strike duties. Under the New Society, the PAF has accomplished the establishment of air mail routes to rural areas for cultural minorities and squatters, the training of reserve forces, food production and the manufacture of aircraft as well as the conversions of others in line with the government's Self-Reliant program.
Even as the Muslim secessionist movement waned in the face of peace and diplomatic initiatives, the military found no respite as it confronted the growing NPA threat on several fronts.
The PAF played a pivotal role during the February revolution in 1986, with the defection of the armed S-76 helicopters of the 15th Strike Wing from the Marcos administration on February 24, led by Col. Sotelo, and then Squadron Commander Maj. Charles Hotchkiss. That decision irreversibly tilted the balance against the dictatorship. Later that morning, a 15th Strike Wing gunship, steered by Capt. Wilfredo Evangelista, was dispatched to fire warning shots at Malacañang in a show of rebel superiority. At noon, three rebel gunships neutralized the air power of "loyalist" forces at Villamor AB. The PAF was back in the service of the Filipino people. This ushered the defection of other key units to the Enrile-Ramos forces, which brought early resolution to the revolution.
Following the expiry of the parity rights agreement in 1974, the Americans began to leverage the provisions of the Military Assistance Pact. Straightforward aid gave way to a credit system that tied Philippine resources to difficult repayment schemes. Meanwhile, maintenance costs spiraled as the first global oil crisis blew fuel prices sky-high. As the economy took a turn for the worse by the early 1980s, the PAF felt a severe strain on its resources in the sustained war against the insurgents. Fortunately, the courage and skill of the Air Force men and women never wavered, enabling the AFP to maintain air superiority despite dwindling resources.
The desire to the authoritarian government to perpetuate itself in power also caused stagnation in professional advancement within the Armed Forces in favor of certain "trusted" generals. This proved an ideal breeding ground for demoralization among young officers. Thus began the politicization of the military, along with the rest of Philippine society.
Sotelo describes how his views changed when the dictatorship's abuses became apparent: "As a fighter pilot, my participation in the counter-insurgency and the secessionist conflict in the South was purely professional. You live in a base, fly to the scene of conflict, drop your bomb. Little by little, you ask yourself, who is the real villain, the rebels or lazy officials who steal public funds?"
From 1986 to 1990, rightist military factions, wary that the government of Pres. Corazon Aquino had become "too soft" on communists, attempted a series of coup d'etats. Without adequate civilian and military backing, however, the putschists failed to topple the newly restored democracy. But the attempted coups exacted a heavy toll on the PAF and the rest of the Armed Forces. Not only did the Air Force have to work hard to restore unity within the command, it also had to deal with the extensive damage sustained by its air and ground assets. During the crucial air strike led by Maj. Danilo Atienza against rebel forces in Sangley Field on 2 December 1989, for instance, seven T-28s, one Sikorsky helicopter and a fuel depot were destroyed.
A few months before that bloody coup attempt in 1989, the Air Force made a move whose significance may not have been widely or readily appreciated. Air Force Day was celebrated on the 1st of July that year instead of on the 2nd of May as had been the practice since 1937. The change was made by order of Pres. Aquino through Proclamation No. 397. The original date marked the 1936 flight by Lt. William Lee of a Stearman plane, an event that inaugurated the Philippine Army Air Corps' actual flying operations. The new anniversary day, on the other hand, recalled the date when the PAAC was renamed the PAF and promoted from an Army unit to a major branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The change served an important symbolic purpose. Centuries of colonial experience are often said to have spawned self-denigrating, xenophilic Filipinos, for whom almost everything foreign is deemed superior to almost all that is Philippine or Filipino. It is equally true, however, that the thought of centuries of colonial abuse has stoked nationalistic fervor in as many, if not more, Filipinos over the years. The same phenomenon has evidently been the case within the Air Force, as with many Filipino organizations. The committees that recommended the change cited "growing nationalist sentiment (within the PAF)" that the Air Force should disengage itself from its "colonial moorings." Celebrating the test flight of an American pilot seemed hardly the way to do that. In yet another stroke of irony, however, two US Phantom jets streaked across the Makati afternoon sky on December 2, 1989 as negotiations to end the bloody coup ensued below. This demonstration of US support to the Aquino government - which really had no tactical significance after Maj. Atienza and two other F-5 pilots disabled the rebels' air assets at Sangley earlier that day - was a none-too-subtle reminder of the many nuances of freedom. Again, quite a number of Filipinos saw the Americans as "saviors" - overlooking the feats of real heroes like Maj. Atienza (who was killed in action and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor) who turned the tide against the rebels.
Brig. Gen. Ramon Farolan, the first "post-EDSA" PAF chief, sought to capture the spirit of the times by urging Air Force officers and men to "go back to the basics" and "repay a thousand-fold the (people's) trust and confidence in the military." He was alluding to the two principal challenges of his transitional leadership: to restore unity among the officers and personnel of the PAF which the dictatorship and the resulting politicization of the military shattered; and to regain the civilian populace's trust in the military which 20 years of martial rule had eroded. Many top-ranking officers with over-extended terms were finally retired, clearing the way for the promotion of deserving younger officers.
During his term as commander, Brig. Gen. Sotelo sought to restore the PAF's high professional standards by instituting the "no flight, no pay" policy for all rated officers, reviving the merit system as the basis for promotion, and laying the groundwork for the remodernization of the Air Force. This paved the way for the formulation of a five-year PAF development plan, the decentralization of resource management and the acquisition of the S-211 aircraft, MG 520 Defender helicopters, and aero/ground support equipment under the watch of Maj. Gen. Jose de Leon. Politicization of the AFP, however, had not been completely undone.
Shift to External Defense
For a long time, the country relied on the USAF's 13th AF based at Clark AB for air defense, but with the withdrawal of the Americans in 1991. Like poetic justice, however, the final irony in the history of the PAF would put things aright barely two years later. On September 16, 1991 the nation finally cut the umbilical cord of military dependence on the United States as the Philippine Senate repudiated the RP-US Military Bases Agreement. The bold move, long overdue, forced the AFP to look seriously at building a credible capability to defend a nation on its own. By abandoning what for decades had seemed its main source of strength, the PAF and the rest of the Armed Forces finally unlocked the key to their renewal. Meanwhile, a sustained government policy of approachment with erstwhile insurgents freed the military to focus on its primordial mission of external defense. To Lt. Gen. Loven Abadia, the PAF chief at the time of the withdrawal of US military forces from the Philippines, this meant a quick shift from the focus on de-politicization and support of democracy to a firm conviction to modernize the Air Force in the face of great odds. Abadia would later find out that PAF modernization was not easy to sell to a public suspicious of large budgetary appropriations for the military - no thanks to the residual effects of the martial law era. It was up to subsequent senior military officers to convince the people's representatives in Congress that without a modernized AFP (and, with it, a more credible Air Force), the country's security would always remain fragile, particularly in a world order driven by economic competitiveness among nations.
Of course, the PAF was no stranger to such difficult circumstances. Confronted by great odds throughout its history, the PAF learned its lessons well. The Air Force came to realize that its true strength lies in its immense reservoir of courage and talent. Armed with this knowledge, the PAF welcomed the challenge to turn itself into a self-reliant air shield as the biggest step in its long flight toward full freedom.
Lt. Gen. Leopoldo S. Acot Jr. has successfully continued the modernization program of the PAF. He also pursued the other three guiding policies of his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Loven C Abadia. He worked on the upgrading of the recruitment standards. Six more MG 520 gunships and five UH-IH "Hueys" were acquired by the Command. Lt. Gen. Acot Jr. was also guided by his own principles which are: Austerity in activities, celebrations and life-styles; Self-help in performing duties; Lean or incline and compact force resources; and quality performance. Upon his retirement on December 13, 1993, Lt. Gen. Nicasio P Rodriguez Jr. (then Brig Gen) assumed the command of the PAF. Command policies of Lt. Gen. Rodriguez are: Proficiency on air operations; Maximum utilization of Air Force resources particularly on air assets; Personnel must make up in excellence and practice the art of public relations. With these four policies, Lt. Gen Rodriguez stressed on discipline, moral and welfare sub-proficiency, operational safety and social relevance. He bowed out from the service on December 26, 1995 and Lt. Gen. Arnulfo Acedera Jr. assumed the command of the same date. Lt. Gen Acedera. in his acceptance speech stressed on decisive leadership, professional knowledge and dogged determination to uplift the credibility of the PAF's defense and developmental capabilities. On 28th November 1996, he became the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
With the designation of Lt. Gen. Acedera Jr. as Chief of Staff, AFP, Lt. Gen. William K. Hotchkiss III assumed Command of the PAF on November 28, 1996. His philosophy of command depend on the mission, comradeship and transparency. He believes that mission encompasses vision, leadership and method/knowledge. "Comradeship is the adhesive that binds us together", he said. It led to a unified work in any establishment especially in a military environment. He pointed out that the command should conduct its affairs in an atmosphere of transparency if only to enhance mutual trust and confidence if not respect within the organization. During his term , the concept of "One Mission, Many Roles" was aptly envisioned to refocus the PAF strategy for an optimized utilization of its limited air assets and ground support facilities amidst the gloomy backdrop of limited fund support and the delay in the implementation of the Modernization Program.
Air Operations, which is the centerpiece of PAF organization, have posted significant milestones in combat operations, combat support, logistics runs, maritime surveillance and patrol, weather modification, search and rescue and disaster relief operations, even as most impressive of which may be its low incidence of aircraft accident.
Special non-traditional projects like Cooperative Development geared for the empowerment of the great many against economic difficulties; Mural, Monument and Aerospace Museum projects that promote efforts in the field of history and arts; environmental protection and preservation projects specifically Adopt-A-Mountain, River in the Sky, Eco-Scouting and Youth Summer Camp, and Eagle Foundation all intended to assist the national government in the long term. After a three year of PAF stewardship Lt. Gen. William Hotchkiss III has bowed out of the service on January 8, 1999 and relinquished the Command to Lt. Gen. Willie C. Florendo.
The first guideline of Maj. Gen. Florendo in leading the PAF command is Professionalism which deals on the relevant skills of individual person. An Air Force man who will not only excel in his field but lead a righteous lifestyle; esteemed in his community and exemplary in character. Second is productivity which is a way to enhance mission accomplishment. Thus involved quality management, safety consciousness and self reliance; potential discoveries to maximize the creative use of resources in the whole organization. The 3rd guideline is Pro-soldier initiative which enhance moral and welfare programs geared to uplift the family life of the individual soldier in support of the pro-poor thrusts of the national leadership.
The Air Force men will go back to brilliant basic: That is to put a premium on progressive education and technical training. That the battle space will be intensely knowledge-based. That a competent human base is essential not only for efficiency but for an Air Force that can deliver and an Air Force with a high sense of esprit de corps. The command will modernize PAF schools; training process, equipment and standards. Another is the making of an air power institute and the increase of C-130's and helicopter because they do not only transport combat troops but they are the lifeline of our people in time of calamities.
The twenty-sixth (26th) CG, PAF is Lt. Gen. Benjamin, P. Defensor Jr. (then Maj Gen) who assumed the position on October 10, 2000. Since our mandate is not only to secure parcels of landmass but the territorial integrity of our nation. CG, PAF Lt. Gen. Benjamin Defensor Jr., believed that we must build up core capabilities essential for our country's first line of military defense, that we must nave the capabilities to prosecute campaign decisively and as mandated, even independently. To contribute to a strong Armed Forces by having a credible Air Force through right tactical powers and a modern air defense system. This program, he said will be implemented using two complimentary but separate approaches; One is regular program and the other is the modernization budget. The approach is intended to increase the operational readiness rate of existing aircraft.
There is a need for an active partnership and affiliated reserve units, the business and academic sector for joint venture of PAF training and planning in the areas of technology and strategic confrontation especially in electronic warfare. There will be a change but it is a change with concern giving priority to the moral and welfare of the men especially those in the field. The Commanding General said "We will take care of them, so that we bring out the best from them. "
On September 12, 2002 Lt. Gen. Defensor was relieved by Lt. Gen. Nestor Santillan when he became the Chief of Staff, AFP. As a CG, PAF, Lt. Gen. Nestor Santillan is guided by two (2) principles: 1) Knowing what imperatives are dictated by mission of the PAF 2) And the principle of simplicity that is keeping focused on the essentials of these mission imperatives.
He has outlined the five (5) cornerstones of his command such as: 1) A Strong Air Force for a strong Republic 2) Doctrinal Renewal 3) Smart Modernization and 4) First Force of the people and 5) Aircraft Recovery program. His five (5) objectives of running the PAF are guided by his two (2) principles mentioned above. A total of 32 aircraft was recovered and put back into commission and 21 were still in the pipeline when he retired from the service.
When Lt. Gen. Santillan bowed out in the service, Maj. Gen. Arcadio L. Seron was designated to take charge of the Command in an acting capacity from May 14, 2004 to July 7, 2004. Lt. Gen. Jose L. Reyes assumed as CG, PAF on July 7, 2004. He is guided by six (6) Command Trusts such as: Capability enhancement, Unit preparedness, Infrastructure Development, Human Resource Development and meritocracy, Organizational Streamlining and Doctrine Development. His specific guidance and personnel/ administration and logistics.
Today, the Philippine Air Force - its involvement in counter-insurgency battles lessened by a government bent on reconciliation with rebel forces - is focusing on modernization. The PAF is strengthening its capability to pursue its multi-spectrum mission in times of both war and peace. With women now flying as part of its force (since 1992), the PAF airmen are prepared to ascend to the challenges of their role, as servants of a people experiencing a generally peaceful and progressive environment. Buoyed by the optimism of the times and guided by their mission, they look back at fifty years of turbulence and turmoil, and focus on the glory years of an Air Force once considered the region's best. With wings somehow meant to soar, the Filipino airman looks skyward towards the future, when the PAF is once more distinguished as one of the best and most admired forces in the world.
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