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Opinion

Lt. Gen. Connor Canlas and PAF Diamond Year

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

Sometime in January 1987, Third Class Cadet Connor Canlas was called out from formation with instructions to report to PMA Superintendent Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Biazon. His father, PAF Col. Oscar Canlas, was the leader of some 300 soldiers who had taken over the GMA television station. They were protesting the release of captured Communist leaders and NPA commanders, as well as the presence of a number of leftists in the Cabinet of the new government. After days of protracted negotiations, Canlas surrendered to Gen. Fidel Ramos and was placed under detention from 1987 to 1992.

One would think that with such agitation in the family, the young Canlas would be thoroughly distracted, if not distraught, affecting negatively his academic studies and training. Instead, he remained focused on his mission, exhibiting to a high degree a quality expected from leaders – stability under pressure. He finished No. 5 in the class of 1989. His father, who was then in prison, would attend his graduation incognito.

After a short stay with the Philippine Constabulary, he opted to join the Air Force, following in his father’s footsteps. In May 1993, First Lieutenant Canlas won his military aviation wings. Graduating No. 1 in his flying class, he received the Presidential Saber from President Fidel V. Ramos, his father’s captor, plus the McMicking Award for Best Flying Performance. This time, his father was around to share in the glory of a son’s achievements. In December last year, General Canlas was appointed the 38th Commanding General of the PAF by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Last Friday, 1 July, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presided over the 75th (Diamond) Founding Anniversary of the PAF, making it the first major service command to honor the new Commander-in-Chief. Ironically, it was Air Force helicopter gunships of the 15th Strike Wing, led by Col. Antonio Sotelo, that turned the tide against president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the critical days of February 1986, by defecting to rebel forces under secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel V. Ramos at Camp Crame. Today the head of the Air Force under President BBM just happens to be the son of an Air Force officer who moved against the Cory government a year after EDSA.

Background on the Air Force anniversary.

For many years after the grant of political independence by the United States, the PAF marked Air Force Day on the second day of May each year. It was on this day in 1936 that Lt. William Lee, a US Army Air Corps pilot, test flew a Stearman biplane over Zablan Field near Camp Aguinaldo. The aircraft was the first to be purchased by the Commonwealth government for use by the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC).

In May 1986 after the EDSA revolt, the PAF marked its Golden Anniversary (1936-1986) with the Blue Diamond acrobatic team returning to the skies after some years of absence. President Cory Aquino was the guest of honor and she was accompanied by the AFP chief-of-staff, General Ramos. But three years later, President Aquino signed Presidential Proclamation no. 397, moving Air Force Day from May 2 to July 1.

Two reasons were advanced for the change: First, it was on July 1, 1947 that the PAAC was re-designated as the PAF and raised to major service command category. Second, nationalist sentiments called for the Air Force to disengage from its colonial moorings. And so, on July 1, 1997 the Air Force for a second time marked its Golden Anniversary (1947-1997) under Lt. Gen. William Hotchkiss III, CG, PAF. In a formal dinner setting at the Westin Philippine Plaza grand ballroom, the PAF marked the day by honoring all past commanding generals of the Air Force. Of the 25 who led the PAF since July 1946, 11 were present to acknowledge remembrance from the organization. Others were not available while two died in line of duty – Col. Edwin B. Andrews who perished in the crash of his transport plane Lili Marlene in Lanao and Brig. Gen. Benito Ebuen who died with President Ramon Magsaysay and others on the slopes of Mt. Manunggal in Cebu.

Last June 17 the PAF led by Lt. Gen. Connor Canlas celebrated its Diamond Anniversary at the ballroom of Sheraton Manila hotel, by honoring 17 stakeholders who through the years contributed much to the development of Air Force facilities and base infrastructure as well as in the acquisition of additional air assets and systems that were not part of regular budgeting measures.

Among the 17 were Senator Sonny Angara, Secretary Mark Villar, Congressmen Velasco, Romero, Aglipay and Tupas, as well as businessmen Ramon Ang and Manuel Pangilinan. Government agencies such as DPWH, Land Bank of the Philippines, PAGASA and private organizations PLDT, Philippine Air Asia, ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation were also cited by the Air Force chief.

The guest of honor was the AFP Vice Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria. Among those present was Lt. General Antonio Sotelo, the 17th head of the Air Force who was the incumbent CG, PAF when the father of the present CG was arrested and detained. It is events such as have been mentioned that makes history come alive, providing us with a better understanding and appreciation of the past.

We join the voices of many friends and colleagues in wishing our Air Force many more years of continued growth and development in the service of the nation. Lipad, PAF!

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Email: [email protected]

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