1920 - 1921
The establishment of airfields
on the various islands was a slow and difficult process. Negotiation for
the purchase of land for airfield sites was heated as landowners attempted
to raise land prices in the belief that they would ultimately be paid by
the Government. The establishment of the airmail delivery was also slow,
with few commercial commitments. These factors, along with the expense
of establishing and operating a fledgling Air Service that continued to
grow beyond the existing budget, took its toll.
Soon the spiraling expense
of the Air Service forced the Militia Commission to create an Emergency
Board for the beleaguered service to review and approve all expenses. Based
upon their current and projected expenditures, the board recommended only
50 percent of the appropriations for the operation of the Philippine Air
Service to the Council of State, and this amount was not even a guarantee
for the service's operation.
By April 1921, the .Emergency
Board recommended and further reduced the funding of the Philippine Air
Service by 100,000 pesos. They believed that the 420,000-peso annual operating
budget was far too high considering "this is a new activity whose needs
were not felt before it was created." The Emergency Board and the Council
of State did not have the vision to comprehend the long-term value of aviation
for commercial or military purposes.
Despite the cries of the
Philippine Air Service's critics, some political leaders fought to keep
the Air Service alive. Representative Leuterio, a member of both the Emergency
Board and the Militia Commission, argued with eloquence and determination
that the "Philippine Air Service was needed for both communications and
the defense of the Islands." Leuterio also pointed out that the bulk of
the Service's largest expenses had already been incurred with the purchase
of aircraft, hangars, and the hiring of technical advisors who were under
one-year contracts. But his argument fell upon deaf ears.
By August, 1921, the Philippine
Air Service's budget had been cut to the bone, with barely enough funding
to cover the cost of fuel. The Militia Commission decided. to reduce expenses
further by releasing three pilots and keeping the remaining three at half
their former salary. Lieutenants Zablan and Fernando returned to the Constabulary
and Captain Reyes, the Air Service's Executive Officer resigned from the
Philippine Air Service. The remaining pilots, Calvo, Perez and Malinao,
could see on the horizon the end of the Philippine Air Service.
The final deathblow to the
fledgling Philippine Air Service came with the change in Administration
in Washington, D.C. With the election of a Republican President, Warren
G. Harding, there was a change in the administration of the Philippine
Islands. The new Governor General, Leonard Wood, with the aid of William
Cameron Forbes, began a fact-finding mission on the progress the Islands
had made toward self-sufficiency and independence. Wood had run for the
Republican Presidential nomination against Warren G. Harding and after
losing his party's nomination, threw his support behind Harding and helped
him to win the Presidency. The appointment of Wood as Governor General
of the Philippine Islands was his reward.
The new Administration took
little time to criticize former Governor General Harrison and his Filipinization
programs. Wood declared that "the Philippines would not be ready for independence
for some time." He quickly alienated Filipino leadership who favored independence
and proceeded to curb the steps taken by Harrison during his administration
that would have helped the Islands to become commercially and militarily
independent. One area that Wood considered unnecessary was a Philippine
Air Service manned by Filipinos. So with a stroke of a pen. Governor General
Leonard Wood ended the first indigenous Air Service in Asia.
The Philippine Air Service
formally ended when all its aircraft, spare parts, equipment, and hangars
at Camp Claudio were handed over to the U.S. Army Air Service. These aircraft,
including four Jennys, two F-5Ls and 3 HS-2Ls, were eventually sold. The
Bureau of Plant Industry acquired two of the Jennys, which were used for
agricultural aerial spraying with Leoncio Malinao as pilot. Curtiss
School of Aviation graduate Alfredo Camelo purchased one of
the Jennys as did an American pilot named Lefert.
The demise of the Philippine
Air Service marked the end of the first Filipino Military Air Service in
the Islands. It would be another 15 years before native Filipino military
pilots would take to the skies with their own silver wings. With that,
the Philippine Air Service faded into aviation history.
Special thanks to the
following individuals who provided invaluable assistance in preparing this
article: Capt. Albert Anido; Daniel Hagedom; Donald Lopez; R.E.G. Davies
and Philip D. Edwards.
About the Author
T.N. Suarez serves as the Director of The National Air and Space Society
at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. As Director of the
Society, Joe is directly involved in the fundraising efforts in support
of the building of the new National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy
Center which will open at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2003.
avid collector and historian, Joe has researched various aspects of military
unit histories pertaining to the Imperial Russian Army, the Imperial German
Navy, the early Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Scout Regiments
prior to World War II for over 25 years. He is a marketing executive with
a degree in Government .and Polities from the University of Maryland.
with the kind permission of Mr. Joseph T.N. Suarez,
the Skyways, The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940, No. 58, April 2001,
pp 51 - 57.