About Basilio Fernando, after whom Fernando Air Base – home of the Air Education, Training and Doctrine Command of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) – in Lipa, Batangas was named, the official PAF web site has this to say: “a Philippine airman who was killed in the United States on 21 January 1946 during a training flight on a B-25 Mitchell medium Bomber in Oklahoma, USA1.”
Fernando was not a Batangueño. He was born on the 14th of June 1895, the year before the outbreak of the Philippine revolt against Spanish colonial rule, in the town of San Mateo in the Province of Rizal2. However, as the reader will discover later in this article, Fernando had, in fact, more to do with Batangas History than merely having an air base named after him.
Although he would build a name and distinguish himself in the military, Fernando, in fact, started his career in civil law enforcement with the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary3, the predecessor of the Philippine National Police4, earning a commission as a 3rd Lieutenant after graduation in October 1917.
Before long, Fernando would become one of just thirty-three young officers selected to train to become the first-ever Filipino aviators at the Curtiss Aviation School in Parañaque. Such was the historical significance of their graduation that no less than Francis Burton Harrison, Governor-General of the Philippines from 1913 to 19215, attended the event to present the new “aeronauts,” as they were then called, their wings6.
The American colonial government intended to employ the new pilots “in the mail air service that is soon to be established and in commercial transportation7.” Fernando, thus, became a pioneer of the fledgling Philippine Air Service (PAS), established in 1920 to carry passengers and air mail between Manila and Iloilo, Cebu and Zamboanga8.
In 1934, the Philippine Legislature created the Philippine Constabulary Air Corps (PCAC)9, and Fernando had the distinction of being appointed as first commander of the new organization’s tactical company10. The following year, responding to threats of Japanese expansionism in Asia, the Philippine Commonwealth passed the National Defense Act, which called for the creation of the Philippine Army. The new Philippine Army was, for all intents and purposes, the former Philippine Constabulary11. The PCAC would then become the Philippine Army Air Corps or PAAC.
The next few years would see significant milestones in Fernando’s career. In April of 1939, Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon appointed him as the first Filipino Director of the Bureau of Aeronautics. In August 1941, he was promoted to the rank of major12.
That same month, the PAAC, which at the time was under Fernando’s command, became the first unit of the Philippine Army inducted by General Douglas MacArthur into the newly-organized United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE)13.
After the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in April and May, respectively, of 1942, Fernando, like many USAFFE officers and enlisted men, joined the underground resistance against the Japanese occupation. Ramon Farolan, in an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, wrote that Fernando “joined the underground movement providing vital information to the Allies under the cover of buying and selling firewood14.”
This must have been in Batangas, as evidenced by documents submitted by the Rillo-Neri Unit guerrilla organization that operated out of the town of Balayan, Batangas to the United States Army in its bid to gain official recognition.
One such document stated that Fernando joined the Rillo-Neri Unit in January of 1945, the last day of which was the landing on the beaches of Nasugbu of the United States Eighth Army. He served as one of the outfit’s military advisers and helped to set up a school for guerrilla officers in the barrio of Dao in Balayan15.
Because of his status within the military hierarchy before the outbreak of the war, Fernando was appointed Military Mayor of the town of Nasugbu on 2 February 1945, where the reoccupying American forces were trying to restore order to the town after its liberation from Japanese occupation16.
He would occupy the position until the end of March 1945, when it was deemed that civilian authority could already be restored. One Atty. Jose Villadolid was appointed as civilian Mayor in place of Fernando until elections could be held17.
After the war, Fernando returned to the reactivated PAAC and he was among the first set of Filipino pilots sent to the United States to undergo refresher courses. He was able to finish the training courses at the Goodfellow and Perrin Fields in Texas, but in another course at the Enid Field in Oklahoma, he was killed in a plane crash on 21 January 1946, just before the end of the course.
As instructed by then-President Manuel Roxas of the 3rd Philippine Republic, the Lipa Airfield which was first built by the United States Army and then expanded by the Japanese Imperial Army, was turned over to the fledgling Philippine Air Force, as the PAAC had been renamed. The airfield was also to be renamed, but appropriately, as the Basilio Fernando Air Base, in memory of a distinguished aviator whose colorful career would be forever etched in Batangas and Philippine History.
Notes and references:1 "Fernando Air Base," online at the Philippine Air Force Official Web Site.
2 “LTC Basilio Borja Fernando O-1118 PAAC,” Maj. Gen. Gerardo C. Protacio (Signatory), Bust of and Marker about Lt. Col. Basilio Fernando, unveiled 22 September 1990.
4 “Philippine Constabulary,” Wikipedia.
5 “Francis Burton Harrison,” Wikipedia.
6 “"First Filipino Bird-men,” published January 1920 in “The Philippine Review,” online at the Internet Archive.
8 “History of the Philippine Air Force,” online at the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines.
10. Protacio, op. cit.
11 Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, op. cit.
12 Protacio, op. cit.
13 “August 15, 1941, Diary of Ramon Alcaraz,” by Ramon Alcaraz, online at the Philippine Diary Project.
14 “Feeling Old, Feeling Great,” by Ramon Farolan, published October 2013, online at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
15 “Rillo-Neri (Lipa Guerrilla Headquarters Combat Team),” File No. 110-9, online at Philippine Veteran Affairs Office.
17 “Historical Data of the Municipality of Nasugbu,” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.