Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Adm. Rene Medina, who is set to retire this month, carried out his “champagne flight” at the Antonio Bautista Air Base (ABAB) utilizing an AS-211 fighter jet for an observation flight over the Malampaya gas field and some parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Traditionally, champagne flights are given when military pilots go on retirement. They serve as their last flights before leaving the battle zones and ending their military careers.
Medina, an honorary naval aviator who has flown Agusta helicopters in the Naval Air Wing, said it was an opportunity flight tendered by the Tactical Operations Wing West (TOW West) of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) for the first and last time in his military career on May 6.
“Part siya ng champagne flight ng mga air force sa mga retiring senior officer, particularly for flag rank. Ang sabi nila sa akin, yong champagne flight, yan ang parang honor o pagbibigay pugay sa mga retiree. Kung sa pilot, parang last flight na ibinigay nila sa akin since I am an honorary naval aviator. At the same time, para hindi masayang, sinabay ko na rin doon sa regular route ng patrol at training ng AS-211,” he said.
In a post on its social media page, TOW West said Medina was welcomed at the TOG-7 Military Ramp where he was given a briefing by its leadership, led by Col. Gerry Felizardo Soliven, before flying onboard an AS-211 with pilot-in-command Capt. Eddie Galiste.
TOW West said the flight is in appreciation of Medina’s leadership of the Western Command.
“May konting seremonya pero ang pinakamaganda doon ay ang experience. I had flights with the Naval Air Wing, ‘yong mga Agusta helicopter, but this one is different kasi napakabilis, talagang makikita mo ang pag-twist,” Medina said.
He said they flew 15,000 feet over the Malampaya gas field and Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) doing aerial acrobats but had to come back soon because their fuel supply is limited.
Medina, who is turning 56 on May 30, said he appreciates the chance as he looks forward to his retirement.
“Sumubok din ako mag-pilot ng aircraft, okay naman. Umikot-ikot din kami sa may Reed Bank pero kukulangin kasi ng fuel. Parts lang ng WPS at sa Malampaya. Doon nag-aerial acrobat konti kaya sabi ko talo and rollercoaster dito, pero masaya kasi at this age kaya ko pa pala. I am looking forward to my retirement kaya isa sa ibinigay nila na na-appreciate ko,” he said.
Medina admits that as commander of WESCOM, he would be retiring with a few goals and aims he would be unable to complete due to the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in dealing with the New People’s Army (NPA) in Palawan.
“Madami pang gagawin pero puwede naman ipagpatuloy nang papalit sa akin. Joint Task Force Peacock is doing well so maski na tahimik lang tayo, ang importante the communist-terrorist group (CTG) is irrelevant,” he said.
“Bitin talaga in the sense na hindi ko natapos yong mga targets ko due to COVID-19. Inabutan ng COVID-19, andoon na ang momentum sana, lalo na doon sa mga targets on CTG. Hindi gaya last year na talagang pati mga local government units (LGUs) kasama namin,” Medina added.
He said when the pandemic came, LGU officials became focused on helping the people cope with the imposition of a Luzon-wide quarantine.
Medina said that under the circumstance, the command and its operating units remain sustaining their “headways” in the objective to end the local communist armed conflict.
Medina said in a recent visit to southern Palawan, he assessed that the area will not be under any enemy threat for the next year.
“On the part of peace and order, galing kami sa south kasi tiningnan ko ang actual security situation. Wala rito for the next 1 year — wala ako nakikitang threat sa south. In place lahat, at the same time, ang mga tao doon hindi sila mahikayat na ano [sumali sa CTG] kasi may mga trabaho, may mga livelihood, kumikita,” he said.
“Inikot namin mga isla isla doon nakita ko na okay, walang threat dito for the next year. Ime-maintain lang yong ginawa ng local government — particularly the province in support doon sa security. Yong north, hindi ko naman wino-worry okay na doon, maganda na ang ano ng MBLT-3 doon sa north,” Medina added.
Looking forward to retirement
Medina said he is happy to retire knowing that Palawan’s security profile is more than satisfactory.
He said he also appreciates the fact that it was easy to coordinate peace efforts with the LGUs, particularly the provincial government of Palawan.
“Happy akong magre-retire kasi maganda ang security profile ng province. Masaya ako, at saka madali kausap ang local government, particular ang provincial government. Lahat ng recommendations namin, halos lahat na-carry over nila,” he said.
Medina described his stint as commander of WESCOM as “fruitful” in the sense that it was able to gain important grounds in terms of controlling the local security situation in favor of the government.
WESCOM was able to unmask, he said, the NPA leaders that took over those who were captured and those who surrendered under the Provincial Task Force ELCAC.
Those who remain supportive of the armed struggle, he said, are now on the run like Absie Eligio, alias Ka Andoy.
“Na unmask na namin yong mga pumapalit ngayon so alam ko they are on the run kasi kilala na natin sila. Yong mga dating personality na talagang andyan lang sa labas hindi mo magalaw kasi protektado. Gaya kay Absie, nagawan ng paraan to make irrelevant,” Medina said.
“Ang objective ko rin naman is hindi siya pwedeng libre to roam around tapos i-ano ang adbokasiya niya at ang isa pa doon na-ano natin ang fund source nila. At least ang tao bumalik ang tiwala sa atin sa gobyerno hindi na sila natatakot at nagpapatakot doon sa kabila,” he added.
He said without the help of the LGUs, the stakeholders, and the people in Palawan communities, their campaign to end the communist armed conflict locally will not gain grounds.
As the country’s “Last Frontier”, Medina agrees that the province needs protection from enemies of the state.
Medina said he had earlier planned to travel after his retirement. However, COVID-19 curtailed this.
“Ang una ko talagang plan is mag-travel ako. Nawala ngayon because of the health crisis. There are some offers sa Metro Manila na trabaho — siguro for the time being, habang may problema pa, para hindi naman tayo mabo-bored, magta-trabaho muna ako,” he said.