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Col. Ernesto Ravina, Air Force hero

Ernesto Ravina was a member of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1955. He finished high school at the Cagayan Valley Institute in Aparri, before taking the PMA entrance examination and made it on his second attempt. He was a year ahead of me.

Shortly after graduation, Ernie married his high school sweetheart, Ma. Clara Ravina, an English professor at the UP College of Arts and Letters. They had three boys and two girls. All the boys would enter the PMA, following in the footsteps of their father. After a short stay at Fort del Pilar, the eldest boy Roberto was sent to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of the first Filipinos to graduate from this institution. Upon his return he would serve with the Philippine Air Force. The middle boy, Ernesto Jr., finished with PMA Class of 1984, and joined the Philippine Marines. The youngest, Victor, Class of 1987, would join the Philippine Constabulary. It seemed that Ernie had allotted one son each for the major services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. A fourth son would most likely have ended up in the Army.

As I mentioned in earlier columns, after graduation in 1956 I found myself with the Battalion Combat Teams of the Army. But after a while, the Air Force retrieved me from the Army and sent me to Fernando Air Base for flying training. At Fernando, we caught up with some members of Class of 1955 who were just about to complete their training. Five of them would earn their wings as pilots and Ernie Ravina was one of them.

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For many years I lost track of Ernie, until 1974 when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) launched its greatest offensive against the government. Muslim rebels engaged AFP units in one of the fiercest counterinsurgency actions in our history. Perhaps, not many people were aware that such a serious threat existed against the nation in 1974.

The MNLF — as distinguished from the MILF or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front — was at the height of its power and the offensive was part of a grand plan to establish control over large areas of Mindanao and thus lay the groundwork for an independent Bangsamoro state. The government threw much of its resources into the battle including F-86 Sabre jets, T-28 attack planes (“Tora Tora”), C-47 gunships, and helicopters.

One particular C-47 gunship was piloted by Lt. Col. Ernesto Ravina, along with Majors Luis Amorsolo and Ricardo Achas. In the face of heavy enemy fire, Ravina flew his plane at a dangerously low altitude to destroy rebel mortar emplacements and supply depots. Although hit in the left wing and fuselage, the aircraft continued the attack against remaining targets. For this feat of bravery, Ravina and his crew were awarded the Distinguished Aviation Cross.

The following month, the AFP launched a counteroffensive code-named “Centurion.” But the rebels, in a bold move, staged an attack on the town of Jolo which was lightly defended with most of the troops participating in “Centurion.” The Sulu Air Task Group (Satag) was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Ravina with a small force of airmen consisting of 10 officers and 110 enlisted men, mostly green recruits. Satag was in charge of the Jolo Airport complex.

Rebel intelligence was impeccable. They knew that the Air Force sector manned by raw trainees was the weakest link in the defense perimeter formed by government forces. If they could break through against Satag, it would be difficult for other units to hold the line.

A fierce fight took place with the airmen doing the job of foot soldiers. Ravina’s heroism and leadership kept the enemy at bay and when the smoke of battle cleared, the rebels failed to breach the defenses and Jolo remained under government control. For his outstanding display of courage in the face of the enemy, Ravina was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Star, the second-highest decoration for AFP personnel. In the short span of less than a month, Ravina won two of the highest combat awards available for military personnel.

Reviewing the reports on Ravina’s role in the Jolo action, not a few officers wondered why he was not given the Medal for Valor, the nation’s highest military honor. He had gone head-to-head against the enemy, facing almost certain death in close combat and he stood his ground. If the Satag defense line had been breached, Jolo could have fallen to the enemy resulting in a great psychological victory for the MNLF with repercussions far beyond our shores sending the message that our government was weak and unable to defend a provincial capital.

No regrets were expressed about missing out on a Medal for Valor. Ernie Ravina had done his duty and that was all that mattered.

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On Sept. 11, 1988, 2nd Lt. Victor Ravina was killed in combat against NPA rebels. The AFP honored the young officer with a Gold Cross for “bravery in action against the enemy.” A PC camp in Baler, Aurora province, is named after him. Ten years later, Roberto died in Massachusetts, the victim of a hit-and-run driver. Ernesto Jr. recently retired from the military service with the rank of brigadier general. A daughter, Anna Marie, is a teacher at the International School in Luxembourg.

As we approach another milestone in the history of our Air Force, its family led by Lt. Gen. Gerard Galileo Kintanar Jr., remembers Colonel Ravina with great pride and honor for his display of courage and excellence as a leader of men. Ravina passed away in May 1999.

Today, his memory is kept alive with the naming of the headquarters of the 710th Special Operations Wing of the PAF in
Capas, Tarlac, as Col. Ernesto Ravina Air Base. The administration of the Crow Valley gunnery range for PAF pilots is one responsibility of this unit.

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TAGS: Air Force hero, Ernesto Ravina, PMA Class of 1955, Ramon Farolan, Reveille
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