CLARK Freeport — A cooperative formed in 1982 by 15 combat pilots of the Philippine Air Force, having amassed assets worth P15 billion, launched Friday its first charter plane service with the arrival here of its new Fokker 50 aircraft.
Retired Lt. Col. Allan Ballesteros, the cooperative’s spokesman, expressed pride that the 50-seater turbo-prop aircraft landed here to ceremonies fit for international airlines, including a water cannon arc welcome from the Clark International Airport fire department.
Ballesteros said the Fokker was the first to be purchased by the Leading Edge Air Services Corp. (LEASCOR), a subsidiary of the Aviation Cadet Development Inc. (ACDI) which registered with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) in 1982.
The cooperative’s charter plane service enterprise will be based in this Freeport in Pampanga, according to Ballesteros in an interview here with STAR writer Ding Cervantes, a vice president of Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI).
The ACDI Multipurpose Cooperative was organized in 1982 by combat pilots of the 15th Strike Wing who flew the Tora-Tora planes and the Sikorsky helicopter gunships during the secessionist war in Mindanao waged by the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari.
“The ACDI grew in assets to become one of the biggest and most successful cooperatives recognized by the CDA,” he said. “It’s contributing to the country’s development by way of its aviation school based in Poro Point, La Union, and providing employment through its air charter business handled by LEASCOR.”
Ballesteros, who used to be PAF spokesman at Clark, recalled that by 1992, or in just 10 years of operation, ACDI broke into the “millionaires’ column” among cooperatives.
He said: “In another 10 years, in 2002, ACDI broke into the ‘billionaires’ column’ and created subsidiaries such as the KoopKing which operates a lending, general services and land transportation business for members; the RAMCEL Convenient Bag Corp. that operates convenience stores for its members; and the Leading Edge International Aviation Academy Inc. (LEIAAI) which it opened in 2007 in Poro Point, La Union.”
The aviation academy was a brainchild of retired Maj. Gen. Gilbert Llanto, ACDI chairman and one of the original 15 founders of the cooperative. It has since produced pilots who are now employed by major airlines.
The ACDI created in 2002 an agri-business division that is into agriculture and food production. In 2014, the CDA recognized ACDI as one of the biggest and most successful cooperative with an asset base of P15 billion.
Two years later, ACDI created the LEASCOR, an air charter company that provides employment to its LEIAAI graduates. Last year, it also organized the King Aces Travel and Tours Inc. (KATTSI) as complementary business to LEASCOR and other ACDI subsidiaries.
The cooperative, serving armed forces personnel, counts on at least 152,380 members nationwide in the active service, retirees, reservists, regular AFP civilian employees and dependents. Its president is retired Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Sumicad, formerly Deputy Wing Commander of the Special Operations Wing and later acting Wing Commander of 600th Air Base Wing.
• Migratory birds avoiding Candaba?
HAS the Candaba swamp, world-famous as haven of migratory birds fleeing the wintry cold of the North, including mainland China, losing out to more hospitable feeding grounds in Central Luzon?
Professional bird watcher Juanita Santos-Ancheta reports that migratory ducks, which used to be among the most numerous fowls in the Candaba wetlands, have become a rarity there. She shared her notes with CAMI in its forum last Friday at its Bale Balita (House of News) here.
For decades, the swamp has been a favorite vantage of bird watchers worldwide for its migrant wild ducks and other fowl and birds escaping the harsh winter of Siberia, New Zealand, Mongolia and other parts of Asia.
Disagreement between then Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo, whose conservationist policy favored the migratory species, and developers and farmers who considered the visiting feathered friends a nuisance and threat to their livelihood, has contributed to the decline of the swamp as a haven.
“It could also be climate change, who knows?” Ancheta said about the new migration pattern. With the flocks seeking more hospitable areas abundant with food such as fish, snails and insects, she said bird watchers have begun to follow them to other places.
Rommel M. Santiago, provincial environment and natural resources officer, told the CAMI forum that a new bird sanctuary in Barangay Tortillas in Balanga City in Bataan has been attracting a growing crowd of bird watchers.
Among the species Ancheta has photographed in the less developed fringes of Clark were: Grey-faced Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Chinese Goshaw, Red Junglefowl, Brown Shrike, Brown-breasted Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, and Arctic Babbler. If mismanaged, their presence may pose a problem for airport operations.
In 2009, ornithologists counted some 12,000 migratory birds flocking to Candaba a day, which was a fraction of the estimated 100,000 wild Philippine and Asian ducks recorded in the 1980’s.
Michael Lu, then president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, had noted that among the 50 or so wetland areas in the Philippines, the Candaba swamp was a key roost for wild fowls that included huge purple herons and small Arctic warblers that return to continental Asia in the spring.
Development by owners of a large section of the swamp prompted the Candaba municipal board to set aside on Sept. 27, 2004, part of the wetland as a bird sanctuary. From an original 32,000 hectares of the swamp, a 72-hectare reserve has been carved out, most of it owned by former Mayor Pelayo, for migratory birds.