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Tactical Operations Command

In line with the Philippine Air Force Modernization Program, the 2nd Air Division was inactivated on 15 October 1998. Subsequently, the Tactical Operations Command (TOC) was organized and activated pursuant to Paragraph 1, General Orders Number 426, Headquarters, Philippine Air Force, dated 15 October 1998. The Tactical Operations Command was envisioned to be a functional national command, which would orchestrate all tactical operations in the conduct of internal security operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

It had in its inventory various types of aircraft suited for counter-insurgency operations. These included UH-1H utility helicopters, MG-520 attack helicopters, and SF-260 and OV-10 Broncos fixed wing attack aircraft. N-22 transport aircraft from 220th Airlift Wing were also attached to the TOC, and utilized to perform reconnaissance, finance runs, administrative flights and other related support missions.

Under the command and control of the TOC initially were the 530th and 560th Composite Tactical Wings and Composite Tactical Groups 6, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Eventually the TOC was reorganized into 3 operating units: the 2nd Tactical Operations Wing, 3rd Tactical Operations Wing, and 4th Tactical Operations Wing. 2nd TOW, based in Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, Lapulapu City, was in charge of the whole Visayas area. 3rd TOW, based in Edwin Andrews Air Base, Zamboanga City, covered the whole Mindanao area. 4th TOW, based in Antonio Bautista Air Base, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, covered the western front of the country.

Major General Melchor P. Rosales was the first commander of TOC. He worked for the complete development of the TOC in line with the PAF Modernization Program. During his tenure the Command Operations Center was constructed. In the first year of operations, TOC conducted 29 air strikes in Mindanao, notably in Talipao, Sulu, Datu Piang, Talayan and Baldon, all in Maguindanao. Between 26 and 30 August 1999, the Command's MG 520s and OV-lOs conducted close air support and air strikes in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan in operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group.

In mid-2000 the PAF brought the full force of air power against the MILF in Central Mindanao. Under this initiative, the TOC became the defining unit of the PAF. In 2000, just when airmen were looking to shift to external defense, the MILF stormed Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte and took down the Filipino flag, returning the AFP to the internal security mission. The PAF had far less aircraft than it had during similar surges in the 1970s, but the PAF delivered for the government. At the forefront of the AFP's success, the Tactical Operations Command became the defining unit of the Air Force in Mindanao.

After many operations, Camp Abubakar, the MILF's general headquarters fell finally on 7 July 2000 under joint attack from the Army, Marines, and the Air Force. Throughout the operations in Mindanao, 25 MILF camps were captured, including Camp Abubakar, the main stronghold defense and hundreds of assorted firearms and munitions were recovered, largely in Central and Northern Mindanao. In Western Mindanao, TOC was directly involved in offensive military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group, who abducted 21 mostly foreign hostages from Sipadan Beach Resort in Malaysia. The Command's OV-10 Broncos, UH-1H helicopters, MG-520 gunships and F-5 fighter aircraft were deployed resulting in the release of some hostages during the said operations and less fatalities on the part of the government side.

The victory came from the collective efforts of the pilots of 15th Strike Wing, 5th Fighter Wing, and 205th THW, the air sentinels of Composite Tactical Groups and Composite Tactical Wings, and the support personnel of 223rd Airlift Squadron, the AIRD, 505th Air Resuce Squadron, who extended tactical airlift, intelligence updates, and combat rescue capability. The use of airpower seen in Mindanao was not the kind of engagement envisioned by the TOC. However, PAF tactical action remained closely intertwined with Army ground action.

During the operations in Mindanao, other missions also arouse. In the 2000 Cotabato Airport was temporarily closed and investor confidence from GenSan and Davao was shaken due to terrorist bombings. In response TOC's air assets had been quick to scour the area for movements and CTG personnel themselves took over, in coordination with the Philippine National Police, and helped secure the aviation complex perimeters and aerodrome. TOC's assets likewise helped secure the border, watch the coastline, and conduct search, rescue and recovery operations.

Tactical Air Operations continued to be the bread and butter of TOC. The Command's air assets flew 8,019.85 flying hours and 6,753 sorties in tactical air missions against Muslim rebels in various places in the Mindanao region. TOC was also instrumental in the planning of the successful rescue of American hostage Jeffrey Edward Schilling on 12 July 2001 in Barangay Kanmindus, Luuk, Sulu.

Members of Misuari Breakaway Group attacked Edwing Andrews Air Base in the early dawn on 27 Nov 2001. Nine mortar shells fired from the Cabatangan complex exploded inside the base causing injury to one enlisted person and 3 civilians. Counter offensive airstrikes forced the MBG members to abandon the complex. Additionally, 7 MBG camps in different parts of Sulu were captured due to massive airstrikes.

When Southern Command launched Operation Day Break, TOC helicopters ferried Special Forces, ammunitions and fuel in Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte that led to the final entrapment of the ASG and rescued Gracia Burnham, recovered the bodies of Martin Burnham and Deborah Yap, and led to the killing of the ASG leader, Abu Sabbaya.

TOC also conducted relief operations in Camiguin Island, which was badly hit by typhoon Nanang. Likewise, relief operations were conducted in Davao after a flash flood incident. TOC helicopters were used to survey illegal logging activities in the Caraga region. In Cebu, the Department of Enviornment and Natural Resources used TOC UH-1Hs to survey and evaluate eco-tourism projects like the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary.

In the fight against criminality and lawlessness, TOC air assets were deployed to monitor smuggling operations, resulting to the capture of MV Murphy in Bacolod City. TOC air assets were used the search for MV Great Faith, which escaped authorities in Cebu, and capture of MV llonah in Samar. On 29 August 2002, TOC operatives uprooted 2,050 stalks of marijuana plants from a 1.5 hectare farm in Balamban, Cebu and captured 4 cultivators in the biggest anti-drugs operation in the region for 2002.

TOC air operations resulted in the capture of Abu Sayyaf leader Gahlib Andang on 3 Dec 2003. An air strike in the island village of Lumabao, Maguindanao killed 19 Pentagon Gang members including its leader, Tahir Alonto on 13 Aug 2004. Sorties against the Abu Sayyaf in Sanga-Sanga led to the release of 3 Malaysian hostages. An air support mission in Tumapoy Island in Tawi-Tawi killed 3 Abu Sayyaf members and wounded undetermined number of ASG. In a daring night mission TOC helicopter pilots using night vision goggles in Basilan, rescued 5 wounded soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion. An air strike in support to operating troops of 6th Infantry Division resulted to the death of 10 suspected Islamic extremists at Liguasan, Maguindanao. The TOC also oversaw various civic actions all over Visayas and Mindanao.

Tactical air operations continued into 2005. Air power sorties led to the killing of 28 ASG and MBG fighters in barangay Talayan, Datu Odin, Maguindanao and Piyahan, Job on 22 Aug 2005 and 14 Nov 2005, respectively.

Concerned with the proliferation of illegal drugs and its associated drug trade, TOC intensified neutralization of drug pushers and users. In coordination with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, TOC uprooted thousands of marijuana stalks in barangay Tabunan, Cebu City between 28 and 29 July 2005. It also continued civic actions all over Visayas and Mindanao and in Mactan and nearby islands. Recreation facilities for TOC personnel were also contructed behind the TOC Headquarters building.

Between 2005 and 2007 the TOC continued tactical air operations and civic actions in its various areas of operation. Repairs to the Commander's Quarters and the construction of a 4 bay firing range inside the base. The TOC had 9 different commanders in 9 years, with some being at the head of the Command for less than 5 months.

In 2006 the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, set out 2010 as the deadline for the control of the various insurgencies in the Philippines and the reorientation of the military away from internal security to external defense. Mulling how best to support the Area Commands so that the President's vision can come about, the Headquarters of the Philippine Air Force decided on a restructuring of the force. This led to the reactivation of the service's Air Divisions in August 2007, one for each geographical area of the country. The Tactical Operations Command was subsequently inactivated.

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