FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – The Philippine Army’s Special Forces embarks into a major milestone as it celebrates its 50th Founding Anniversary on June 25.
It was 50 years ago when Captain Fidel V Ramos commanded the 1st Special Forces unit, the precursor of today’s Special Forces Regiment (Airborne).
Through the years, the Special Forces has emerged as one of the major units of the Philippine Army specializing in unconventional warfare and counter-insurgency.
Special Forces then and now
Since its creation, the Special Forces (SF) had contributed immensely towards accomplishing the AFP’s mission.
In the 1960’s, 70 percent of SF personnel joined the Philippine Civic Action Group – Vietnam (PHILCAGV). With the mission “to build, not to destroy”, the group contributed to the rehabilitation of South Vietnam through their various civic actions.
In the 1970’s, the SF greatly contributed to the fight against secessionist movement by being able to defeat MNLF fighters in a great battle in Upi, Maguindanao where a 12-man SF team neutralized over 200 enemy combatants and wounded several others.
The unit was also instrumental in diminishing the capability of communist insurgents which fought and government forces in the 1980s.
In the 1990’s, the SF delivered gains for the AFP by conducting the most successful raid against the communist insurgents. It was also in the forefront in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG), participating in rescue missions leading to the recovery of kidnap victims.
In 2007, SF units dealt a decisive blow on the ASG bandit group, neutralizing terrorists like Abu Solaiman in Sulu.
Major Demy Zagala of the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) said that their task has evolved and their operational capability changed to answer to the change of various security threats.
“Through the years, SF units have distinguished themselves in direct action combat, organizing local community defense in the countryside, community development, containing terrorist threats, rescue and rehabilitation missions, and international peacekeeping missions, among many other roles,” said Zagala.
In line with the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan, the SF adopted the whole of nation approach and the people approach in winning the peace.
“The SF mission for the past 50 years is about partnership with different government and non-government organizations to ensure that we have a secure environment conducive to prosperity and economic growth,” added Zagala.
A Gallant Defender of Democracy
Former Army Chief Lieutenant General Arturo B Ortiz is one of the most popular members of the Special Forces.
His gallantry in combat has earned him the Medal for Valor Award, the highest military award given to members of the AFP.
While serving as the commander of the 606th Special Forces Company and CAFGU Elements, the then Captain Ortiz neutralized an NPA terrorist camp with about 300 numerically superior rebels in Murcia, Negros Occidental on April 6, 1990. Leading his troops through tough terrain, they successfully infiltrated the camp and engaged the enemy in a 2-hour gun battle that resulted in the death of 84 terrorists, the capture of eight more, and the recovery of 34 assorted firearms and ammunition.
Another extraordinary feat that made the SF renowned was the Camp defense at Upi on July 25, 1974. Fifteen SF troopers from Team 301 under 2Lt Virgilio Yalung, aided by two civilians, successfully defended their position while protecting the community. This incident resulted to the death of almost 200 MNLF rebels and the wounding of several others, with only one SF trooper wounded, in a battle that raged for two days.
Leading the military, leading the country
A President, a Secretary of Defense, two AFP Chiefs of Staff, and two Commanding Generals of the Philippine Army were former commanders of the Special Forces.
Former President Fidel V Ramos was the first commander of the 1st Special Forces Company on June 25, 1962.
In 1996, now Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin served as both Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) (SFRA) commander.
In 2003, former AFP Chief and Army Commanding General Gen Victor Ibrado assumed as SF commander, and in 2006, former Army Chief Lt Gen Arturo B Ortiz took over as the 15th SF commander.
The Golden Years
Today, the regiment has five SF battalions with 20 SF companies deployed nationwide.
“Regardless of the national priorities, threat scenarios and political conditions across five decades, SFR(A) has remained true to its calling. Steadfast, well-trained and resilient, it has proved itself equal to the challenges thrust by a world order that is increasingly unconventional in times of both war and peace,” said Zagala.
With the theme “Limampung Taon na Kabayanihan at Tapat na Paglilingkod sa Bayan”, the SF will celebrate its anniversary at the SFR(A) headquarters in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija with former President Fidel V Ramos as the guest of honor.
Army Chief Lt Gen Emmanuel T Bautista will be conferred with Honorary Special Forces Badge during the Anniversary celebration.
NDRRMC Chief Benito Ramos, the President of the Special Forces Alumni Association, awards the honorary SF badge to Army Chief Lt Gen Emmanuel Bautista during the unit's 50th Founding Anniversary, Monday (June 25, 2012).