“Special Forces have expertise in developing the community, shaping the community, and winning the hearts and minds. Our Special Forces are like your Special Forces, what your Special Forces did in Afghanistan. There are small groups of Special Forces who go into the community and win their hearts, then the community helps you fight against the enemy,” General Danilo Pamonag told SOFREP. As the commander of Special Operations Command in the Philippines, he has an intimate knowledge of the training and operations of Special Forces, Scout-Rangers, and the Light Reaction Regiment, the three Army Special Operations units in the republic of the Philippines.
General Pamonag talked in-depth about the forces under his command, with an immense pride in his men and what they have accomplished. “Bohol for several years was effected very much by the communists but when we put one battalion of Special Forces there, they shaped Bohol and won the hearts of Bohol,” Pamonag said. “The enemy structure in Bohol was eliminated and then it became a tourist destination.” However, the Special Forces mission is long-term, complex, and often difficult to quantify with metrics. When asked how long it took to turn Bohol around, the General replied, “It took time, you have to win the hearts and gain their confidence, it took four or five years. It is not very easy.”
The concept of Special Forces in the Philippines began to take shape after the Philippine Army and Constabulary battled a domestic insurgency waged by the Huks in the 1950’s and 60’s. During this time, Americans from 1st Special Forces Group stationed in Okinawa, Japan deployed to the Philippines and began teaching US Special Forces tactics to their host-nation counterparts. At the same time, four Philippine Army officers attended the Special Forces Officer Course, Airborne course, and Psychological Operations course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. These men returned home and formed the basis thinking on unconventional warfare in the Philippine Army. One of these officers was Fidel Ramos who later became the President of the Philippines.
In 1962, General Order 446 issued by General Headquarters Armed Forces of the Philippines created the 1st Special Forces Company at Fort Magsaysay with the mission of training, organizing, equipping, and controlling para-military forces. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, the Special Forces (organized along the same lines as US Special Forces in 12-man teams) conducted their mission. “We developed, trained, organized, and used the 54,000 para-military force to fight the MNLF,” Colonel Benjamin Samonte wrote. “After one year, 3,000 fully armed MNLF rebels surrendered. The most important thing was our success in weakening the MNLF’s hold on their mass base.”