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.”

Special Forces also conducted operations directed against the communist New People’s Army (NPA) including a major engagement on the island of Negros in which Captain Arturo Ortiz was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1990. However, Special Forces have also had their critics amongst Philippine security forces. There have been charges that many of the weapons that Special Forces have provided have ended up in the hands of rebel groups and that locally trained para-military forces end up doing the bidding of corrupt politicians.

During this time period there was also some fierce rivalry between Special Forces and Scout-Rangers. “We had the Rangers and the Special Forces as early as the 1950’s…but at the time there was no special operations SOCOM yet, but they were two distinct units, special units. At that time they competed with each other. Sometimes the competition is so hard that they want to prove that they are the best and they had a rift or a quarrel so in 1996 special operations command was created to harmonize these two units to make them treat each other as big brothers. It was successful. Before we were competitors but now we treat each other as brothers,” General Pamonag explained.

Colonel Mapili sits behind his desk as Special Operations Command at Fort Magsaysay wearing his digital jungle pattern military uniform and a blue Special Forces tab identical to the one worn by American Special Forces soldiers. Behind him is a whiteboard that lists enemy KIAs (Killed in Action) as well as some logistical information. Mapili currently serves as the G3 (operations) officer for SOCOM and has spent most of his career in Special Forces.

“I volunteered to join the Special Forces,” Mapili said immediately after he graduated the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Before long, he found himself working as a Special Forces team leader in Mindinao during the early 1990’s when their main threat was the NPA. Mapili also commanded the Israeli trained 33rd Special Forces Company which was tasked with counter-terrorism, the precursor unit to today’s Light Reaction Regiment. In the United States, there is still some hard feelings amongst Special Forces veterans that the counter-terrorist mission was taken from Blue Light which was a part of 5th Special Forces Group and given to Delta Force, but those dynamics were not echoed by Mapili who was simply happy to help lay the foundations of his country’s counter-terrorism capability.